Proverbs (chéngyǔ 成语) are an important and characteristic feature of Chinese. They are often derived from stories or historical events, and are a wonderful resource of cultural and linguistic information. As our consulting editor and proverb expert, Haiwang Yuan, explains in his book The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese:

In their 4,000-year civilized history, the Chinese have generated innumerable proverbs. There can be a proverb for almost any situation. Judicious use of proverbs in Chinese writing is regarded as a sign of good education rather than pedantry or showing off one’s knowledge of cliches.

Chinese proverbs can be split into chéngyǔ 成语 (accepted phrases), yànyǔ 言语 (familiar sayings), súyǔ 俗语 (popular sayings), and xiēhòuyǔ 歇后语 (two-part allegorical sayings). Unique to the Chinese language, xiēhòuyǔ proverbs are vivid with images and dramatic results.

We present these proverbs with all the material you need to use them directly in your classroom: a literal translation, the figurative meaning, the story behind the proverb or its historical source, a vocabulary list, and an example of how the proverb is used in modern Chinese.