Chinese Proverbs*

Dec 6, 2008

Found these at Quote Mountain, and knew right away I had to make sure all those who read them understood them. A little known fact about proverbs from this era, is that they were rarely symbolic. Imagine all the confusion that has been caused by people looking for the deeper meaning in them. Few things will bring you more pain and destruction than misunderstanding an old proverb. Here we go.

Public before private and country before family.
Despite how it sounds, this is simply a mantra referring to proper alphabetizing. C before F. Pu before Pr... Well, yeah, it's incorrect, but I'm not the one who came up with this proverb!

Waiting for a rabbit to hit upon a tree and be killed in order to catch it.
Similar to the saying 'You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar', this old proverb is saying that the best way to catch a rabbit is to just camp out next to a tree and wait. Odds are that EVENTUALLY some speedy rabbit will come flying along, run straight into that tree and break his neck, and then he is yours!

Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend's forehead.
No other interpretation needed. I know you want to. It seems logical. But just don't, OK?

Once on a tiger's back, it is hard to alight.
Lighting a candle while sitting on a tiger is difficult. Heck, sitting on a tiger is difficult. It is best to light your candle first, THEN climb on the tiger.

A tiger never returns to his prey he did not finish off.
If, while trying to ride the tiger as a family, the tiger manages to catch one of you and carry him off, that is it. Even if he doesn't eat the whole person, he is not going to bring you the leftovers.

Talk doesn't cook rice.
This, of course, refers to the infamous Talk, that Chinese help servant who burnt his master's rice so badly that his master was stuck in the outhouse for days (didn't know rice could do that, did you?) This is just to remind people, that if you meet Talk, don't let him cook for you, even if he asks nicely.

There are always ears on the other side of the wall.
This is very similar to our old saying "The grass is always greener on the other side." If you are in the market for ears, (or kidneys, or the perfect black dress, or other things that are impossible to find) good luck. No matter where you look, they will always be "just on the other side of the wall".

Steal a bell with one's ears covered.
This is actually supposed to read 'Steal a bell with one ear covered'. Don't ask me, it is an old ninja trick. Of course it doesn't work to cover both ears, because you are still gonna need one hand for carrying the bell. However, covering one ear confuses the bell so that it can't tell whether you can hear him or not, so he just won't bother to expend the energy.

There you have it. You now have the information you need proceed with your life in wisdom and prudence!

*We really do not mean to pick on the Chinese here. It is just that there is so much to work with. Don't worry, soon we will move on to another culture and make fun of their bad translations instead.