Chinese poetry often falls into the category of what Westerners refer to as “proverbs,” short and memorable phrase that usually bares some sort of moral lesson or wisdom.  For today’s post I’ve compiled a few of my favorites, some pertinent to the whole of human civilization, some telling of Chinese and other Asian cultures, and some that are just down right wacky.


When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.


A statue of Confucius in front of the LU Library

Any list of the most influential individuals in human history must include Confucius in its top five.  The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his sayings and lessons for life compiled by his followers, is more or less the code of social interaction in Asia to this day.  The above quotation is one of his more famous proverbs, and is a wonderful example of the humble character of Asian societies.  It’s also a wonderful thing to remember when experiencing a culture that is different from your own.

“An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.”


A little ironic, no?  But in all reality our idea of oppression might be somewhat contrary to what Confucius’ idea.  We tend to equate oppression with the violation of free speech, the inability to speak out against your government without fear or persecution.  In the East, speaking our against one’s superior, whether it be your father, employer, or president, is foolish, simply because they’re your superior and know what’s best for you.


“A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring.”

I love this proverb both its for its poetic qualities as well as its message.  It’s message is to repay kindness ten fold.


“If a single member of a family eats, the whole family will not feel hungry.”

The literal translation of this proverb might suggest that as long as one member of the family is happy, the entire family is happy.  But the true meaning is that if one member of a family is happy, it is their responsibility to ensure the same for the rest of the family.  Chinese families live and die by this code.

“A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.”

A beautifully simple proverb applicable to all walks of life.

“Do not remove a fly from your friend’s forehead with a hatchet.”

Good point.  A graspable meaning with a darkly comedic visualization.

Before I sign off I want to give a shout-out to who ever decided to Tweet (that’s the first time I think I’ve ever used that in a non-satiric way) about my web site yesterday, enjoyed quite a bump in readership.