Chinese Idioms For You to Know


Conceptually, you might think that Chinese and English are two languages that are poles apart—not only are they used in two distinct parts of the world, the alphabet and characters used are also completely different. That being the case, it might surprise you to know that some Chinese sayings are direct parallels of well-known English sayings that you use in daily life, showing that the same ideas can be consistent across two radically diverse languages and cultures. Read on for some examples.


Crying over spilt milk

If something is already done and there’s nothing more you can do to help the situation, there’s really no good that can come of crying over spilt milk. The Chinese have a similar saying although instead of milk, water is the medium of choice: “spilt water cannot be recovered.”


Burning bridges

The phrase “burning bridges” comes from Roman times and originally referenced how armies would burn bridges to cut off their own retreat, thereby ensuring that they would fight to the death and gain victory. Nowadays the phrase has a more negative connotation and is used to describe actions that alienate former friends and allies. The Chinese have a similar saying which goes, “dismantling a bridge after crossing”, used to describe someone who turns their back on people who have helped them in the past.


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Xi Shi was one of the four great beauties of Chinese history. Legend has it that she was so beautiful that she even stunned fish that looked upon her, so much so that they would forget to swim and sink. This is why the Chinese version of the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is “Xi Shi appears in lover’s eyes”, meaning that when you love someone, you will look at them and see someone as beautiful as Xi Shi.


These three Chinese sayings are only the tip of the iceberg (which, by the way, is another phrase that can be directly translated into Chinese). You’ll find if you dig a little deeper that there are many more Chinese and English phrases and sayings that relate to one another.  For your next trip to China, surprise your hosts with fluent speaking!

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