The Chengyu Thread

Haven’t seen one of these so I thought I’d start one. List your favorite chengyu.

My two favorites both have to do with tigers.

騎虎難下 (Qí hǔ nán xià): It’s hard to dismount when you’re riding a tiger; caught between a rock and a hard place
如虎添翼 (Rú hǔ tiān yì): like adding wings to a tiger; to make something powerful even moreso


Staying with the tiger theme:

不入虎穴,焉得虎子 You must enter a tiger’s den to get it’s cubs

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I can’t remember much 成語, but I remember a lot of 名句精華.

不三不四。OK it’s not 成語 but I like it anyway.

Just came across this one:

先禮後兵 Be polite first, use force thereafter (when politeness doesn’t work)

I think this way of thinking is very common in Taiwan and foreigners should think about it before getting into confrontations immediately. Always try the polite route first.

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木已成舟 The log is now a boat; The die is cast.

I love this one cause I like boats…

so along the boat theme…

破釜沉舟 Break all cauldrons and sink all ships; do-or-die

At the fall of Qin empire, general Xiang-Yu and his forces of 50,000 were facing the turning point of the war against a Qin regular army of 400,000. Xiang-Yu told the troops to break their cauldrons before crossing the river, carrying only 3 days worth of dry rations. Then he ordered them to sink the boats after the crossing. The soldiers have 0 chance of survival or retreat unless they win the battle, so they went ahead and defeated an much larger army.

In the same vein, 背水一戰 bèi shuǐ yī zhàn: Fight with your back to the water; take a last stand

Not chengyu in the traditional sense because they are not 4 word phrases, but this is useful…

Hǎo de kāishǐ shì chénggōng de yībàn
Well begun is half done

Xiūxí shì wèile zǒu gèng chángyuǎn de lù
rest lets you travel even further/ do even more

I always assumed this was translated into Chinese from English or another Western language, although I could never find the original phrase.

I always assumed this was translated into Chinese from English or another Western language, although I could never find the original phrase.[/quote]

These assumptions are always dodgy. At first, I assumed “long time, no see” had English origins as well.

水滴石穿–shuǐ dī shí chuān (dripping water penetrates the stone) Persistence pays off . Reminds me of Chinese waiter torture

Found another tiger one:

為虎作倀 wei4hu3zuo4chang1

To be corrupted by someone and serve them in wicked deeds; to be Darth Vader

Let’s stay with the tiger:


the fox borrowing the awe of the tiger; an ass in the lion’s skin

to browbeat others by virtue of one’s powerful connections

actually the original story (written in Warring States era) goes like this:

A tiger catches a fox in the wood, and the fox says “you cannot eat me, for I am sent by gods to rule the animals. if you eat me you will offend the gods.” The tiger says “bull crap.” The fox says “if you don’t believe me, fellow me into the forest, and watch all the other animals flee in reverence.” The tiger says “what the hell, show me.” As the tiger follows the fox into the forest, all the animals flee on sight, and tiger let the fox go, believing in his story.

by the way, the translations with curse words are make up by me.

Smartness rules! Smartness often wins over power, of course not always.

My current favorite is 欺善怕惡 (欺負善良弱小的人,卻害怕得罪強橫的惡人).

The best summary of Chinese culture I’ve ever seen in four characters…



Hear one thing, learn ten. That’s my ideal. Be smart, use brain.

One of my fav’s is 對牛彈琴 - to preach to deaf ears (literal meaning is to play a lute to a cow).

I was talking to my wife today about buying old houses and the English phrase “you can’t polish a turd” came up. I believe that this is a very British expression and that others may say “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” (could also be a British term). I then asked my wife if a similar expression existed in Chinese and she couldn’t think of one. Surely their must be a Chinese equivalent, does anyone know of any?


To keep the animal theme going, and complementary to playing zithers for cows: 馬耳東風 – to fall on deaf ears (lit: like the east wind on a horse’s ear)

Sorry I don’t know a chengyu suited for that phrase, but I’ll ask some friends and get back to you.