5 Insightful Chinese Phrases About Becoming a Better Person

No matter what ethnicity you are or what culture you are raised in, you are expected to learn the proverbs and idioms of your native language in school. This is because these phrases give you meaningful insights on almost any aspect in life, including the path to becoming a better person and living a happier life.

Growing up as a Malaysian Chinese, I have learned more Chinese idioms than I can remember, and some of which are just so meaningful that I feel a strong urge to share with other non-Chinese people. I believe that every culture has its own way of expressing thoughts creatively which will give others a new perspective about life.

Below are five Chinese idioms that I would like to share with everyone as insights for becoming a better person in life.

1. 饮水思源

The literal meaning is actually “thinking of the source of the water when drinking it”.

You might have guessed it. The underlying meaning of this idiom is to…

Always remember the people who have helped you.

And by that, it not only refers to that friend who gave you a ride back home, but also your parents and teachers. These are the people who have contributed to your life significantly; they helped you become who you are now, achieve what you have achieved, and grow stronger than ever before.

2. 三人行,必有我师焉

This means that everyone has something that you can learn about, be it their attitude, knowledge in a certain topic, or habits. Therefore…

We must be humble and try to learn the good things from others.

This idiom has several values that it tries to emphasize. It not only teaches people to be humble and not arrogant, but to always continue learning. The world is large and we can’t learn everything. However, the best thing we can do is to keep on learning to improve ourselves constantly.

3. 前人种树,后人乘凉

Again, let’s start with the literal meaning – a person plants a tree and his next generation rests under it. This idiom is interesting as it can be understood in two different meanings. One, it advises us to protect and preserve the environment so that people of the future generations can live a healthier life. Second, it teaches us to work hard so that our successors can benefit from what we’ve achieved.

So, basically the two meanings have the same concept, that is…

Whatever you do, always think of our next generation.

4. 树欲静而风不止,子欲养而亲不在

“A tree wants to stop but the wind won’t stop blowing, a child wants to take care of his parents but they are no longer there.” You might’ve gotten the meaning. It’s about advising children to…

Always love and take good care of your parents when they are still around.

The Chinese community always prioritize love and respect towards parents more than any other value.

And where Westerners would always move out from their parents’ house once they are an adult, Chinese tend to stay with their parents if they have the chance. However, no matter whether we are staying with our parents or not, it is important to love, cherish, and respect them as they were the ones who gave life to us and raised us.

5. 精诚所至,金石为开

This means “one can achieve anything or solve any problem if he is dedicated enough to do it”. It actually comes from a story in which a hunter shot an arrow into a rock that he thought was a tiger. He didn’t believe he could do such a thing so he tried again, but failed even after several attempts. People couldn’t understand why this happened so they asked a scholar in which he answered, “If one is sincere enough, even something as hard as a golden rock would crack open.”

We tend to blame others or the circumstance whenever we fail to do something, but how often do we take our lack of dedication and skills into account? Remember, it is alright to fail, as long as you learn something from the experience.

With the right skills and enough devotion, we can achieve almost anything. The sky is the limit!

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9 Responses

  1. Number 4 is so important and western society doesn’t really understand or practice this concept. It is the example set in Asia for generation after generation of taking care of your elders which teaches the whole family unit powerful examples of how a whole family unit looks after one another and takes care of each other. The older generations are respected and revered for their wisdom and knowledge and passing down lots of traditions that are so important and in need of being continuously passed down to the new generations to continue the ways, history and stories of their heritage. It was a big influence for me in choosing to care for my parents in our home until their passing. I wish we could have more respect and reverence for our elders and to honor them.

    1. Yes, Louann. Every culture has its on value and we should appreciate and learn from them. It’s a good thing that you did what you could to take care of your parents and you should be proud of it.

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