Chinese Language Learning – Chengyus that Koreans use

Out of curiosity I just brainstormed some chengyus that I know (as a Korean)

I relied on wiktionary to find sources. It seems that some of the chengyus Koreans use might not be used by the Chinese or other groups?


Do you know most Chinese people recognize/use the following chengyus?




* Source: Spring and Autumn Annals
* There was a man from the state of Chu who was crossing a river. His sword fell from the boat into the river. He quickly made a notch on the boat saying, “This is the place where my sword fell in. When the boat stops, I will go into the water and search for my sword from the spot where I made the notch.” The boat was already moving, but the sword had not moved. Is it not stupid to search for the sword in this manner?


四面楚歌 (Chu songs from four sides)

* During the Chu–Han Contention, Xiang Yu (項羽) found himself besieged in the city of Gaixia (垓下), by the coalition force of Han and the other kings. Jiujiang fell to Ying Bu and Liu Jia the preceding month, and most of the Kingdom of Chu was occupied by the Han army. When he heard the besieging troops singing songs in the Chu accent, Xiang Yu knew his kingdom had fallen.


志于學, 立, 不惑, 知天命, 耳順

* Source: Analects
* The Master said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.



* Source: Analects
* Zi Gong asked which of the two, Shi or Shang, was the superior. The Master said, “Shi goes beyond the due mean, and Shang does not come up to it.” “Then,” said Zi Gong, “the superiority is with Shi, I suppose.” The Master said, “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”



* Source: Analects??
* Cultivate one’s moral character, manage one’s household, administer state affairs and bring peace to the nation.



* Mencius’ mother moves three times
* (of parents) to be concerned with their children’s education in a good environment



* Source: Etiquette and Ceremonial
* “Three obedience” for women



君臣有義, 父子有親, 夫婦有別, 長幼有序, 朋友有信

* Source: Three Fundamental Bonds and Five Constant Virtues
* Righteousness between the king and his vassal, close bond between the father and son, distinction between the husband and wife, hierarchy between the elder and young, and trust between friends




* Source: Book of Rites
* Men and women do not sit together since they are seven years old.



仁義礼智信 (Japanese?)

* the five Confucian virtues (benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and sincerity)




* Source: Zhuangzi
* There was a man who kept monkeys as pets. While feeding chestnuts to the monkeys, he said, “[I will feed you] three [chestnuts] in the morning, and four in the evening.” The monkeys all went angry. The man later said, “How about four in the morning, and three in the evening?” The monkeys all became happy.



* Source: Huai Nan Zi

>It can be difficult to foresee the twists and turns which compel misfortune to beget fortune, and vice versa.
>There once was a (father), skilled in divination, who lived close to the frontier (with his son). One of his horses accidentally strayed into the lands of the Xiongnu, so everyone consoled him.
>(But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?”
>After several months, the horse came back from the land of the Xiongnu, accompanied by another fine horse, so everyone congratulated him.
>(But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this can not be unfortunate?”
>His family had a wealth of fine horses, and his son loved riding them. One day (the son) fell off the horse, and broke his leg, so everyone consoled (the father).
>(But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?”
>One year later, the Xiongnu invaded the frontier, and all able-bodied men took up arms and went to war. Of the men from the frontier (who volunteered), nine out of ten men perished (from the fighting). It was only because of (the son’s) broken leg, that the father and son were spared (this tragedy).
>Therefore, misfortune begets fortune, and fortune begets misfortune. This goes on without end, and its depths can not be measured.



* Source: Xunzi
* The gentleman said: Learning must never cease. Blue is obtained from the indigo plant but is bluer than the plant itself; ice is made from water but is colder than water itself.



* Source: Shijing

>And go to the hall of our prince,
>There raise the cup of rhinoceros horn,
>And wish him long life, – that he may live for ever.



* From the story of Liu Bei paying three visits to the thatched cottage of Zhuge Liang (later his chancellor) in order to recruit him during the late Eastern Han dynasty.



* Source: Han Feizi
* There was once a man in the state of Chu, who was selling shields and lances. He was praising them saying: “My shields are so firm, that there is nothing that can pierce them.” He praised his lances saying: “My lances are so sharp, that there is nothing that they cannot pierce.” Someone asked: “What if you used your lances to pierce your shields?” The man could not answer. A shield that cannot be pierced and a lance that can pierce everything cannot exist in the same world.
* = oxymoron



* Source: Zuo Zhuan (a commentary on the ancient Chinese chronicle Spring and Autumn Annals)
* The marquis of Jin once again wanted to attack Guo by way of Yu. Gong Zhiqi admonished the duke of Yu, saying, “Guo is exterior to Yu. If Guo should perish, Yu is sure to follow. The road should not be opened for Jin; the bandits are not to be ignored. Once was more than enough, how can you do it a second time? The two sayings, ‘The cheekbone and gum depend on one another’ and ‘When the lips perish, the teeth become cold’ both apply to the relationship between Guo and Yu.”


桑田滄海 = 滄海桑田

* Source: Biographies of the Deities and Immortals (Shenxian Zhuan)
* East China sea becoming mulberry fields
* Magu said: “Since we met last time, I have seen the East China Sea turned into mulberry fields thrice. When I visited Penglai Island just now, I saw that the water was shallower than half of it was when we met. Is it going to turn into land again?”



* Source: 鶴林玉露 (Song Dynasty)
* “a short weapon one inch long can kill” – metaphor for quality than quantity? In Korea, it is mostly used when someone says something short and very witty



* merely nominal; famous but with no substance



* There is no person that has 1000 good days (in a row), and no flower that stays red for 100 days.
* Nothing good lasts forever; all good things must come to an end



* harmony in the family leads to prosperity in all undertakings



* spring dream; ephemeral illusion; pipe dream



* a disaster which kills one along with one’s entire family



* thousand years
* (normally only used for “resentment for a thousand years”)


漁夫の利 – I didn’t know that this was a Japanese idiom

* Source: 戰國策 (Strategies of the Warring States or Annals of the Warring States)
* a snipe and a clam are arguing, and while they are busily focused on each other, a fisherman catches them both



* Source: Thirty-Six Stratagems
* the ruse of inflicting an injury upon oneself to win the trust of one’s enemy



* Source: Book of the Later Han
* amid five leagues of mist



* delicate, beautiful hands


* sweet words, but a wicked heart


* of all hues; all kinds of; assorted and varied


* Deep in the mountain


* Everything goes well


* A crow flies, a pear falls

精神一到 何事不成

* If you focus your mind, there’s nothing you can’t achieve (sounds very Japanese to me?)


* The joy of eating (nice food)


* A series of battles, a series of victories (victory in every game or battle)

有錢無罪 無錢有罪

* Innocent with money, guilty with no money (lack of justice)


* High morale (in a battle)


* 10,000 generations of descendants


* Five colors, brilliant and shiny


* (a child) Carefree? Mischievous?


* Deal with foreigners with foreigners (deal with enemies with enemies)
* related to strategy


* “same kinds follow each other” ; Flock of the feather


* Kaleidoscope? “The world is strange”


* Things get shattered; fall apart; stormed away


* Clapping and laughing hard


* Not knowing a letter (illiterate, ignorant)


* Once in a battle, never retreat


* a hero in the mountain


* “Say it as it is”
* normally used in period drama when someone is interrogated

虛虛實實 (Japanese: [](

* wit matching wit; a match between persons equal in shrewdness mobilizing all the tricks each can muster

悠悠自適 (Japanese)

* being able to live in a carefree way



** Zhuangzi’s dream of butterfly

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