Eight Chinese proverbs to help with modern life

The Chinese are famous for their proverbs, or yànyŭ: words of wisdom gathered from literature or uttered by famous philosophers over the centuries. And, although ancient in some cases, many of these proverbs still provide valuable guidance in the modern age.

1. Different locks must be opened with different keys

Every problem we face in life will require a different set of skills to overcome. In a business context, or when managing relationships, it’s important to recognise that a “one key fits all” approach won’t work! Be flexible and face each new challenge with a fresh outlook and the right tools.

2. A blind horse always frightens itself

Most of us will have – at some point or another – wound ourselves up into a state of anxiety or fear when going in to a situation ill-informed. Feeling unprepared and out of one’s depth can easily lead to panic. This proverb reminds us that learning the lay of the land will help us to keep calm and know what plan of action to take.

3. You must enter the tiger’s den to catch his cubs

This is an animal-based alternative to the expression “no pain, no gain” or “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And it reminds us that success in any enterprise requires taking a few risks – sometimes we need to make ourselves vulnerable in order to get what we want. A good example is throwing oneself head first into a new relationship: there’s always a chance of getting hurt, but in opening yourself up you might just find life-long love…

4. Dig the well before you are thirsty

The message here is simple: plan ahead. Prepare for any eventuality before it occurs to avoid any unwelcome scenarios!

5. The longer the string, the higher the kite will fly

Play the long game. Making a long-term plan, rather than rushing into things or expecting instant results, will reap benefits over time. In the digital age, many of us expect instant gratification – but remember – good things come to those who wait!

6. A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books

In an age when we spend all day with our eyes glued to our phones or laptops, it’s important to remember the value of a good old conversation. Rather than getting the information you need from the internet, talk to an expert. Personal experience is a valuable resource that we should all tap!

7. Women hold up half the sky

It was Chairman Mao who came up with this snappy ode to women’s equality. “Today men and women are equal,” the communist leader also pronounced more than half a century ago. At a time when the pay gap and the treatment of women in the workplace has come into sharp focus, this resonates louder than ever.

8. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now

Don’t put things off. If you want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now. And read in a literal sense, this proverb has added poignancy. We need to act today to protect our planet from the effects of pollution, before it’s too late.