Samples From Chinese Wisdom

We have collected some wise sayings of Chinese philosophers. Enjoy reading these insights and feel free to share this page on your social media to inspire others. See also: Confucius, Lao Tzu

Chinese Sages and Immortals

Lao Tzu said: Sometimes lead, sometimes follow; sometimes exhale [warm / be intense] sometimes inhale [cool / take it easy]; sometimes rigid, sometimes flexible; sometimes advance, sometimes retreat. (Tao Te Ching Ch. 29)

Sun Tzu said: Do not repeat tactics just because they have gained you one victory. Let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

Shih said: Nothing, in the ordering of this world, is either at all times right or at all times wrong. (Lieh Tzu Ch. 8)

Shih said: There is no fixed rule for seizing opportunities, hitting off the right moment, or adapting oneself to circumstances. (Lieh Tzu Ch. 8)

Tzu Hsia said to Confucius, “What do you think of Yen Hui?” Confucius said, “Yen Hui has compassion–more than I do.” “And Tzu Kung?” “Tzu Kung is a better speaker than I am.” “And Tzu Lu?” “Tzu Lu is incredibly brave. He’s braver than I am.” “And Tzu Chang?” “Tzu Chang can maintain dignity better than I can.” Tzu Hsia then remarked, “So how come all four of them are your disciples?” Confucius said, “Sit down and let me tell you. Yen Hui is indeed compassionate, but he is also inflexible about it. Tzu Kung is indeed a great speaker, but he does not know when to not speak. Tzu Lu is indeed very brave, but he lacks caution. Tzu Chang is indeed very dignified, but he is not harmonious in social interaction. If I could have all of their virtues, I would not take them in exchange for my own. That is why they are intent on learning from me. (Lieh Tzu Ch. 4)

Mencius said: The principle of Yang Chu was “Each person for himself.” … As for Mo Tzu, his main idea was “love all people equally.” …Then there is Tzu Mo, who holds a medium between these two philosophies. By holding that medium, he is nearer the right. But by holding it without leaving room for the pressing needs of circumstances, it becomes like their holding their one point. The reason why I hate holding to one point is the hindrance it does to tao. It takes up one point and disregards a hundred others.

Confucius said: When the chun tzu deals with the world, he is not [biased] for or against anything–he just follows what is right. (Analects 4:10)

Lao Tzu said: The great master abides in the substance, and does not abide in the surface; abides in the fruit, and does not abide in the flower. Therefore, not taking the one, takes the other. (Tao Te Ching Ch. 38)

Chuang Tzu said: He who masters the true-nature of Life does not strive after what is of no use to life.

T’an T’ai appeared to be a superior person. Confucius regarded him as having great potential, and took him in as a disciple. However, after interacting with him for a while, Confucius discovered that his conduct did not match what he appeared to be. Ts’ai Yu’s speech was brilliant and cultivated. Confucius regarded him as having great potential, and took him in as a disciple. However, after interacting with him for a while, Confucius discovered that his wisdom did not match his speaking skill. Therefore, Confucius said, “Should I pick people based on their appearance? I made a mistake with T’an-t’ai. Should I pick people based on their speech? I made a mistake with Ts’ai Yu.” So even Confucius–who was supremely wise–had to acknowledge that his judgments were incorrect. The speakers of today are more articulate than Ts’ai Yu, and the rulers of today are more easily deceived than Confucius. So if they assign people to office solely based on their satisfaction with their speech, then how are they going to avoid making mistakes? Mistakes are easily made when people trust others just based on their skill in speaking. (Han Fei Tzu)

There was once a man who, though born in Yen, was brought up in Ch’u, and it was only in his old age that he went to return to his native country [of Yen]. On the way there [traveling from Ch’u to Yen], as he was passing through Chin, a fellow traveler played a practical joke on him. Pointing to the city he said, “Here is the capital of the Yen State”; whereupon the old man flushed with excitement. Then pointing out a certain shrine, he told him, “This is your own village altar,” and the old man heaved a deep sigh. Then he showed him a house, and said, “This is where your ancestors lived,” and tears welled up into the old man’s eyes. Finally, a mound was pointed out to him as the tomb where his ancestors lay buried, whereupon the old man could control himself no longer, and wept aloud. But his fellow traveler burst into roars of laughter. “I have been hoaxing you,” he cried; “this is only the Chin State.” His victim was greatly mortified; and when he arrived at his journey’s end and really did see before him the city and altars of Yen, with the actual abode and tombs of his ancestors, his emotion was much less acute. (Chinese Folktale)

General Wu Ch’i was leading Wey’s forces in an attack on the Central Hills. One of his soldiers was ill with boils, and Wu Ch’i himself bent down and sucked the pus out of the boil. The soldier’s mother was observing this nearby, and was crying. The people who saw her said, “The general is being nice to your son. Why does this make you cry?” The mother replied, “Wu Ch’i also sucked the pus out of his father’s wound, and his father was later killed in battle. So, my son will probably die in battle as well. That is why I am crying.” (Han Fei Tzu)

Tzu Kung said: Confucius learned from everyone. He did not have a primary teacher. (Analects 19:22)

Confucius said: The chun tzu uses each individual according to his particular capacity. (Analects 13:25)

Sun Tzu said: The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals; hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy. (Art of War 5:21)

Sun Tzu said: When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization. (Analects 10:18)

Han Fei Tzu said: Li K’uei was Governor of the Upper Land under Marquis Wen of Wey, and he wanted every man in the region be a good shooter. He issued a decree that if any men were involved in an unsettled legal dispute, they would have a target shooting competition, and the winner would win the suit. As soon as the decree was issued, the entire region began practicing archery day and night. And then, when the region went to war with the Ch’ins, they obliterated them due to the fact that everyone was such a good archer.

Han Fei Tzu said: It is very uncommon to see reverence for benevolence and loyalty to righteousness, and it is rather difficult for a person to live in such a manner.

Han Fei Tzu said: Most people will submit to authority; very few will be moved by righteousness. Confucius was a Sage who illustrated tao–and yet, after travelling through the entire country, he only attracted 70 [major] disciples. … Duke Ai of Lu was an unextraordinary ruler–and yet, when he rose to power as the head of the state [and he exercised authority], everyone in Lu obeyed him [, including Confucius himself]. … These days, scholars advise rulers to practice benevolence and righteousness instead of telling them to rely on the proven technique or exercising authority. This is similar to asking someone to act like Confucius, and expecting the general public to act like Confucius’s 70 disciples.

Han Fei Tzu said: For the most part, the difficulty in persuading people is found in knowing someone else’s mind-and-heart, and adapting your words to conform to it.

Han Fei Tzu said: The key to persuasion is in knowing how to feature the perspectives that the person you are talking to wants to promote, while you downplay the aspects that he wants to hide.

Lao Tzu said: Fame or the self–which is more important? The self or money–which is more valuable? (Tao Te Ching Ch. 44)

Yang Chu said: Yuan Hsie [a disciple of Confucius] lived in mean circumstances in Lu, while Tzu Kung amassed wealth in Wei. Poverty galled the one, and riches caused distress to the other. So poverty will not do, nor wealth either. [They can both hurt a person].

Yang Chu said: One hundred years is near the heights of what is considered a long life. Less than in a thousand people attain it. Let’s take the standard example of one who does. Infancy and old age account for nearly half of his life. The time he passes unconsciously while asleep at night, and that which is wasted though awake during the day, also accounts about half of what is left. Again, pain and sickness, sorrow and fear/toil, fill up about a half of what is left. This leaves only ten or so years left, and of those, the span for which he is really liberated often amounts to barely one hour. What then is the object of human life? What makes it pleasant? For one, it is comfort/clothing and elegance/good food, music and beauty. Yet one cannot always gratify the desire for comfort and elegance nor incessantly enjoy beauty and music. [Even if they have these things, they will still not truly be satisfied] Besides, being warned/checked by punishments and exhorted/seduced by rewards, urged/led forward by fame/ reputation and repelled/driven back by laws, people are constantly rendered anxious/competing striving for one vain hour of glory/empty praise and providing for the splendor which is to survive/outlast their death. And even in their own solitary ways, people contemplate and abide by what they think others want them to see, hear, think, feel, and do, and they discredit what their own selves feel and think; and so they lose the happiest moments of the present, and cannot really give way [to our own thoughts and feelings] for one hour. Is this really that much different from being a chained prisoner?

Lao Tzu said: The great tao is very easy [even / simple], but people are fond of side paths. When the palace is very splendid, the fields are very weedy and granaries very empty. (Tao Te Ching 53)

Han Fei Tzu said: Overvaluing minor advantages will impede major advantages.

Mencius said: Only when someone refuses to do [certain] things will he be capable of doing [great] things.

Confucius said: Do not be concerned about whether others known you. Be concerned about whether you know others. (Analects 1:16)

Confucius said: When you see good, think of how to rise to that level. When you see bad, reflect inwards and examine your weak points. (Analects 4:17)

Confucius said: At first, my method with others was to listen to what they said, and expect them to act accordingly. Now, my method is to listen to what they say, and then observe what they do. (Analects 5:9)

Chuang Tzu said: Fish traps are employed to catch fish; but when the fish are taken, people forget the traps. Snares are employed to catch rabbits, but when the rabbits are got, people forget the snares. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are apprehended, people forget the words. I would love to find and talk to such a person who has forgotten the words!

Mencius said: People are eager to comment on something when they themselves are not in the situation of doing that thing.

Mencius said: It would be better to be without the Book of History than to believe it entirely.

Lieh Tzu said: So, there is life, and there is that imparts life to life. There is form, and there is that which gives form to form. There is sound, and there is that which sounds sound. There is color, and there is that which colors color. There is taste, and there is that which gives taste to taste. Things that have been endowed with life die; but that which produces life itself never comes to an end. The forming of forms is something, but that forms form is nonexistent. The sound of sound is audible, but the sounder of sounds is inaudible. The coloring of colors is visible; but the colorer of color is invisible. The flavor of flavor is tasteable, but the flavorer of flavors cannot be tasted. All these phenomena are functions of the principle of wu wei [non-action]: To be at will either Yin or Yang, soft or hard, short or long, round or square, alive/killing or dead/birth-giving, hot or cold, buoyant or sinking, one note or another note [of sound], present or absent, black or white, sweet or bitter, fetid or fragrant–this it is to be devoid of knowledge, yet all-knowing; destitute of power, yet all-powerful.

Han Fei Tzu said: Eels are similar to snakes. Silkworms are similar to caterpillars. People are scared when they see snakes, and surprised when they see caterpillars. And yet, fishermen are willing to hold eels in their hands, and women are willing to pick up silkworms. So, when there is [a motive of] profit, people turn as brave as Meng Pen and Chuan Chu.

If you want to avoid being cheated, ask for prices at three different stores. – Chinese Proverb

The person who has never been cheated cannot be a good businessman. – Chinese Proverb

He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever. – Chinese Proverb

Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose. – Chinese Proverb

Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him, and then choose that way with all his strength. – Chinese Proverb

See more of Chinese Proverbs


This page is adapted from http://www.rodneyohebsion.com/chinese-philosophy.htm

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