Have you ever wondered about those poetic four-character phrases in Chinese?
Welcome to the world of Chengyu (成语; chéng yǔ)!
While they might seem simple with just four characters, they pack centuries of stories, values, and wisdom.
In today’s post, we’ll explore five popular Chengyu that you can use immediately to impress your Chinese friends.
一石二鸟 (yī shí èr niǎo)
Literal translation: One stone, two birds
Written in traditional Chinese: 一石二鳥
Equivalent English idiom: Kill two birds with one stone
When efficiency is critical, this idiom comes to the rescue. It’s about achieving two goals with one action.
That’s a great way to achieve two goals with one action.
(nà shì ge yī shí èr niǎo de hǎo fāng fǎ)
七上八下 (qī shàng bā xià)
Literal translation: Seven up, eight down
This idiom beautifully captures the feeling of being unsettled or anxious. The idiom’s origin comes from a tale about a man carrying 15 buckets: 7 of them uphill and 8 of them downhill. This made the man very uneasy.
After the interview, I felt uneasy.
(miàn shì hòu wǒ xīn lǐ qī shàng bā xià de)
人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi)
Literal translation: People mountain, people sea
A poetic way to describe massive crowds, this idiom is perfect for places bustling with activity.
During the holidays, everywhere is packed with crowds.
(fàng jià le dào chù dōu rén shān rén hǎi)
车水马龙 (chē shuǐ mǎ lóng)
Literal translation: Car, water, horse, dragon
Written in traditional Chinese: 車水馬龍
This evocative idiom brings to mind the bustling streets of ancient China, drawing parallels to today’s busy urban scenes. In ancient China, the idiom described a road full of horse-drawn carriages maneuvering in heavy traffic, which looked like a river‘s stream or a dragon’s tail waving from side to side.
This street is bustling with traffic every day.
(zhè tiáo mǎlù měi tiān dōu chē shuǐ mǎ lóng)
五花八门 (wǔ huā bā mén)
Literal translation: Five flowers, eight doors
Written in traditional Chinese: 五花八門
This idiom describes the wide variety or diversity of something. In ancient China, the terms “five flowers” (五花) and “eight doors” (八门), were used to refer to various trades. Nowadays, the idiom 五花八门 means “all kinds” of something.
This shop has all kinds of products.
(zhè jiā diàn yǒu wǔ huā bā mén de shāng pǐn)
And there you have it! Five Chinese idioms that can lend depth, color, and cultural nuance to your conversations.
Remember, every Chengyu is a mini-lesson in Chinese history and philosophy.
So, the next time you drop a “一石二鸟” or “人山人海,” watch for those impressed nods and smiles from your Chinese friends.