Chinese Idioms

This is a list of some idioms that I’ve come across through my translation projects. I thought it would be fun to keep a collection of them for anyone else who enjoys them too!

狼心狗肺 – láng xīn gǒu fèi
“heart of a wolf, lungs of a dog”; cruel and unscrupulous/ungrateful and heartless

锦衣玉食 – jǐn yī yù shí
“brocade garments, jade meals”; life of extravagance/luxury; 2

心惊胆战 – xīn jīng dǎn zhàn
“heart alarmed, trembling in fear”; scared witless

魂飞魄散 – hún fēi pò sàn
“soul flies away and scatters”; frighted stiff/terror-stricken

打草惊蛇 – dǎ cǎo jīng shé
“beat the grass and startle the snake”; inadvertently alert the enemy/punish somebody as a warning to others; 2

兵荒马乱 – bīng huāng mǎ luàn
“soldiers mutiny and troops rebel”; turmoil and chaos caused by war

失而复得 – shī ér fù dé
“to lose something and then regain it”

尘埃落定 – chén āi luò dìng
“the dust has settled”; get sorted out/be finalized

横冲直撞 – héng chōng zhí zhuàng
“bashing sideways and colliding straight on”; to push through shoving and bumping/to charge around violently

无事不登三宝殿 – wú shì bù dēng sān bǎo diàn
“One doesn’t visit a temple without a cause”; to visit somebody with an ulterior motive (especially to ask for something)/having a hidden agenda

有钱能使鬼推磨 – yǒu qián néng shǐ guǐ tuī mó
“money will make the Devil turn millstones”; you can do whatever you want if you have money

单枪匹马 – dān qiāng pǐ mǎ
“single spear and horse”; single-handed or unaccompanied

老气横秋 – lǎo qì héng qiū
“old and decrepit”; proud of one’s age and experience

御驾亲征 – yù jià qīn zhēng
“the emperor leads his troops into battle”; to take part personally in an expedition

心平气和 – xīn píng qì hé
“tranquil and even-tempered”; calmly and without stress

若无其事 – ruò wú qí shì
“as if nothing happened”; calmly/nonchalantly

察言观色 – chá yán guān sè
“to weigh somebody’s words and observe their facial expression”; to discern somebody’s thoughts from their body language

满城风雨 – mǎn​ chéng ​fēng​ yǔ​
“wind and rain sweeping through the town”; a big scandal/an uproar/the talk of the town

如狼似虎 – rú ​láng ​sì ​hǔ
“like wolves and tigers”; ruthless

善有善报 – shàn ​yǒu ​shàn ​bào
“virtue has its rewards”; one good turn deserves another

化险为夷 – huà​ xiǎn​ wéi​ yí
“to turn peril into safety”; to avert disaster

池鱼之殃 – chí yú zhī yāng
“calamity of the pond fish”; be involved in a disaster not of one’s own making

灰头土脸 – huī ​tóu​ tǔ ​liǎn
“head and face filthy with grime”; dejected and depressed

妙手回春 – miào​ shǒu​ huí​ chūn
“magical hands bring the dying back to life”; miracle cure / brilliant doctor

三顾茅庐 – sān ​gù​ máo ​lú
“three humble visits to a thatched cottage”; repeatedly request somebody to take up a responsible post. From the Romance of Three Kingdoms: Liu Bei recruits Zhuge Liang to his cause by visiting him three times

天上掉馅饼 – tiān​ shàng ​diào ​xiàn​ bǐng​
“a meat pie falls from the sky”; to have something fall into your lap


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