40 Chinese Proverbs for Entrepreneurship

40 Chinese Proverbs for Entrepreneurship

by Nicholas Tart on June 15, 2009 · 34 comments

Some Chinese proverbs are literary while others humbly originated from families and commoners of Ancient China. I have filtered through a wealth of Chinese proverbs and selected 40 that are of special interest to entrepreneurs.

Below each proverb I offer a brief explanation of a how you can apply this ancient wisdom to your entrepreneurial aspirations.

Chinese Proverbs

1. “In every crisis, there is opportunity.”

Most entrepreneurial ventures arise from a solving a problem. If you are faced with a problem, craft a solution and sell that solution to others. As an interesting side note, it’s a common misconception that the word crisis and opportunity mean the same thing in the ancient Chinese language. This misconception initially gained momentum when John F. Kennedy incorrectly cited it in a speech in 1959. (source: smallbusiness411.org)

2. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Entrepreneurship starts with an idea and ends with a destiny. You craft your destiny with your actions, habits and character. You make your destiny, it doesn’t make you.

3. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Aside from 20 years ago, there is no better time to start a business than today.

4. “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.”

The goal of every entrepreneur should be to start a business and find capable people to run the business so that they don’t have to.

5. “A bad workman blames his tools.”

A bad entrepreneur places blame on someone or something else when things go bad. First and foremost, you should hold yourself accountable for a negative outcome of your business.

6. “A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.”

As an entrepreneur you always have to be open to new opportunities. If you aren’t actively looking for new ways to make your business more innovative, you won’t be very successful as an entrepreneur.

7. “A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.”

When bad things happen, a good entrepreneur learns from them.

8. “A fly before his own eye is bigger than an elephant in the next field.”

When you focus only on the opportunities that are right in front of you, you might miss the larger ones that take effort to find.

9. “A jade stone is useless before it is processed; a man is good-for-nothing until he is educated.”

A strong education is often the foundation of a strong business. The more you know about entrepreneurship, the more equipped you will be to face its various challenges.

10. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Every entrepreneur in the history of the world started their business with a single action.

11. “A person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the man doing it.”

As an entrepreneur, you will undoubtedly encounter people who will doubt you. Don’t let those people get in your way. Instead, use their doubt as motivation.

12. “A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.”

You can learn a lot from talking to experienced entrepreneurs. They have been through the process and can teach you more than most any book.

13. “All cats love fish but fear to wet their paws.”

All people love to make money but few people pursue entrepreneurship because it’s full of challenges and uncomfortable risks.

14. “Cheap things are not good, good things are not cheap.”

As a small business owner, always focus on providing quality.

15. “Customers are jade; merchandise is grass.”

What good is a business without customers? You should value your customers more than any other aspect of your business.

16. “Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it.”

You will encounter setbacks, but don’t let those setbacks defeat you.

17. “Defer not till to-morrow what may be done to-day.”

One of the most challenging things for an entrepreneur is simply getting things done. According to numerous entrepreneurs I have spoken with, procrastination is one of the largest causes of failure in new businesses.

18. “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.”

Though a good entrepreneur isn’t afraid to take risks, never rely too heavily on projections of profitability, success in a certain market, etc. A good entrepreneur always considers, and has a plan for, the worst-case scenario.

19. “Don’t stand by the water and long for fish; go home and weave a net.”

Instead of complaining about how you aren’t making much money, find new ways to earn it.

20. “Easy to run downhill, much puffing to run up.”

It’s easy to run a business when the going is good, but the true test of an entrepreneur is how he or she behaves when faced with challenges. As the current economic climate makes overwhelmingly clear, every market has its ups and downs.

21. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

This one is so clear, it requires no explanation.

22. “Falling hurts least those who fly low.”

The less amount of money you spend, the less it will hurt if your business fails. It’s common for entrepreneurs to bootstrap the initial costs of their business. Bootstrapping means doing whatever you can to spend as little as possible.

23. “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

If you’re going to put effort into starting a business, then make sure you put 100% effort into every aspect of your business.

24. “If you get up one more time than you fall you will make it through.”

When you get knocked down, get back up. If you don’t get back up, your business will fail.

25. “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

When you get to the point of hiring employees; the more you pay, the higher quality effort you will receive.

26. “It’s as difficult to be rich without bragging as it is to be poor without complaining.”

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to remain humble, especially when you’re rich. Humility is difficult to maintain when things are going well.

27. “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

Learn from your business and it’s something you will never lose.

28. “Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come.”

If you make your customers happy, they will talk and those they talk to may become new customers.

29. “Patience is a virtue.”

Having patience with your business is essential to your success. Very few businesses are profitable in their first year.

30. “Rich not gaudy.”

When you become rich, don’t become gaudy, or tastelessly flashy.

31. “Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.”

Being taught something will only get you so far. You must independently apply that learning to become successful.

32. “The diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor the man perfected without trials.”

You will encounter trials and tribulations as a business owner, but these trials and tribulations will mold you into a better entrepreneur.

33. “The emperor is rich, but he cannot buy one extra year.”

Your business and the money it generates are not the most important things in your life.

34. “The loftiest towers rise from the ground.”

Even the most successful businesses in the world started with the conception and implementation of an idea.

35. “The palest ink is better than the best memory.”

When you conceive an idea on how to improve your business, write it down!

36. “There are two perfectly good men, one dead, and the other unborn.”

No one is perfect. Always be open to learning from other people.

37. “To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art.”

Starting a business is simple in comparison to keeping it.

38. “We all like lamb; each has a different way of cooking it.”

Entrepreneurship is like an art: there is not always a right and wrong way of pursuing your business goals. Let your personal taste and style as an entrepreneur be your strength.

39. “Who is not satisfied with himself will grow; who is not sure of his own correctness will learn many things.”

Remember you don’t know everything. Actively seek out advice and information, and you will learn.

40. “A smile will gain you ten more years of life.”

What’s the point in owning a business if you’re not having fun with it? If your business doesn’t make you smile, then it’s the wrong business for you.

Other Proverbs

The Chinese aren’t the only people with great business advice. Here are a few entrepreneurial proverbs taken from a broader swath of cultures.

“When all resources – food, wildlife, trees, fuel – are destroyed, man will not be able to eat money.”Native American Proverb

“Building a castle is difficult. Defending and maintaining it is harder still.”Asian Proverb

“He who begins many things finishes but few.”German Proverb

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” Japanese Proverb

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

My Favorite Quote

One notable Chinese proverb I left out of this list happens to be my favorite quote, ever; and it is especially applicable to my entrepreneurial journey. I only left it out so I could highlight it at the end.

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”Confucius

If you know of any applicable Chinese proverbs I missed, please leave them in the comments below. Also, if you like this post, you should get JuniorBiz by Email.

What is your favorite Chinese proverb?

Want even more inspiration?

40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You've Never HeardDon’t miss these inspirational quotes from crazy-young kids:
40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You’ve Never Heard >>

Photo by: Bartek Kuzia


1 Charles June 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I’m of Chinese descent and I never knew there were so many sayings taken from Chinese proverbs! Thanks for the list :-)

2 Nick Tart June 28, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I was pretty shocked myself. I found most of them by going through a list of over 600. Here’s the site:


Thanks for the comment!

3 AP June 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I can only process so much information at any one time. I’ll have to revisit the list daily and read a new proverb daily or weekly, but it gives me a reason to revisit your site.

4 Nick Tart June 28, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Yeah, the list did get a little long, but I suppose it’s a good thing if it will keep you coming back. Thanks for commenting.

5 Harish June 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Great list Nick. Should be read by entrepreneur if they wanted to improve them. Retweeted :)

6 Nick Tart June 28, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Hi, Harish and thanks! Yeah, writing this article made me think quite a bit about entrepreneurship and I there are quite a few valuable lessons in those proverbs. Thanks again for the RT.

7 YingHang June 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm

You did good research on it I guess and great job. Btw, I am a Chinese! :D

8 Nick Tart June 28, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Thanks, Ying Hang! I checked out your site, it looks cool. I especially like your domain!

9 Clinton Skakun February 27, 2011 at 4:03 am

Great list! So many of them get the point across. You must have worked your ass off to compile this list, and then to add the explinations below. Really impressed with your effort!:)

I have an issue with the last one though, “do what you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.” Taking into account the word of other billionaires and millionaires, “money and work will taint your love.” Now I know there are a lucky few who can do what they love, are really good at it and make a lot of money doing it. But there are the rest of us who have no real discovered talent. We couldn’t make a red cent at music, shooting hoops, pitching baseballs or art. I’ve done all of these things, and I love guitar, scetching and even making animated movies. The problem is, I highly doubt I could do it for money, or at least the kind of money I’m after(10s of millions). And there’s a good chance that eventually I’d lose my passion for music because I’d be pressured to perform for money. My love for music and my lack of passion and drive would limit my ability to become wealthy. My music was my baby, so is my art I have packed away in a binder somewhere.

My business, however, is not my baby. It is my vehicle to weath, I’d sell it in a second if it meant I’d be wealthy. I’m driven and passionate about building this asset because it means lifestyle down the road. Sure, I get into the flow and love alot of the aspects of the business. But in reality, I’d rather be traveling the world, pissing away my money and partying with friends(another thing I love but don’t get paid for). Once I become wealthy, what’s stopping me from doing what I love for free? In the mean time I have to work hard and do a few things I’d rather not do in order to reach a time in my life where money is no longer an issue. And I can continue in business for the sheer buzz I get from it.


10 Nick Tart February 27, 2011 at 11:04 am

Yeah, this was one of those 10-15-hour posts. It’s part of the reason that it’s the second most popular page on JuniorBiz.

I think there’s something to keeping your business and your passion hobbies separate. I know a few people who choose to do that so they’re hobby doesn’t become a stress-point. But I believe the point of the quote is that when you love your job, it isn’t work. Yeah, you still have to work hard and do things that you don’t want to do. But you need to find a way to change your perspective so you can enjoy that work.

Now, I also believe that if you really dedicate yourself to your guitar and your art, you can find a way to make a living from it. MysteryGuitarMan is a good example (http://juniorbiz.com/joe-penna-interview). It may not be as much as you want, but that doesn’t matter so much if you love your job.

11 Keith Dennis March 17, 2011 at 3:25 am

Thanks for the post! 10 to 15 hours, that is a lot of work! I like – The emperor is rich but he cannot buy one more year. It just goes to show that not everything is about money. Family and your true passions in life deserve some attention as well.

Good work!

12 Nick Tart March 17, 2011 at 9:53 am

Yeah, but 1,000 stumbles makes it worth it ;). It’s nice to have it put into perspective, huh?

13 Ravi November 21, 2011 at 2:46 am

I Loved the one – If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, and used it in my HR ppt in my company. This helped us a lot in hiring.

14 Nicholas Tart November 23, 2011 at 12:21 am

I like that one as well, Ravi. I still know of a few companies that pay really well but seem to attract a never-ending chain of monkeys. Some services just can’t attract hard working people.

15 Joan November 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

Whom the gods wish to destroy, they send 40 years of success

16 Syeda Wahid March 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm

These are some really great quotes (I’ve honestly heard a lot of business quotes but not many Chine proverbs) Thanks, and great work!

~Syeda Recent Post: Top Five Ways To Make A Great First Impression

17 Amitava Manna July 23, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I bookmarked your page. Seems like a gold mine that will stay with the rest of my life. Before I die, I shall speak about your page to whoever is so interested. We have gigatons of technology but few Illuminatis like you. The world will be a lot better place with some ancient wisdom and present Illuminatis like you. Have my deepest respect.

I once came across a Chinese proverb that I shall love to see on your page. I am giving the approximate that my memory can supply: “Nature whispers to the grass…grow…grow”

18 Muwonge Ashiraf October 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Hi Nicholas,
Thank you very much. In reality indeed any business is nothing without the customers.
But then also geting the customers is not that easy.

19 kwandiwe mbande October 10, 2013 at 3:03 am

Thanks very much for the business proverbs

20 novoline pc November 19, 2012 at 4:15 am

I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept.

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I am glad to found such useful post. I really increased my knowledge after read your post which will be beneficial for me

22 Curtis Carpenter February 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

you can learn something from everything its just a matter of taking action and seeing where it leads.

23 ahsanic March 1, 2013 at 4:27 am

good one!

24 Paal Nilsen March 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

” Wherever you go, there you are”. Confucius

25 abdulahisomo March 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

realy nice thanks alot lant alot .

26 dinaviriya March 25, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for the great and useful quotes. It will motivate us. Thanks.

27 Snuffy Joe October 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I don’t suppose you have these Chinese proverbs in Chinese? Thanks

28 Nicholas Tart October 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

I do not, Snuffy Joe.

29 Garima Kapoor November 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm

i really liked all proverbs !! So fascinating and motivating.

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