Blog Culture

8 Most Famous Confucius Quotes in English and Chinese

No doubt. Confucius is the most famous Chinese person all the time. As a great educator, philosopher and writer, Confucius is highly respected in Chinese culture. We respect Confucius for his wisdom and contributions on various fields.

Through translation, Confucius’s thoughts were wildly known in the rest of the world including English speaking countries and areas.

In this post, we will take a look at Confucius’ 8 most famous quotes in both English and Chinese.

I have to say, English version might help people get the idea of Confucius’s wisdom, however, if you wish to enjoy the beauty of Confucius’ writing, you have to know Chinese.

Let’s take a look at the Chinese version of Confucius’s 8 most famous quotes. At the same time, we will learn some Chinese characters.

1,  Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.

Chinese version: 已所不欲,勿施于人 (yǐ suǒ bú yù ,wù shī yú rén).

已: yourself, 所: position, 不: no, 欲: want,勿: not, 施: impose, 于: to, 人: people.

In this quote, Confucius told us: We have to respect other’s feelings and think in his shoes.

2, He that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

Chinese version: 工欲善其事,必先利其器 (gōng yù shàn qí shì ,bì xiān lì qí qì).

工: craftman, 欲: wish, 善: do well, 其: his, 事: job,必: must, 先: first, 利: sharpen, 其: his, 器: tool.

In this quote, Confucius told us: If we wish to do our job well, we have to make sure our tools work well first.

There is another Chinese saying with the similar meaning: 磨刀不误砍柴工 ( mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng ). It means: Having your firewood chopper sharpen will help you chop the wood faster.

3, The superior man is satisfied and composed; the mean man is always full of distress.

Chinese version: 君子坦荡荡,小人常戚戚 (jūn zǐ tǎn dàng dàng, xiǎo rén cháng qī qī ).

君子: a respectful person, 坦荡荡: worry-free, 小人: a mean person, 常: often, 戚戚: worried, nervous.

In this quote, Confucius told us how to be a respectful person and have a right life attitude.

4,  Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.

Chinese version: 学而不思则罔,思而不学则殆 ( xúe ér bù sī zé wǎng , sī ér bù xúe zé daì ).

学: study; 而: but, 不: not, 思: think, 则: then, 罔: useless, 思: think, 而: but, 不: not, 学: study, 则: then, 殆: dangerous.

In this quote, Confucius told us: When we study, we need combine both thinking and learning to reach the best result.

For example, when you learn something, you just accept everything you learned but never think on your own, then you are wasting your time, after all, one important purpose of learning is helping you develop your own ideas.

However, if you do have your thoughts but you never take the time to learn something basic from others and the world, you might be in a dangerous mental state without knowing a real world.

5,  If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand。

Chinese version: 人无远虑,必有近忧 ( rén wú yuǎn lǜ ,bì yǒu jìn yōu ).

人: people, 无: have no, 远: distant, 虑: concern, 必: must, 有: have, 近: near, 忧: worry.

In this quote, Confucius told us: If you don’t plan something ahead, you might have troubles at hand.

For example, if you didn’t have any financial plans when you were young, when you were getting old and had a hard life, you will feel regret that you didn’t have a good financial plan when you can.

6, An army may be deprived of its commanding officer, however a man cannot be deprived of his will.

Chinese version: 三军可夺帅也,匹夫不可夺志也 ( sān jūn kě duó shuài yě, pǐ fū  bù kě duó zhì yě ).

三军: three armies, here it means a big army, 可: is able to, 夺: deprive, 帅: leader, 也: modal particle,匹夫: one person, 不: not, 可: be able to, 夺: deprive, lose, 志: will, dream, goal. 也:  modal particle.

In this quote, Confucius told us: A man’s will and dignity is very important. You could lose everything but you can’t lose your own dream.

7, While his parents are alive, the son may not go abroad to a distance. If he does go abroad, he must have a fixed place to which he goes.

Chinese version:  父母在,不远游,游必有方 ( fù mǔ zài, bú yuǎn yóu,yóu bì yǒu fāng ).

父母: parents, 在: alive, 不: not, 远: far, 游: travel, 游: travel, 必: has to, 有: has, 方: place.

In this quote, Confucius told us: As a child, we have the duty to take care of our elderly parents. If we have to travel far away for something important, we have to find a fixed place, so our parents know where we are, so they could find us when needed. 

By the way, I personally think, in this quote, 方 doesn’t mean place, it should mean: reason or principal. It means: If you really have to travel, you have to have a solid reason to do so.

8, When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.

Chinese version: 三人行,必有我师焉。择其善者而从之,其不善者而改之 ( sān rén xíng, bì yǒu wǒ shī yān . zé qí shàn zhě ér cóng zhī , qí bú shàn zhě ér gǎi zhī ).

三: three, 人: person, 行: walk,必: must, 有: there is, 我: my, 师: teacher, 焉: modal particle. 择: choose, 其: their, 善者: good qualities, 而: to, 从之: follow, 其: their, 不善者: bad qualities, 而改之: avoid.

In this quote, Confucius told us: Every one is a potential teacher. In this sense, we should respect every one.

From a respectful person, we might learn a lot but from a humble person, we can learn something too. He might have something good to learn or he might have some lessons that we should be aware of.

Confucius had a lot o famous quotes, however, from these eight well known quotes, we have a glimpse of his wisdom.

Now you know some of Confucius’s most famous quotes in Chinese. Next time, when you try to express your ideas in Mandarin Chinese, don’t forget to cite some of Confucius’ quotes.

2 replies on “8 Most Famous Confucius Quotes in English and Chinese”

Hi, thanks for the interesting article. Can you translate the saying: to know what is right and not do it, is the worst cowardice of all. I can’t find it online…

To know what is right and not do it, is the worst cowardice of all: 见义不为,无勇也 (jiàn yì bù wéi, wú yǒng yě)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.