Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings by Qin Xue Herzberg and Larry Herzberg [Book Review]
The short Chinese proverb—a sometimes-poetic, sometimes-pithy observation about life—is a trope of popular culture. More sayings have been attributed to ‘ancient Chinese philosophers’ than could be possible. Of course, this has a grain of truth: Chinese features a wide array of proverbs and sayings on almost every aspect of daily life. The nature of the Chinese language is conducive to the creation of proverbs: single characters are packed with meaning, and the reliance on context means that ‘extraneous’ words can be removed; sayings that would require fifteen words in English or other languages require only four characters in Chinese.
Recounting every possible proverb would be impossible, but Larry and Qin Xue Herzberg have compiled the ones they feel to be the most essential to the average reader. The Herzbergs have created a fun little volume, packed with sayings that range from the philosophical to the mundane. Chinese proverbs are oftenstereotyped as either extremely succinct observations or ornate, flowery poetry, but the Herzbergs make sure to include more humorous proverbs, such as “a dog can’t change his instinct to eat poop,” a more scatological version of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Nor do the Herzbergs shy away from including proverbs that a modern society would find embarrassing, such as proverbs rooted in outdated concepts of women, such as “women are long on hair, but they’re short on knowledge.”
This is an excerpt from a review of Escape from Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings by Qin Xue Herzberg and Larry Herzberg, originally published in the Asian Review of Books on June 25th, 2012. The full review can be accessed here.