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Popular Chinese Idiom Stories – Must-Know Chinese Stories with Pinyin

What are Chinese idioms?

Chinese idioms (成语 chéng yǔ), usually four-character expressions, convey complex meanings, moral lessons, cultural wisdom, and more. Some Chinese idioms contain more than four characters as well. Chinese idioms have been passed down for generations, originating from Chinese history, literature, or ancient philosophers. To fully immerse and understand Chinese history and culture, learning Chinese idioms is essential, as they remain widely used in modern China.

In China, children begin learning Chinese idioms at a very young age. Many stories featuring Chinese idioms can be found in teaching materials used in elementary school, middle school, and high school in China. However, texts intended for Chinese native speakers can pose challenges for language learners and foreigners to understand.

At AL Language Cafe, we strive to provide our learners with the best learning experience possible. One way we achieve this is by helping our learners understand Chinese history, culture, and ancient wisdom. With this goal in mind, our writers have made Chinese idiom stories accessible even for language learners at various Chinese proficiency levels. Traditional Chinese idiom stories are often written in ancient languages, but our writers have simplified them and adapted them to modern language to make the stories more accessible. Below, you will find four popular and interesting Chinese idioms that you can read or listen to.

Popular Chinese Idiom Stories

画蛇添足(huà shé tiān zú)—— Translation: Draw a snake and add feet to it

公元前两百多年,在中国长江流域,有个王国叫做楚国。 我们今天要讲的故事就发生在楚国的一户富人家。Circa 200 B.C., in an area by the Yangtze River, China, there was a state called Chu. The story we are going to talk about today happened in a rich family in the State of Chu.
有一天,富人家要举办祭拜祖先的仪式。仪式很大,有很多事情要做,所以这家人请了一些人来帮忙。仪式结束后,就请这些人在家里吃饭。One day, the rich family needed to hold a ceremony to worship its ancestors. It was a big ceremony that needed a lot of preparation, so the family hired helpers. After the ceremony, they invited the helpers to eat at their home.
那个时候,酒是非常少见的。饭桌上只提供了一壶酒,不够这么多人喝。大家不知道怎么去分这壶酒。这时富人家的小孩从旁边经过,他提议, 每个人在地上画一条蛇,谁最快画完,这壶酒就归谁。Back then, liquor was rare. On the table for the helpers, there was only one jug of liquor, that wasn’t enough for everyone. They were not sure how to divide the liquor. Right then, the rich family’s kid walked past them, he suggested that they should draw a snake on the ground, and whoever finished the drawing first would get the entire jug of liquor.
大家虽然觉得这个方法很幼稚,但因为是富人家小孩的提议,只好同意这样做。Although everyone thought this method was childish, they had no choice but to agree since it was suggested by the rich family’s child.

To read the full story, join AL Language Cafe’s Read, Practice and Improve Club. As a member, you’ll have access to the eBook containing the story, a list of new words, and reading comprehension exercises with solutions to help you understand the story better. Additionally, each story includes a Speaking Activity eBook to enhance your speaking skills. Last but not least, you’ll also gain access to an audio recording of the story read at a natural speed by a native speaker.

Or you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we publish new stories weekly.

Watch or listen to the full Chinese story for free:

塞翁失马 (sài wēng shī mǎ)—— Translation: The Old Frontiersman Loses His Horse

在讲今天的故事之前,要先给大家解释几个词语。Before we start today’s story, we have to explain some of the words first.
首先是“边界” ,它指的是把两个国家的土地分开的那条线。那么靠近“边界”的地方就叫做“边境”或者“边塞”。另外,在过去啊,人们会把男性老人叫做“翁”。今天的故事就发生在一个住在边塞的男性老人家里,我们接下来就把这个人简称为“塞翁”。The first word is “边界”, it is referring to the line that separates the territories of two countries. The area that is next to “边界” is known as “边境” or “边塞” (border area). In addition, in the past, people called old men “翁.” Today’s story happened in the house of an old man who lived in the border area, so from this point on, we will call this person “Saiweng (塞翁).”
塞翁养了一匹马,有一天马从家里跑了出去,然后跑过了边界,去了另一个国家。塞翁不能去那个国家找马,所有人都以为这匹马就这么丢了。于是邻居们过来安慰塞翁,没想到塞翁一点都不伤心,反而说:“这不一定是一件坏事呀!”Saiweng had a horse, one day the horse took off, and ran across the border to the other country. Saiweng couldn’t go to the other country to find the horse, so people concluded that the horse was lost. So his neighbors came to comfort Saiweng. To their surprise, Saiweng wasn’t sad at all, On the contrary, he said: “It is not necessarily a bad thing!”
过了几天,马跑了回来,还带回家一匹健壮的骏马。邻居们都过来恭喜塞翁。然而塞翁居然说:。。。。。。A few days later, the horse came back and brought home a strong and handsome horse. His neighbors came to congratulate Saiweng. Surprisingly, Saiweng said: “It is not necessarily a good thing!”

To read the full story, join AL Language Cafe’s Read, Practice and Improve Club. As a member, you’ll have access to the eBook containing the story, a list of new words, and reading comprehension exercises with solutions to help you understand the story better. Additionally, each story includes a Speaking Activity eBook to enhance your speaking skills. Last but not least, you’ll also gain access to an audio recording of the story read at a natural speed by a native speaker.

Or you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we publish new stories weekly.

Watch or listen to the full Chinese story for free:

天和地 (tiān hé dì) —— Translation: The Sky and the Earth

从人类开始有思想以来,就对遥远的天空和广阔的大地有着各种神秘的猜测。Ever since humanity started having thoughts, there have been various mysterious speculations about the distant sky and the vast earth.
在中国,有着关于天和地的各种传说。有的传说讲的是天空和大地的起源,有的传说讲的是,在看不见尽头的天空和大地上住着各种各样的神仙。人们也创造了很多带“天”和“地”的成语。 今天我们就来学习几个带“天”和“地”的常见成语。In China, there are all kinds of legends about the sky and the earth. Some of the legends talk about the origin of the sky and the earth, while others talk about all kinds of deities living in the boundless sky and land. People have also created many idioms with the characters 天 (sky) and 地 (earth). Today we are going to learn a few common idioms with the characters 天 and 地.
“天长地久”, 多用来表达人们对于爱情的美好期望。希望两个人的感情可以像天和地一样,存在的时间那么长,那么久。 如果你想给要结婚的朋友送一张贺卡,你就可以写:“祝你们的爱情天长地久!”“天长地久” is often used to express people’s beautiful hope for love, hoping that the relationship between two people can be as everlasting as the sky and the earth. If you want to send a greeting card to a friend who is getting married, you can write “May your love last forever!”

To read the full story, join AL Language Cafe’s Read, Practice and Improve Club. As a member, you’ll have access to the eBook containing the story, a list of new words, and reading comprehension exercises with solutions to help you understand the story better. Additionally, each story includes a Speaking Activity eBook to enhance your speaking skills. Last but not least, you’ll also gain access to an audio recording of the story read at a natural speed by a native speaker.

Or you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we publish new stories weekly.

Watch or listen to the full Chinese story for free:

世外桃源 (shì wài táo yuán) —— Translation: Paradise on Earth

古时候,有一个人叫陶明,他生活在河边的一个村子里,以打鱼为生。In ancient times, there was a man named Tao Ming. He lived in a village by the river and made a living by fishing.
有一天早上,他乘船去捕鱼。刚出发不久,水面上不知为何刮起一阵风,他的小船被风吹出去很远。风停下来的时候,他发现船被吹到了河水支流的某一条小溪上。那是一个他从来没有见过的地方。溪水两岸都是桃花林,长满了桃花树,一棵别的树都没有。桃花正在盛开,花瓣在微风中摇曳,缤纷的落英盖住了大地原本的颜色。树枝上,空气里,大地上,溪水里,到处都是娇嫩的粉色。One morning, he went out to fish on his boat. Shortly after setting out, for some unknown reason, a sudden gust of wind blew his small boat far away. When the wind stopped, he noticed that the boat was blown onto a small stream branching off from the river. It was at a place he had never seen before. There were peach blossom forests on both banks of the stream. They were full of peach trees and not a single other kind of tree. The peach blossoms were in full bloom. The flower petals swayed in the gentle breeze. The falling petals cover the earth’s original color. The branches, the air, the earth, and the streams were all tinted with delicate shades of pink.
陶明惊叹于眼前的场景,继续向前行船,想看看这片林子到哪里是尽头。不久后,小船来到了桃花林的尽头,那里也是溪水的发源地。溪水从山上的洞口流出,洞里仿佛有些光亮。他下了船,去洞口查看,发现那里有一条狭窄的通道。他走进通道想要一探究竟。起初,洞很窄,只能一个人通过,他又走了几十步,眼前突然开阔了起来。Tao Ming was amazed by the scene before him. He continued to row his boat forward, wanting to see where the end of the forest was. After a while, the boat reached the end of the peach blossom forest, where the source of the stream was. The stream flowed out of a cave in the mountain, and there seemed to be some light coming from inside. Tao Ming got off his boat and went to the mouth of the cave to investigate. He walked inside a narrow passage and wanted to investigate. At first, the cave was so narrow that only one person could pass through at a time. After he walked a few dozen steps, the cave suddenly opened up before his eyes.

To read the full story, join AL Language Cafe’s Read, Practice and Improve Club. As a member, you’ll have access to the eBook containing the story, a list of new words, and reading comprehension exercises with solutions to help you understand the story better. Additionally, each story includes a Speaking Activity eBook to enhance your speaking skills. Last but not least, you’ll also gain access to an audio recording of the story read at a natural speed by a native speaker.

Or you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we publish new stories weekly.

Watch or listen to the full Chinese story for free:

Read, Practice, and Improve

To read more interesting stories in Chinese, check out digital library of graded Chinese stories written for Chinese learners of all levels (from beginners to advanced learners). Click here to learn more about the Read, Practice, and Improve Club.