Literal meaning of each character = uproot,pull/draw out – young plant/seedling – help – grow
The image portrayed by this useful idiom is of someone pulling at a seedling or small plant thinking it will help it grow faster. This of course is ridiculous as it’s only water, sunshine and time that causes a plant to grow. We cannot make a plant grow faster by pulling at it.
Therefore this idiom is useful when describing someone who tries to force something to go faster than it’s natural process. Something take time no matter what you do, there are no short cuts and patience is needed. If you think someone is pushing you too hard you could use this to tell that person to lay off, but only of course if there pressure or encouragement genuinely has no effect on the result. If a teacher is telling you to do your homework or review class material etc then the idiom doesn’t apply because this idiom is only really applicable to situations where the efforts of another genuinely have no effect on the end result, and perhaps can do harm and even hamper the result.
This idiom can also be rendered as 揠苗助长 – ya4miao2zhu4zhang3 – where the only difference is the first character “ya4” which also means “pull”. However I am told that the above version with “ba2” is more common.
小题大做 – xiao3ti2da4zuo4
Literal meaning of each character = small – problem – big – do/produce
Actually, this is basically the same as the English idiom “make a mountain out of a molehill”. The Chinese version doesn’t use the graphic comparison like we do. They simply say the problem is small but the doing or action is big.
Just in case you don’t know what “make a mountain out of a molehill” means (perhaps you aren’t a native English speaker) this idiom is used to describe when someone is over reacting to a problem. The problem is very small but the person is reacting as if the problem were very big.
This is perhaps my most loved portion of Chinese language. Every language has it’s unique proverbs, sayings and idioms, however Chinese is especially well known for it’s sayings.
Idioms (called “cheng4yu3” in Chinese) are generally 4 characters in length. These short sayings pack quite a punch in meaning. When used correctly they can highly impress your listener. When I correctly use Chinese idioms people sing my praises like nobodys business. They think I am an expert in Chinese when really I am just average. By using chengyus correctly you can actually trick people into thinking that your Chinese is better than it actually is. This is because they don’t expect early learners to be able to use such high level Chinese. So I highly recommend learning and using chengyus anytime you get the chance. Not that I try to trick people into thinking my Chinese is better than it actually is, it’s just that these chengyus are incredibly useful. In fact, there are situations in English where I want to get my point across about something and the Chinese chengyu is perfect, however I must spend a few sentences in English explaining something that could be summed up in just 4 Chinese words.
Proverbs are slightly different but essentially the same thing. They tend to be longer than chengyus but still pack the equivalent punch. Again if you can use them correctly your Chinese friends will be well impressed. Proverbs might be sayings of people like Confucious (Kongzi) or Laozi, ancient Chinese philosiphers who wrote books that still have influence on the culture of Chinese people.
The meaning of Proverbs tend to be a bit more obvious than that of Chengyus. This is because the Chengyus are very short and use only parts of words whereas Proverbs tend to be complete sentences and phrases.
I have a section devoted entirely to Chinese Idioms and one for Chinese Proverbs that I know and encounter while living here. There’s no point in learning idioms that are rarely used, so focus on the most frequently used ones. I will post all the sayings I use on a regular basis and continue to post new ones as I encounter and learn them myself in my day to day life here.