China is known for its wise sayings/proverbs passed down the centuries …
It can’t be over-stressed that at the time they were written they had to create words that were memorable and catchy to facilitate dissemination given that word of mouth (excuse the pun) was the only way to communicate … hence the importance of the actual words and their association, plus linking to rhyme and song to aid memory.
Most Chinese proverbs are based on historical events and the greatest number originates from that rich period of history, the third century BC, when the first Emperor of China reigned. He was the sovereign who united China, built the Great Wall, and created the magnificent tombs with the army of terracotta warriors.
An example … Govern the country like you would cook a small fish.
My (an) interpretation … Fish = Wealth … treat the country as though you have little and therefore respect every element that you have … not wasting any part … therefore treat (cook) gently and caringly … and in your own house with the best of your kitchen … adding your own ingredients to enhance flavour (government).
Recommended reading for those interested in history connected to words is … A Thousand Pieces of Gold … this is a memoir of China’s past through its proverbs by Adeline yen Mah … it was due to this book that Philip Larkin met Adeline. Larkin described Chinese proverbs as ‘white dwarfs of literature’ … white dwarfs = tiny stars whose atoms are packed so closely together that their weight is immense compared to their size … proverbs being densely compacted with thoughts and ideas. To discover meaning meditation or mulling on the words is often necessary. Another very important factor is the translation (translator).
Some proverbs to consider …
One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold
Clapping with one hand produces no sound
Binding your feet to prevent your own progress
When a tree falls the monkeys scatter
Here is a link to Chinese Proverbs from Wikiquote ... http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chinese_proverbs
Footnote … Adeline also states that the equivalent to Shakespeare in China is Sima-Qian (145 – 90BC) a chinese historian who lived during the Han dynasty. He wrote only one book Shiji (Historical Record) published after his death and a bestseller since … perhaps the greatest Chinese book ever written.
Another Wikipedia Link ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sima_Qian