In Chinese, certain traditional four word phrases have specific meanings. Four-character phrases are usually somewhat metaphoric and many have a story behind them (or sometimes made up after the fact to explain them). Now, in English, using a familiar phrase in writing is ofen seen as using cliches, which is a Bad Thing. It's the opposite in China, where using these phrases is considered quite learned and academic--similar in cachet to high-brow literary references and quotes, I suppose. These phrases will be pronounced differently in different Chinese dialects, but some Mandarin versions are given below. I expect to add some more, just the interesting or fun ones since there are a lot. I've found that learning these phrases also helped me understand English better, and vice versa, plus they help me think about both words and situations from a different angle.

The number of proverbs in the Chinese language is quite staggering. I have a ten-volume collection of all the Chinese proverbs and a different story behind each of them. However, there are rare ocassions when the proverbs have three or five characters. They sometimes teach morals on life, mostly of the Confucian style. You know, filial piety and all that.

The four-character phrase was very popular in medieval Chinese, especially in old epics where people would convey entire paragraphs using nothing but a string of four letter sentences. That was considered very "eloquent", however, it does make it sometimes ambigious and hard to read and understand. I read the old version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, took me ages to get through. It was compact though, I'll admit that.

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