The elegant pen-strokes and visual harmony of Chinese writing have long been admired in the west. Classical Chinese calligraphy is a popular and valuable art form, and with the increasing economic and cultural power of China, its writing is becoming more widely appreciated and understood.
In particular, the deep layers of history and symbolism which exist behind even the most everyday phrases have a strong appeal to those seeking understanding from an alternative philosophy.
The sayings known as Cheng-yu, represented by four characters, are used frequently in Chinese. They are comparable to proverbs or idioms in English, but each adds a depth of meaning and linguistic colour very unlike their English equivalents.
Many are rooted in ancient Chinese culture, and make oblique references to poetry, philosophy or history. Four characters may take a whole paragraph to explain, yet, to a native speaker brought up and educated in the traditions to which they refer, they are instantly comprehensible.
Chinese Proverbs: The Wisdom of Cheng-Yu features a selection of the most famous and most interesting of the more than 5000 Cheng-yu. Alongside the phrase is an accessible and inspiring explanation, its literal translation in English, what the particular strokes symbolize, and its various uses.
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