Proverbs, The Three Teachings Illustration

Ancient Chinese Proverbs
The Three Teachings
Ancient China for Kids

What is the diffence between a proverb and a fable?

  • A proverb is a statement that teaches a useful lesson.

  • A fable is a very short story that teaches a useful lesson.

Ancient Chinese Proverbs: 

In ancient China, the three teachings are Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Each used proverbs to show people how to behave. Confucianism and Taoism are very old, and began during the Zhou/Chou Dynasty (pronouned Joe, 1100 BCE-250 BCE.) Buddhism arrived from India during T'ang Dynasty, the Golden Age of China, somewhere in 6th century CE. It caught on very quickly. People followed the teachings of all three, every day.  In Tang times, a man might honor his ancestors by following the rigid rules of social behavior as dictated by Confucianism, attend a Buddhist pageant, and practice Taoist breathing exercises, all in the same day. These three doctrines were an important part of daily life. Here are some proverbs from these teachings.

Confucianism:  In ancient China, Confucianism was both a philosophy and a religion. It was the state-sponsored "religion" of many Chinese dynasties. It was the favorite philosophy of many Chinese rulers. People today still quote and study the many sayings and ideas that Confucius, the first private teacher in ancient China, taught to his students about 2,500 years ago. The ancient Chinese used proverbs from the teachings of Confucius to teach their children good manners and to help them learn the proper way of doing things. Excerpt from The Analects of Confucius, c.400 BCE:

  • Do not do unto others, what you would not want others to do to you

  • If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake

Taoism:  Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is not a religion. Taoism is an ancient philosophy, and began a little later, but about at the same time as Confucianism, about 2,500 years ago. Tao (pronounced Dow) means "The Way" (to happiness). Taoists are great believers in happiness and laughter. Taoists believe if you look at life and think about things in the right way, you'll be much happier. To do this, it's very important to understand the way things are. This does not mean you do not need to improve things about yourself, but Taoists believe you cannot improve what you do not first understand. Here are two Taoist proverbs:

  • There is more to knowing than just being correct.

  • A clever mind is not a heart.

Buddhism:  Buddhism is a religion. Buddhist proverbs were used to help each person become the best person they could be. Today, Buddhism is a world religion. People who follow Buddha's teachings are called Buddhists. There are over 500 million Buddhists in the world. Buddhists value goodness, self-control, wisdom, calm, and love. Buddhism has been around for quite a long time. It arrived in China from India about 1500 years ago. This is from a Buddhist text:

  • As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, even so the wise are not ruffled by praise or blame.

Ancient Chinese Fables:  Fables were also used to teach good behavior. Click here to read two ancient Chinese fables, told over 1500 years ago. Can you guess what they were trying to teach? 

The Story of Confucius

Taoism and Winnie-the-Pooh

The Story of Buddha

Free Presentations about Confucianism

Free Presentations about Taoism

Free Presentations about Buddhism

The Three Teachings

Ancient China Cheat Sheet - A very quick look at 11,000 years of ancient Chinese history (one page)

Other ancient Chinese beliefs and religion

Lesson Plan for Teachers: What is the difference between a proverb and a fable?