Is there any elegant and succinct way to translate “穷则变,变则通,通则久” to English? I felt the translation could be quite lengthy when I tried to explain every single character. Thank you very much.

4 Answers 4




Impasse is followed by change, and change will lead to a solution.

Grand Ricci

(provr.) Quand on est à bout, on change, dès que l’on a changé, on aboutit : dès qu’un changement s’est amorçé, une solution peut voir le jour. De tout s’avise à qui pain faut; nécessité est mère d’industrie, d’invention.

The last part is quite sums it up in quite a nice succienct way: necessity is the mother of invention.


Poverty demands change, change carries development and permanence follows development.

  • I don't think translate “穷” into "poverty" is appropriate...
    – Zhanxiong
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:24
  • 1
    What about exhaustion?
    – John
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:27
  • 2
    I think 穷 means 困境 here.
    – thinwa
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:57
  • English explanation at ichacha.net/%E7%A9%B7%E5%88%99%E5%8F%98.html (containing most of above)
    – user6065
    Nov 20, 2015 at 13:30

“穷则变,变则通,通则久” is just the poetic way of saying "变通".

"变通" means be flexible and improvise. Direct translation of each character means; "变" to change, "通" to get through (the problem).

Poetic translation: When you are poor (穷) in resources, you will need to innovate with changes (变). Once you got through (通) the problem, your changes will last (久).


Change overcomes impasse and leads to solution.

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