I found this proverb which I'm not sure about what is its origin:

He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Is this really a known chinese proverb?

If so, how do you write it in chinese, and what's the Pinyin?

  • 4
    This doesn't sound like a Chinese proverb at all. The Chinese didn't have use minutes as a measurement for time until very recently. Jul 14, 2012 at 11:06
  • 2
    Can you provide more info and context? I searched the translated version by @NS.X, but I did not find any origin either. I haven't heard of such a proverb in Chinese, but I can give you a similar proverb in Japanese. >聞くは一時の恥 聞かぬは一生の恥 >Asking is a shame in a while, while not asking is a shame in all your life
    – Huang
    Jul 15, 2012 at 1:58
  • @JamesJiao, that's a great point. I don't find it sound like a Chinese proverb either because it lacks the compactness or the unique perspective that most Chinese proverbs have. Maybe linguistic statistics can prove (or falsify) that. On a separate note, I used to see pamphlets full of fake quotes in the bookstores as well as school libraries, so it is totally possible this "proverb" was made up by an editor and somehow got wide spread.
    – NS.X.
    Jul 16, 2012 at 6:18
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    Give a reference: “臣昨劝陛下勤于好问,而圣训有曰:‘问则明’。臣退与朝士言之,莫不称善。而侧听十旬,陛下之端拱渊默犹昔也,臣窃惑焉。夫既知如是而明,则当知反是而暗。明则辉光旁烛,无所不通;暗则是非得失,懵然不辨矣。” from baike.baidu.com/view/236517.htm 问则明 in the sentence is to say: One can learn and understand more by asking.
    – Dante WWWW
    Jul 16, 2012 at 7:53

5 Answers 5


From online search:


It appeared in many quote compilations but none of them mentioned the author or origin.

Personally I've never heard of it, but it doesn't say much because many Chinese proverbs are regional.

  • 1
    According to a lot of websites (see for example zhidao.baidu.com/question/123695117.html ) it is a translation of a sentence by 利希顿堡. He is supposed to be a German scientist who lived from 1742 to 1799. I'm guessing it is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Christoph_Lichtenberg So nothing Chinese about this sentence :-)
    – BertR
    Jul 16, 2012 at 7:47
  • Probably the reference to 利希顿堡 is incorrect (I can't find a reference to a work where he used it), but it can be found on many websites. Anyway, I doubt it is Chinese.
    – BertR
    Jul 16, 2012 at 8:04
  • @BertR, I don't think 利希顿堡 is the author. The quote compilation that contains this line is usually cited as a whole, as you can see here, where 利希顿堡 is the author of the quote right above this quote. I think that is how it was mistaken.
    – NS.X.
    Jul 16, 2012 at 9:08

I am a native speaker. I don't think it is originally a Chinese proverb.

A more idiomatic translation would be:




I suspect it is Japanese in origin. When I searched it, a lot of Japanese results came up and many people asked how to translate the Japanese proverb "聞くは一時の恥 聞かぬは一生の恥". The Japanese sentence looks quite idiomatic to me, because "聞かぬ" is an archaic form. Modern Japanese would say "闻かないの".


I am a native speaker. I have not heard of any proverb with a similar meaning.


The proverb I know which has related meaning is "不耻下问".


I also didn't find the chinese proverb, but I think there is a similar proverb can translate the sentence. This sentence is "敢于发问,羞耻一时,耻于发问,愚昧一生”,so this sentence teach you "不耻下问 bù chǐ xià wèn". (not feel ashamed to ask and learn from one's subordinates). This common Chinese proverb comes from 《论语·公冶长》:“敏而好学,不耻下问 ("The analects of Confucius · GongYeChang" Bright as (he) is, (he) is fond of studying. Feel not ashamed to learn from one's subordinates).

If you want to continue to learn some common Chinese proverbs, I recommend you read this article http://www.hanbridgemandarin.com/article/chinese-learning-tips/most-common-chinese-idioms-you-should-know/.

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