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I have been learning Japanese 四字熟語 as a passtime for sometime and I would like to know whether most of them can be used verbatim in Chinese or if there are Japanese-made yojijukugo which cannot be used in Chinese.

I don't have a Chinese 成语 dictionary, but most of the 四字熟語 that I know are absent from CEDICT. However, some blog posts such as this one would suggest that a large part of them can be used in Chinese as well.

What is the overlap between 四字熟語 and 成语?

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  • Normally, if the 四字熟語 comes from Chinese classics, it has a high chance of being understandable. if it's something from Japanese culture (and there are plenty of those), then the likelihood of understanding dramatically decreases, unless the 四字熟語 is very literal.
    – dROOOze
    Aug 12 '20 at 14:25
  • A lot of them seem to come from Chinese classics, a way detect Japanese-made 四字熟語 could be that they seem to include Japanese readings of 漢字. Even though there seem to be some equivalents: 海千山千 becomes 老奸巨滑 and 苦髪楽爪 becomes 苦长头发 for example. Aug 12 '20 at 14:34
  • The overlap is similar to the general overlap between words of Chinese origin in Japanese and modern Chinese words having origins in China. After accounting for equivalent characters but written differently, many 四字熟語 can be legible in Chinese. The legible phrases/words tend to be ones originating from before Song dynasty after which Chinese loanwords became less and less frequent. There should be lots of free 成语 dictionary online. Try Google it!
    – Argyll
    Aug 19 '20 at 21:22
  • 成语是指约定俗成的语言,具有比较长远的时间沉淀,以及产生成语的原因。在使用前需要理解其主要含义甚至于衍生含义。
    – N.W
    Mar 11 at 8:15
  • I thought about it carefully and checked what most people in the country said. My English is not so good, I hope you can understand 熟語refers to:People often say, it's kind of like Internet language。 Fixed for use in special circumstances。 成语refers to:It all comes from a source。 There may be a long story behind it。 Most of them are very educational。:)
    – MMhuhu
    Mar 15 at 7:37
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A lot of Japanese 四字熟語 and Chinese 成语 have the same form and meaning. Both inherit from classical Chinese literature. Examples: 一衣帯水(いちいたいすい) , 異曲同工(いきょうくどうこう)

Some have a slightly different form and basically the same meaning. Example: Japanese: 一心協力(いっしんきょうりょく), Chinese: 同心协力

Some have the same form but different meanings. Examples: 一刀両断 In Chinese it means "break up a relationship completely". In Japanese it means "take decisive measure".

Learners may need to pay special attention to those false friends.

Some Japanese 四字熟語 are created by the Japanese people themselves, so they can't be used in Chinese. Examples: 手前味噌, 我武者羅

Some Chinese 成语 are relatively new and never spread to Japan. Examples: 绞尽脑汁, 乱七八糟

This page has a large (but far from complete) list of Japanese 四字熟語 that have the same or similar form in Chinese.

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1. 音韵

According to Prof. Wang Li, a well-known linguist, Chinese is a language in that vowels have an absolute advantage. In a character, there is at most one consonant. But in English, a word can include four or even more. Japanese is similar to Chinese. This makes Chinese and Japanese people both like four-character words better. It is "more comfortable" to say a four-character word because it is short and can express complicated information.


2. Origin

They share similar origins: Chinese and Buddism culture.

森羅万象 is both a 成语 and a 四字熟语. It comes from 南朝梁·陶弘景《茅山长沙馆碑》:“夫万象森罗,不离两仪所育;百法纷凑,无越三教之境”. It is a Buddhism word, meaning 天地间纷纷罗列的各种各样的景象.

卧薪尝胆 is both a 成语 and a 四字熟语. It comes from 《史记·越王勾践世家》:“越王勾路反国,乃苦身焦思,置胆于坐,坐卧即仰胆,饮食亦尝胆也”. This is a Chinese history story. The word means 刻苦自励,发奋图强.

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