100+ Charlie Chan Sayings and Proverbs. A surprisingly good selection of truisms and insights for your reading pleasure.

My Father was a great fan of Charlie Chan movies, a series of detective movies from the 1930s featuring a fictional Chinese-American detective. My father had every one on them on video tape. Not only did he watch them often, he also collected Charlie Chan sayings. For in every movie there would be dozens of wise, witty, and insightful sayings. He jotted them down as he watched and once presented me with a collection of the sayings.

On Friday’s I like to blog on lighter fare and this Friday evening is no exception. I simply want to present the list my father gave me with later additions by me. This list is long, but many of the sayings are well worth the read. Not all of them are of equal value, but there are some real keepers in the list. Many indeed are in deep conformity with the biblical tradition.

If you want to print a convenient list, I have put this in PDF version of them here: Charlie Chan Sayings

But for light reading and edification enjoy this list of Charlie Chan sayings:

  1. Admitting failure like drinking bitter tea.  (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  2. After dinner is over, who cares about spoon?  (Docks of New Orleans)
  3. Always happens – when conscience tries to speak, telephone out of order.  (The Black Camel)
  4. Ancient ancestor once say, “Even wise man cannot fathom depth of woman’s smile.” (The Shanghai Cobra)
  5. Ancient ancestor once say, “Words cannot cook rice.” (Charlie Chan in Reno)
  6. Ancient proverb say. “Never bait trap with wolf to catch wolf.” (Shadows Over Chinatown)
  7. Ancient proverb say, “One small wind can raise much dust.” (Dark Alibi)
  8. Anxious man hurries too fast and stubs big toe. (Charlie Chan’s Courage)
  9. Bad alibi like dead fish – cannot stand test of time. (Charlie Chan in Panama)
  10. Best to slip with foot, than with tongue. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  11. Biggest mysteries are not always crimes. (1935 Pennsylvania Referendum Message)
  12. Blind man feels ahead with cane before proceeding. (Charlie Chan’s Courage)
  13. Boy Scout knife, like ladies’ hairpin, have many uses. (Charlie Chan’s Secret)
  14. Can fallen fruit return to branch? (Docks of New Orleans)
  15. Cat who tries to catch two mice at one time, goes without supper. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  16. Charming company turn lowly sandwich into rich banquet. (Charlie Chan in Reno)
  17. Chinese funny people; when say “go,” mean “go.” (Docks of New Orleans)
  18. Confucius has said, “A wise man question himself, a fool, others.” (Charlie Chan in City in Darkness)
  19. Confucius say, “Sleep only escape from yesterday.” (Shadows Over Chinatown)
  20. Cornered rat usually full of fight. (Shadows Over Chinatown)
  21. Curiosity responsible for cat needing nine lives. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  22. Deception is bad game for amateurs. (Shadows Over Chinatown)
  23. Deer should not toy with tiger. (The Golden Eye)
  24. Detective without curiosity is like glass eye at keyhole – no use. (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service)
  25. Dreams, like good liars, distort facts. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  26. Drop of plain water on thirsty tongue more precious than gold in purse. (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  27. Easy to criticize, more difficult to be correct. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  28. Elaborate excuse seldom truth. (Castle in the Desert)
  29. Even draperies may have ears. (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island)
  30. Every fence have two sides. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  31. Every front has back. (Charlie Chan in London)
  32. Every man must wear out at least one pair of fool shoes. (Charlie Chan Carries On)
  33. Every maybe has a wife called Maybe-Not. (Charlie Chan Carries On)
  34. Favorite pastime of man is fooling himself. (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island)
  35. Fear is cruel padlock. (Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum)
  36. Foolish rooster who stick head in lawn mower end in stew. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  37. Foolish to seek fortune when real treasure hiding under nose. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  38. Front seldom tell truth. To know occupants of house, always look in back yard. (Charlie Chan in London)
  39. Good detective always look for something unusual. (The Red Dragon)
  40. Good tools shorten labor. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  41. Grain of sand in eye may hide mountain. (Charlie Chan in Paris)
  42. “Great happiness follows great pain.” (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island)
  43. Guilty conscience always first to speak up. (The Feathered Serpent)
  44. Guilty conscience like dog in circus – many tricks. (Castle in the Desert)
  45. Guilty conscience only enemy to peaceful rest. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  46. Guilty mind sometimes pinch worse than ancient boot of torture. (Dangerous Money)
  47. Hastily accuse – leisurely repent. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  48. Hasty conclusion easy to make, like hole in water. (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  49. Hasty deduction, like old egg, look good from outside. (Charlie Chan’s Secret)
  50. Have two ears, but can only hear one thing at time. (The Shanghai Chest)
  51. He who squanders today talking about yesterday’s triumphs, have nothing to boast of tomorrow. (Docks of New Orleans)
  52. He who takes whatever gods send with smile, has learned life’s hardest lesson. (Docks of New Orleans)
  53. Honorable father once say, “Politeness golden key that open many doors.” (Charlie Chan at the Opera)
  54. Hours are happiest when hands are busiest. (Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise)
  55. Humbly suggest not to judge wine by barrel it is in. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  56. Humility only defense against rightful blame. (Charlie Chan at the Opera)
  57. Ideas planted too soon, often like seeds on winter ground – quickly die. (The Sky Dragon)
  58. If request music, must be willing to pay for fiddler. (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island)
  59. If strength were all, tiger would not fear the scorpion. (Charlie Chan’s Secret)
  60. Illustrious ancestor once say, “Destination never reached by turning back on same.” (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo)
  61. It is difficult to pick up needle with boxing glove. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  62. It takes very rainy day to drown duck. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  63. Kind thoughts add favorable weight, in balance of life and death. (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  64. Law is honest man’s eyeglass to see better. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  65. Long road, sometimes shortest way to end of journey. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  66. Man cannot drink from glass without touching. (Charlie Chan in Paris)
  67. Man has learned much, who has learned how to die. (Dead Men Tell)
  68. Man is not incurably drowned – if  still knows he is all wet. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  69. Man who fears death die thousand times. (Castle in the Desert)
  70. Man who flirt with dynamite sometime fly with angels. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  71. Man who improve house before building foundation, apt to run into very much trouble. (The Feathered Serpent)
  72. Man who ride tiger, cannot dismount. (The Chinese Ring)
  73. Man who seek trouble never find it far off. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  74. Man never born who can tell what woman will, or will not, do. (Charlie Chan in Reno)
  75. Mind, like parachute, only function when open. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  76. More fear, more talk. (Charlie Chan in London)
  77. Most mysterious thing is what mankind does to itself for reasons difficult to understand. (1935 Pennsylvania Referendum Message)
  78. Much evil can enter through very small space. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  79. Must harvest rice before can boil it. (Docks of New Orleans)
  80. Necessity mother of invention, but sometimes stepmother of deception. (Charlie Chan’s Secret)
  81. No one knows less about servants than their master. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  82. Optimist only sees doughnut, pessimist sees hole. (Charlie Chan in Paris)
  83. Owner of face cannot always see nose. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  84. Patience, big sister to wisdom. (City in Darkness City in Darkness)
  85. Patience lead to knowledge. (Charlie Chan in Panama)
  86. Sharp wit sometimes much better than deadly weapon. (Castle in the Desert)
  87. Silence best answer when uncertain. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  88. Silence big sister to wisdom. (Charlie Chan in Paris)
  89. Silent witness, sometime speak loudest. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  90. Smart fly keep out of gravy. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  91. Smart rats know when to leave ship. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  92. Talk cannot cook rice. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  93. The ignorant always loud in argument. (Docks of New Orleans)
  94. The impossible sometimes permits itself the luxury of occurring. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  95. Theory like mist on eyeglasses – obscures facts. (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  96. Tongue often hang man quicker than rope. (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo)
  97. To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming. (Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise)
  98. Trouble, like first love, teach many lessons. (Dead Men Tell)
  99. Trouble with modern children, they do not smart in right place. (Charlie Chan in The Secret Service)
  100. Truth, like football – receive many kicks before reaching goal. (Charlie Chan at the Olympics)
  101. Truth sometimes like stab of cruel knife. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  102. Two ears for every tongue. (Charlie Chan in Shanghai)
  103. Under strong general there are no weak soldiers. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  104. Unhappy news sometimes correct self next day. (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island)
  105. Useless as life preserver for fish. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)
  106. Useless talk like boat without oar – get no place. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  107. Very difficult to believe ill of those we love. (Charlie Chan in Reno)
  108. Very wise know way out before going in. (Charlie Chan at the Circus)
  109. Waiting for tomorrow waste of today. (Charlie Chan in Egypt)
  110. When money talk, few are deaf. (Charlie Chan in Honolulu)
  111. When pilot unreliable, ship cannot keep true course. (Charlie Chan’s Secret)
  112. When player cannot see man who deal cards, much wiser to stay out of game. (Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
  113. Willingness to speak, not necessarily mean willingness to act. (The Golden Eye)
  114. Woman’s tongue like sword that never gets rusty. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)
  115. Woman’s voice like monastery bell, when tolling, must attend. (Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case)

12 Replies to “100+ Charlie Chan Sayings and Proverbs. A surprisingly good selection of truisms and insights for your reading pleasure.”

  1. I love Friday’s on the blog, especially after a long week of resiisting the devil. Whew! Msgr I have read many blogs where you reference your father, what a great guy. I see where you get a lot of your leadership qualities. Thanks be to God for good parents not perfect ones. You are truly blessed. I got my laugh for a Friday night.

  2. I like it more paticularly no. 78, 80, 81-85, 88 & 89 and 92. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you!

  3. I too love Charlie Chan movies and wit. I was attempting to compose a list so this is very handy. Thank you and your father for doing the job for me.. As I understand today’s P/C they consider the character demeaning to the Asian community. I NEVER thought that–instead I admired the intelligence, determination, and how very polite Charlie Chan was–and what a great pro-life example he presented. He had a dozen children.
    (Is it me, or do today’s movie “heroes” seem mainly selfish and self serving?)

    1. Talking about unselfish, Charlie Chan actually had 14 children. Wow! I come from a family of 9 siblings but 14 is amazing. We learned to serve others real fast. One of my favorite sayings goes something like this: “Get married and have big family. Once you have big family, all troubles mean nothing.” I think that comes from Charlie Chan and the Chinese Cat. Thank you so much.

  4. Warner Oland, who played Charlie Chan until his untimely death, was half-Scandinavian, half-Mongolian, and he downplayed Chan rather than playing him as a stereotype. Moreover, Keye Luke, who play #1 son Lee, was allowed to play his role as a pure second-generation American young adult, complete with his own successes (getting into college, going into international business, even playing in the 1936 Olympics) and a number of times when he was able to help Charlie solve a case, even saving his father’s life more than once. There was very little that was demeaning about either Oland’s or Luke’s characterizations, especially given the demeaningly stereotypical Asians-played-by-Caucasians that were so commonplace, from Lon Chaney to Paul Muni to Katherine Hepburn, to Marlon Brando in 1956 in “Teahouse of the August Moon,” all the way to Ricardo Montalban in 1966 in “Grand Prix,” long after lead Asian roles were being played by Asians like Toshiro Mifune, and ethnic-Asian Americans like Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta. Having said that, Sidney Toler’s portrayal of Chan was much more self-parody, almost with a wink to the audience that Toler was in on the joke; moreover, Sen Yung, who played #2 son with Toler, is always a comic foil, almost an Asian version of Rochester–and that’s a shame, given that Yung was capable of presenting believable characters, as demonstrated in his portraying the Western-trained Chinese village doctor in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Oddly enough, the younger Chans in the later films, Benson Fong, Marianne Quon, and Edwin Luke (Keye’s brother in real life), outshone Sidney Toler in his later films, and all the children certainly outshone the eminently forgettable Roland Winters as Det. Chan #3.

  5. Also to remember, Keye Luke played the blind Master Po in Kung Fu. Going from Charlie Chan witticisms to quoting the Tao Te Ching.

  6. Superb writing and wonderful conversation one of several feedback.

  7. “Sometimes better to read blog with much wisdom, then re-watch movies.”

    Thanks ever so much, fantastic stuff! I for one believe that these Charlie Chan Proverbs should be required reading for all Ages of School Children.
    Thanks again! Gordon King Welke

  8. My brother (who has passed many years ago already) was an avid Charlie Chan fan too. His favorite was “Coincidence like ancient egg…..both have funny smell”. I will remember him speaking that into a battery operated full-size cassette recorder with corded mike and replaying it over & over.

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