Chinese Idioms Collection about Particular Talent

Since the Chinese language and culture has been around for so long, there is a rich history. This is particularly true when studying chengyu, a four part Chinese idioms that arise from a cultural story. Often without knowing the story behind the idiom, a chengyu can be very confusing, but when you learn the tale behind the chengyu, it is much easier to remember.

There are many chengyu that have to do with work, work ethic and how to use one’s talents. Here are three very interesting chengyu that all have to do with using your particular talents well.


Having Only One Skill But Using it Well

一技之长 (yí jì zhī cháng)

This chengyu is fairly straightforward, but the story behind it is still very interesting. Literally, 一技之长 means “one skill it long.”

The tale behind this Chinese idiom is said to date back to the Warring States Period. It is said that there was a very famous scholar named Gong Sun Long who surrounded himself with skilled workers and wise advisers in all specialties that he could find. He said, “The wise will embrace all those who have a specialty.”

One day, he heard a knock on his door from a man who was very dirty and had ripped clothes. Gong Sun Long asked what the man wanted and the man replied that he had a special talent.  Gong Sun Long asked what his talent was and the man said he was very good at shouting.

Gong Sun Long turned to his other advisers and asked if any among them were good at shouting, but no one was. Therefore Gong Sun Long and his fellowship took the man into the group. A few days later the group was traveling when they came to a river, only to find the ferry on the wrong side of the wide water.  Gong Sun Long asked his new follower to try to get the ferryman to come and get them. The man yelled loud and clear, then the ferryman came over at once.  Gong Sun Long was very pleased he had met his latest follower.

Today 一技之长 (yí jì zhī cháng) is used to describe one particular skill or a valuable professional skill. Remember even if you only have one talent you can still use it well. Here are several examples of how to use the chengyu.

Example 1:


(Rúguǒ nǐ méiyǒu yíjìzhīchánghěn nán zhǎo dào hǎo gōngzuò.)

If you don’t have a particular skill, it is very hard to find a job.


Example 2:


(Zhège fēnxiǎng jīngyàn de huódòng wèi nàxiē méiyǒu yíjìzhīcháng de rén tígōng le hěn duō hǎo de xuéxí jīhuì.)

The experience sharing activity provides great learning opportunities for those who do not have particular skills.


Example 3:


(Xiànzài zhǎo gōngzuò jìngzhēng yuè lái yuè dà, rúguǒ nǐ xiǎng yǒu yí gè hǎo de jiānglái nǐ bìxū yǒu yíjìzhīcháng.)

It is getting more competitive to find a job, so if you want to have a bright future, you have to have a particular skill.


Don’t Waste Your Talent

大材小用 (dà cái xiǎo yòng)

This idiom reminds us to use our talents wisely and not waste them on mindless tasks.

The literal meaning of 大材小用 is “great materials/resources small use” and can refer to high quality material resources or to personal talent.

The story behind this Chinese idiom is said to have come from the Jin Dynasty from the writings of Shi Chong. Shi Chong describes a time when high quality materials were used of inconsequential purposes.

Today, this phrase is more often applied to people squandering their talent on petty jobs or mindless tasks. This is one of the main reasons why today so many Chinese people, and people around the world, attend college or university to develop their special skill and help them to obtain a job that utilizes it. Let’s see how it can be used in Chinese.

Example 1:


(Tā zài wàiguó xuéxí guò sānniántā juédé zài zhè jiā xiǎo gōngsī gōngzuò jiù shì dàcáixiǎoyòng.)

He studied abroad for three year. He feels that his talent is wasted in this small firm.

Example 2:


(Nǐ bǎ nàme háohuá de yí gè fángjiān gǎizào chéng yí gè chǔwùshì tài dàcáixiǎoyòng le.)

He changed such a luxury room into a storage room. This is really a waste.

Example 3:


(Ràng nǐ yí gè jiàoyù zhuānjiā lái jiāo wǒ érzi zuò xiǎoxué yī niánjí de shùxué liànxí zhēn shì dàcáixiǎoyòng.)

Letting an education specialist teach a boy in Grade 1s math is really a waste of talent.


There is Plenty of Room

游刃有余 (yóu rèn yǒu yú)

This is a very fascinating chengyu that you really have to learn the story behind it to understand. To translate 游刃有余 literally in English you would say “travel blade there is,” but this makes very little sense.

The story behind this idiom is about a very famous skilled butcher. The job of a butcher may seem common or lowly to some, but this man perfected his craft to an art form. One day, he gave a demonstration of his work. At first the crowd of observers was not impressed as his slow methodical natures. Then after the initial preparation of the beast, he finished the job of cleaving the animal with a few lightning fast movements. After he finished he explained that he could complete his work so quickly and expertly because he had spent years studying exactly how to prepare the animal and where to cut. He said游刃有余 (yóu rèn yǒu yú) there is plenty of room for the knife, but you need to know where to cut.

Nowadays 游刃有余 (yóu rèn yǒu yú) is used when describing a master of a craft, someone who is very adept at his job and performs his tasks with great skill and appears to execute them almost effortlessly. Here are some examples of how it is used today.

Example 1:


(Tā chángcháng liànxí nà shǒu gē, suǒyǐ biǎoyǎn nà shǒu gē duì tā lái shuō yóurènyǒuyú.)

He often practices that song, so it is a small case for him to perform that song.

Example 2:


(Tā jīngyàn fēngfùchǔlǐ qǐ zhèyàng de shìr lái zǒngshì yóurènyǒuyú.)

He is very experienced, so it is very easy for him to handle such problems.

Example 3:


(Wúlùn shì zài jīngjìshāngyè háishì tóuzī lǐngyùtā dōu kěyǐ zuò dé yóurènyǒuyú.)

No matter in economics, business or investment, she can always do a great job.


There are numerous amounts of Chinese idioms, but some are more commonly used than others. All of which will have an interesting history tied to the chengyu. Do you know more Chinese idioms about particular talent? Share with us and comment below!

Mandy Liu

Mandy is a Chinese language teacher at Keats Chinese School who has 6 years of experience in teaching Chinese. Founded in 2004, Keats is one of the top Mandarin Chinese Schools in China which offers a variety of Mandarin Chinese language courses in China. With 40% returning students each year, over 5000 students from 100 countries have studied at Keats.

  • Kristi

    The idiom I know and love is 活到老,学到老 huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo – A man is never too old to learn. However, I don’t know the story. Do you know that one?

  • These are inspiring idioms! Love that you gave the historical context for each one too. Keep up the great work!