Money wisdom from the Chinese: 8 Chinese proverbs on building your wealth

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Jan 27 2020 09:16 AM | Updated as of Jan 27 2020 10:37 AM

The Lunar New Year is the most important event in the Chinese calendar, welcoming the arrival of the year of the "metal rat". Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

As we welcome another Chinese New Year, I thought why not look to the Chinese for inspiration on how to make 2020 the year you can enjoy real prosperity.

Did you know that China is known to make billionaires faster than any nation in the world? In 2017, Businessinsider.com reported that China was churning out a new billionaire every 5 days. A year later, BBC.com quoted a survey by Swiss bank UBS and auditors PwC that China had beat its own record: They were producing not one, but two Chinese billionaires every week.

We do not even have to look to China to be impressed by their growing list of billionaires. Here at home and in neighboring countries, a quick scan of the list of the richest women and men show they are filled with Chinese immigrants or those that can lay claim to Chinese heritage.

So what’s their secret? How is it that they can make money hand over fist? It’s as if they have all the luck and can do so much more with less. 

Taking a stroll around Ongpin, Manila on the eve of the Chinese New Year, there were queues in nearly every store, from bakeries to groceries to jewelry stores. As the shelves emptied, they were quickly refilled and I wonder how much money has been made as early as 10 am!Chatting with the shop owners, they were quick to complain of hard times (a Chinese trait) and shy to embrace success (another Chinese trait) so I just asked them about life and money advice they received from their parents growing up that helped set them on their path.

#1 In every crisis, there is opportunity.

If you read about Taipans with rags to riches stories, you will find that nearly all of them built their wealth by seizing opportunities in the midst of crises. One very recent example is Qin Yinglin, who quadrupled his fortune in 2019 thanks to the “pork crisis”. 

An epidemic of African swine fever led to supply shortage and saw pork prices doubling in 2019. Qin is one of the few companies who were able to reproduce their hog herds and cash in on the crisis. Speaking to Bloomberg.com, Qin said: “Swine fever brings both benefit and harm. We need to ride this violent hurricane out and turn it into a superb opportunity for our development.” 

What’s even more impressive is that Qin started his herd with only 22 pigs. Today, Bloomberg reports that the company of their fastest rising star in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index slaughters about 5 million pigs each year.

#2 The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

This is a variation of an often told advice on saving: that is, it’s never too early, and it’s never too late. If you missed your chance when you were younger, do not live with that regret. Begin now and hopefully you can still enjoy the fruits of your money tree.

Do not worry about how little you can set aside (although 10 percent of your salary is a good number) or that you do not have a saving or investment plan (you can study equities or bonds in the meantime). Just save and as your money begins to grow, the rest will follow.

#3 Don’t stand by the water and long for fish, go home and weave a net.

This proverb shows the impatience of the Chinese for non-action. Do not waste your time watching others become successful and wishing for things to happen to you. Instead, make a move and start on your own dreams.

And these dreams are not about working for a big company, mind you. Most Chinese built their wealth from owning a business, not working for someone else’s company. They raise their children to either take over the family business if they have one, or encourage them to set up their own. While some of them do work for companies, many do so to get training and then in a few years they leave so they can begin their own business.

#4 A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Fear can be crippling and this is not good for any entrepreneur. While planning is important, boldness is what sets successful entrepreneurs from the rest. To some, escaping poverty was their motivation, as was the case with the late John Gokongwei, Jr. who became the 3rd richest man in the country.

Find your motivation and fan the flames. Maybe you want to provide a better future for your family? Or to make a mark in an industry? Or to pursue a personal passion? Whatever it is, you need to tap your motivation as it will fuel you on a long and likely challenging journey.

#5 Friends come and go, but family is forever.

The Chinese take care of their own, and they put their family first. Family here can be a loose term. It can mean their immediate family, which is why you will see the husband and wife and their children actively involved in the business. It can also include extended family, and so you will see aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces. In-laws also get invitations if they prove themselves worthy.

But don’t assume they all get a free ride. If you don’t prove yourself worthy, you may find yourself sidelined.

#6 Giving your child a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.

Have you heard of the proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?" They are somewhat similar but the difference is that the Chinese version is about inheritance.

Parents spend a lot of effort in training their children, especially if they work side by side in the family business. Inheritance is not distributed too early (and sometimes too late and leads to squabbles) and with the majority usually left to the eldest son or the eldest grandson. Instead, they pass on the lessons of hard work, learning from mistakes and getting back on your feet among other nuggets of wisdom that can only help their children later in life.

#7 He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.

Maybe it was the New Year but the Chinese shop keepers warned about carrying negative baggage over to 2020. They prefer to look forward, and believe karma will handle the rest. I guess if you want to build and maintain a successful business, it will need all your energy so best to leave revenge plans by the door.

#8 Though the emperor be rich, he cannot buy one extra year.

I like the wisdom of this one the best. True wealth is health and in 2020, take care of yours with exercise, right diet and regular medical check-up. What’s the point of saving up for retirement if you won’t be around to enjoy it? 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.