I always find it a bit funny how people say ‘no pain no gain’ even when they are working out in an effort to lose weight. In the Chinese version of ‘no pain no gain’ the concept of gaining weight is even more present because it uses eating something bitter as a metaphor for hardship and indulging in sweets as metaphor for benefit.
So how do you say no pain no gain in Chinese? It’s kinda long but here is how it goes:
不 – no, 吃 – eat, 苦 – bitter, 中 – middle, 难 – hard, 得 – get, obtain, 甜 – sweet, 上 – on, above, top
A slightly different variation is ‘不吃苦中苦，哪知甜中甜’ (哪知 is pronounced nǎ zhī and means ‘how will you know’). 吃苦 literally means to eat bitter, but that’s how you say to endure hardship in Chinese.
This expression reminds me of a photo I took a couple of years back, during winter break at an English camp for Chinese kids. Can you spot the character 苦 in the photo? How about the young boy?