A List of Unique Chinese Words

There are many words in Chinese that defy translation. Due to their culture-specific nature, these words lack the exact equivalents in English. It is definitely worth the while to understand these words, because they convey so much about Chinese culture.

Each of the listed words is defined in English, followed by its literal meaning and examples.

Guanxi (关系): nepotistic connections (connections). He has Guanxi in the local railway station, I am sure he can get you a few coveted tickets.

Mianzi (面子): feeling flattered by somebody or something (face). We felt we had a lot of Mianzi, because so many important people came to our party.

Hongbao (红包): a small bribe (red envelop). To get a better sickroom, be sure to give the doctor a Hongbao.

Tie Fanwan (铁饭碗): permanent job positions (iron rice bowl) His 20-year Tie Fanwan was smashed when he was laid off by the state-owned factory.

Zou Houmen (走后门): get an unfair favor or advantage (enter through the back door). His father Zou (le) Houmen, so he won the audition quite easily.

Laowai (老外): foreigners, especially westerners (outsider). Look at that Laowai from America, he is so fat.

Hukou (户口): registered permanent residence (household). He doesn’t have a Beijing Hukou, so it is difficult for his son to go to school in that city.

Danwei (单位): any place of employment owned by the state or the Collective Group (unit). She got a sinecure in a Danwei, but she decided to quit and work in a joint-venture company.

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