unique chinese terms and their meaning

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There are some terms that are unique to Mainland China or Chinese culture. Learn what these unique terms are and what they represent to the Chinese. Mind you, these terms are very important if you are some-one wishing to live or do business in China.

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Ten 10 unique Chinese terms


One of the first term you will learn in China is Guanxi or Personal Connections/Influence.

Connections, whether business or social, are a important aspect of life in China, in order to get things done. In fact, your social and business status in China is measured by not who you are but whom you know and what you can connect to!

Although not as important as it was when China was under strick communist rule, it is still important enough in modern China to make a difference if things get done or if things can be done quickly. Do not be surprised if your Chinese friend or associate boast about his/her guanxi.

Guanxi is a common feature across Chinese societies throughout the world but particularly so in Mainland China.


Another very unique aspect of China is the concept of Mianzhi. One of the first thing you will need to know when interacting with the Chinese is the concept of "giving face" or Gei MianZi.

This means that you must give the right respect to the right person. For example, if you are bringing gifts as a gesture to your business partners in China, make sure that the more senior people get a better gift. This is but one aspect of "giving face" and it will be something that you will need to grasp as you mix more with the Chinese.

The cultural aspect of MianZhi is common across all Chinese societies cross the world.


HongBao is a red packet that contain cash and is very common in Chinese societies across the world. HongBao is given away in festive seasons such as Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings or anniversaries as a token of caring and sharing. Red also symbolizes prosperity and good luck; both of which are auspicious in Chinese culture.

In China, handing over cash directly is not common. Cash is usually put into a red packet or hongbao before it is given. Given a Hongbao can also be used as a form of appreciation for good work, loyalty or appreciation. If you have no time to get a present or do not know what to get, then, giving Hongbao with cash inside is considered a perfect substitute.


Chinese love to drink and they love to 'bottoms up'. You will hear Ganbei very commonly during a banquet or dinner. If someone toast you ganbei, it means bottoms-up and it would be an offence if you decline to finish the glass after toasting to a ganbei!


A Chinese wheat and sorghum-based liquor that is very high in alcohol content and very, very popular during banquets and drinking sessions. Maotai will probably be your first and very fiery introduction to Chinese liquor. Avoid it at all cost if you are not a drinker.

Maotai is common only in Mainland China and to a smaller extent, Taiwan.


There are hundred of local dialects in China which are very difficult if not impossible even for the Chinese to understand. Hence, the common dialect for the entire country is PutongHua or Common Dialect. PutongHua is also known as Mandarin or Huayu outside of China. PutongHua is the offical dialect of China and it is the dialect that officials and business people will use to interact with one another.

If you need ever to learn decide between Cantonese or Mandarin (Putonghua) to learn before coming to China, make sure you learn Mandarin. Cantonese will only be useful in Hong kong or Guaangzhou while Mandarin will be used throughout China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Tie Fan Wan

Because of it's socialist background, many jobs in China are very secured with little chance of being one being terminated or laid off. Hence TieFanWan literally means Iron Rice Bowl.

Of course, with the economy of China opening up, the concept and opportunity of TieFanWan are lessening by the day. However, many of the older generation still identify with the concept of an iron rice bowl.

This term is usually applicable in Mainland China only.


Going by the back door or HouMen.

In China, sometimes people tend to cut corners or go through their connections, or guanzi, to get a job done instead of going through the proper channel. Such act of going through the back door or going through one's contacts is known as ZouHouMen.

Unfortunately, this is still a relatively common concept in China. This is one area where there are frequent arguments when foreign and Chinese parties are involved in a common project.


Your working office is known as the Danwei or working unit. Knowing where you work is important as many official documents require your working unit name and address.

If you need more such interesting insights and information about the Chinese culture and people, check out this interesting China Book. Or email us for further information.