Unique Chinese Phrases For A Peek Into The Chinese Culture
It is often said that a language cannot be separated from its culture. With a language like Chinese, thousands of years of history are inevitably embedded into its language. Phrases that are found in no other language can offer a peek into what Chinese people hold dear in their culture. Idioms also tell stories about their history and values.
Thus, one of the best ways to learn about Chinese culture is to take a look at their language. If you want to delve deeper into the subject, taking up a Mandarin course in Singapore will be a good way to do so. Otherwise, you can get a quick taste of some unique phrases in Chinese that captures the essence of what it means to be Chinese, right here.
1. 面子(miàn zi)
Frequently translated to ‘face’, 面子 is a concept that can be loosely approximated to pride, dignity, or reputation. ‘Face’ is a huge thing in Chinese culture as it is their basis for showing politeness to others.
For example, if you commit a faux pas at a formal dinner, your friend may describe you as having ‘no face’ (没面子). In contrast, if you are someone who ‘loves face’ (爱面子), you are someone who strives to upkeep your reputation, and is sensitive about being embarrassed in front of others.
2. 慢走 (màn zǒu)
Literally meaning ‘walk slowly’, 慢走 is actually a phrase used to send someone off when you part ways. It harbours warm greetings with a similar intention to when English speakers say ‘stay safe’ and ‘take care’.
The phrase is more commonly used in polite or formal situations, such as to an elder who’s leaving the room, or a business delegate you are sending off.
3. 加油 (jiā yóu)
The Chinese equivalent to Japanese’s ‘ganbatte’, this phrase literally translates to ‘add oil’ or ‘add fuel’. It is used to cheer someone on, such as when you tell them ‘all the best’ before an exam, or when supporters cheer on their favourite team at a sporting event.
The origins of this phrase can be traced back to the ’60s or ’70s, when people started to use it to cheer on Grand Prix drivers by urging them to step on the pedals and gain speed.
4. 孝顺 (xiào shùn)
Chinese culture owes most of its values to Confucian teachings, including the prominent one of filial piety, or 孝顺. Showing respect and gratitude to one’s parents is a virtue in Chinese and most Asian cultures.
The phrase can be used as a verb, meaning ‘to show filial piety to one’s parents’. Thus, it might sound strange if you tell someone in English ‘You need to be more filial to your parents’, but it is normal to say so in Chinese. Usually, some actions that are considered to be filial are visiting one’s parents regularly, sending them money, serving them food, and the like.
5. 辛苦(xīn kŭ)
A word meaning ‘laborious’ or ‘tough’, it is sometimes used to describe the tiredness arising from doing something difficult. However, it is also commonly used as an expression to recognise someone for their efforts and thank them for it. It is something like saying ‘Thank you for your hard work’, but in a more elegant manner.
So, you can say辛苦了 to your co-workers after a long day at work, or to people you see hard at work whom you’d like to acknowledge.
These are just some words and phrases that uncover some interesting aspects about Chinese culture and language. If you dig deeper, you are bound to find many more fascinating tidbits about the culture. If you would like to discover more about Chinese language and culture, enrolling in Mandarin lessons will give you many more opportunities to learn about this rich treasure trove of history and culture.