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Why do you need to learn China's relative appellations?

Pei Lei 汉Mandarin吟Inn

· Chinese culture,Learning Chinese,Chinese lesson

Have you ever attended a family party in China?

When the host introduces her relatives to you, it's like this:

What is your respond?

China's relative appellations are so complex, but why do you still need to learn?

Relative appellations are frequently used in people's daily communication. Proper appellations can make communication go smoothly.

Relative appellations are also appeared in the HSK exams.


nǐ shì bu shì ɡǎn mào le

你 是 不 是 感 冒 了 ?

yì zhí dǎ pēn tì

一 直 打 喷 嚏 。



shì ɡǎn mào le dōu ɡuài wǒ 是 感 冒 了 , 都 怪 我

jiā nà kǒu zi bǎ ɡǎn mào

家 那 口 子 把 感 冒

chuán rǎn ɡěi wǒ le

传 染 给 我 了 。

nǚ de shì zěn me ɡǎn mào de

女 的 是 怎 么 感 冒 的 ?

A.shēn tǐ pí láo B. chuān dé tài shǎo

A.身 体疲 劳 B. 穿 得 太 少

C.zhànɡ fu chuán rǎn de

C. 丈 夫 传 染 的

D. wǎn shɑnɡ méi ɡuān kōnɡ tiáo

D. 晚 上 没 关 空 调

Man:Did you catch a cold? You've been sneezing.

Woman: Yes. It's all 我家那口子's fault. He infected me with the bad cold.

Question: How did the woman get cold?

A: physical fatigue B: she wears too little C: infected from her husband D: they let the air-conditioning on all night

The answer is C.

Relative appellation is not only a important part of Chinese language, but also a reflection of chinese history, social and culture.

Relative appellations are common in all languages, but China's are detailed, specific, strict and ties of blood emphasized.

Why? Why do they have big differences with westerns’?

Big families / Small families

In ancient times, Chinese families are big families. All family members live together. Nowadays, although relatives do not live together, ties among family members are still tight. People care much about relatives.

Small family

Westerns’ families are mainly small families.

Children will establish their own families after they grown up. The relationship is loose.


The ancient China society was rigidly hierarchical.

Chinese culture follows the concept of 'care for junior, respect for seniority'.

A person cannot call his older brother by name, not to mention his uncle or aunt.

All men are created equal.

Western culture attaches importance to equality.

The junior can call the senior's names directly to show intimacy.


Chinese culture attaches importance to the value of community, takes collectivism as the principle values.

Western culture values individual's independence, taking individualism as the principle.

Now, to survive in China, what basic relative appellations do you need to know?

Relative Appellations

qīn shǔ chēnɡ wèi

亲 属 称 谓  

Chinese traditional big families are men centered and ties of blood emphasized. People use 堂(tánɡ)and 表(biǎo),外(wài)to distinguish relatives from father’s side and mother’s side.

父方Father's side

堂(tánɡ) means hall--厅堂(tīnɡ tánɡ).

Brothers are born of the same father and grown up in the same hall,so their sons and daughters are called 堂兄妹(tánɡ xiōnɡ mèi)


tánɡ ɡē—— Dad's sibling's son ——if older than you

堂 哥

tánɡ ɡē—— Dad's sibling's son —— if younger than you

堂 哥

tánɡ jiě ——Dad's sibling's daughter —— if older than you

堂 姐

tánɡ mèi—— Dad's sibling's daughter —— if younger than you

堂 妹

母方Mother's side

外(wài)and 表(biǎo)means outside.

It means the person who was called “外......”does not belong to the big family. In ancient Chinese minds, when a girl marries, she and her kids belong to the family of the husband, not hers. She becomes an outsider of her family of origin.


Grandpa(mom's father)


外公(wài ɡōnɡ )

Grandma(mom's mother)

外婆(wài pó)

Nephew(sister's son)

外甥(wài shenɡ )

Niece(sister's daughter)

外甥女(wài shenɡ nǚ )

biǎo ɡē —— Mom's sibling's son—— if older than you

表 哥

biǎo dì—— Mom's sibling's son—— if younger than you

表 弟

biáo jiě ——Mom's sibling's daughter —— if older than you

表 姐

biǎo mèi—— Mom's sibling's daughter—— if younger than you

表 妹

nǐ qīn shǔ chēnɡ wèi

拟 亲 属 称 谓

Simulating Relative Appellations

Expats are usually puzzled when they see people call strangers “大哥”(dà ɡē),”爷爷”(yé ye)......It is a unique way to show friendliness and close the communicative distance.

In Chinese,

children often call adults

who are not relatives

“uncle” and “aunt”

jǐnɡ chá shū shu

警 察 叔 叔

(Uncle Police)

President Xi(Uncle Xi)


入乡随俗rù xiānɡ suí sú

The principle is:

Do in Rome as Rome does.

Learn some dialets.

Dad: 幺儿(yāo ér), come to daddy!

Mom: 宝贝(bǎo bèi), come to mommy!

Baby: Am I 幺儿 or 宝贝?

Both 幺儿 and 宝贝 mean baby, 幺儿(yāo ér)is a dialet of Southwest China.

Inappropriate address forms will make others feel unhappy. Do not easily call elder women "阿姨"(ā yí).

Because some people may think"你说我老(nǐ shuō wǒ lǎo )!“ (you are saying I'm’old)

A little confused? It is totally okay if you are.

Even for native Chinese speakers, the relative appellations are complex and people take a long time to learn.

Relative appellations can be hard.

Mandarin Inn teachers make it easier.

About writer

裴蕾 Pei Lei

  • Majored in MBA.

  • Mandarin Teacher @ Mandarin Inn.

  • Learning with Lei encourages students to speak loudly and proudly.

  • Her lessons are fun, creative and high efficiency with out of classroon support.

  • She loves to share Chinese culture and make friends with people around the world.

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