As the season of giving, the holidays are a time of joy. But when you can’t think of good gift ideas for your loved ones, it can also be a time of frustration. We’d like to help you avoid that frustration by offering our gift suggestions for people who have an interest in China or China-related products. We hope you enjoy our updated fourth annual holiday shopping guide.

Since our clients are located all over the United States and even outside the country, this list focuses primarily on online stores rather than local stores. However, we certainly encourage you to support local businesses when possible, and the list does include a number of Bay Area-based businesses. Please contact us if you have a suggestion to add to this list or have information to share about one of the products or retailers on this list.

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All of these companies or products (other than our own tour packages, of course) are independent of China International Travel CA. We are promoting them only because we think you may find this information helpful.

Wild China DVD or Blu-ray Set

Wild China Blu ray coverAn acclaimed documentary produced by the BBC, Wild China focuses on a side of China that doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the Western media: stunningly beautiful natural areas like Zhangjiajie, Xianggelila, Guilin, and Huangshan (Yellow Mountain). The 6-episode series is narrated by Bernard Hill (King Theoden in the Lord of the Rings movies) and contains spectacular footage of remote places that are rarely seen, as well as places that are easily accessible to tourists but no less beautiful. It also gives fascinating insights into the lives of the people living in such areas, especially their relationship with the land and its wildlife. If you enjoyed Planet Earth and you’re interested in China, you’ll love Wild China. The higher-definition Blu-ray version is highly recommended in order to fully enjoy the magnificent footage captured in the series.

Note: Netflix and Amazon Prime customers can stream Wild China in high definition for free!

If after watching Wild China you feel a sudden urge to visit the incomparably beautiful places it documents, take a look at our tour packages. In particular, our Yunnan Highlands and Majestic Scenery tours, along with our tours featuring Guilin, highlight these destinations. You might also consider arranging a custom tour to visit a unique combination of scenic areas.

Other DVDs and Blu-rays

Here are a few other Chinese or China-related movies that we think you or your loved ones may enjoy. Many more films will be highlighted in future shopping guides, as China has produced a number of the world’s greatest films over the last twenty years.

Infernal Affairs Blu-ray cover - small - 125 x 125Infernal Affairs – Blu-ray (無間道): The acclaimed Hong Kong thriller that inspired The Departed, featuring Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and other stars of HK cinema. Also available on DVD.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Blu-ray (臥虎藏龍): Though the new version of the film’s English subtitles has received some criticism, this new Blu-ray presentation is stunningly beautiful. Relive this contemporary classic in high-definition glory. (And if you’d like to visit the lovely Hong Village, where some of the scenes were filmed, take a look at CIT’s Jiangnan Gourmet Cuisine/Yellow Mountain 10-Day Tour!) Also available on DVD.

Dragon Dynasty Triple Feature (Jet Li Collection): This set of classic Jet Li movies on Blu-ray includes The Legend (方世玉, also referred to as Fong Sai Yuk in English), Fist of Legend (精武英雄), and Tai Chi Master (太極張三豐). A great bargain for fans of Jet Li or kung fu movies in general. Also available on DVD.

The Emperor and the Assassin DVD coverThough unfortunately it is not available on Blu-ray, acclaimed director Chen Kaige’s The Emperor and the Assassin (荆轲刺秦王) is a well-acted, visually stunning historical epic about Qin Shihuang (originally named Ying Zheng, played by Li Xuejian), the unifier and first emperor of China. Its Shakespearean story portrays his relationship with his concubine Lady Zhao (played by Gong Li) and the consequences of the extreme brutality he employed in conquering the rival states that existed in his time. Like many films that present Chinese history and culture to the West in a sometimes critical light, the film has received some criticism in China. At 162 minutes, it is also quite slow-paced. However, its intense, nuanced, artful presentation of historical figures and events is ultimately powerful and thought-provoking. For an alternate portrayal of the First Emperor, you might consider The Emperor’s Shadow (秦颂), which was the most expensive film ever made in China at the time of its release in 1996. Though both of these films take some liberties with the historical record, they feature impressive cinematography and some of China’s best actors in iconic roles, including Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, Li Xuejian, Jiang Wen, and Ge You.

  • The tomb of the First Emperor is the site of the famous Terracotta Army, a tour of which is featured in all of our tours that include the city of Xi’an.

Red Cliff Blu-ray cover - small - 125 x 125Red Cliff (International Version) – Blu-ray (赤壁): Director John Woo’s uncut, 288-minute adaptation of the Chinese literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms is another film that has achieved both critical acclaim and great popularity. It features some of the most ambitious battle scenes ever filmed. See them in high definition on this Blu-ray release. Also available on DVD.

Shower (洗澡): A contemporary Chinese family drama involving the conflict between the traditional and modern worlds. A materialistic “prodigal son” with a successful career in Shenzhen, whose family runs a bathhouse in Beijing, returns home to visit his aging father and mentally challenged brother. There he finds himself slowly drawn into the traditional world he had left behind. A touching film that laments the precious, human things lost in the fast-paced lifestyle and relentless change of the modern world. (If you’re interested in seeing the traditional hutong neighborhoods depicted in the movie, most of our tours that include Beijing feature a hutong pedicab tour.)

Chungking Express DVD cover - small - 125 x 125Acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (重慶森林), which weaves together two apparently separate stories involving cops and romance, is a quirky, memorable presentation of life in 1990’s Hong Kong. This Criterion Collection Blu-ray release has gotten rave reviews for its beautiful transfer of the film and special features. Hong Kong icons Tony Leung and Faye Wong (in her cinematic debut) star in one of the stories. Criterion Collection release also available on DVD.

With Yi Yi (一一, sometimes referred to in English as A One and a Two), Taiwanese director Edward Yang won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. A slow, quiet meditation on modern family life, Yi Yi is not for everyone, but it is tremendously rewarding for patient and thoughtful viewers. This Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the best way to experience this film. Criterion Collection release also available on DVD.

Aftershock DVD cover - small - 125 x 125Aftershock (唐山大地震) is both a heartwrenching story of family tragedy and a historical document of the devastating effects, both short-term and long-term, of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that killed approximately 250,000 people. Released in 2010, it became China’s biggest box office success ever. Many reviewers have called it one of the most powerful movies they have ever seen.

Last Train Home (归于列车): A moving documentary directed by Yixin Fan that candidly reveals the challenges faced by a rural family. Like many of China’s 130 million migrant workers, the Zhangs have had to leave their children in their home village while they pursue more lucrative work in the hope of giving their children a chance at a better life. Raw and though-provoking, but also beautiful and sometimes funny, the film presents their experiences in a way that is universally understandable.

Amongst White Clouds DVD coverIn Amongst White Clouds (共坐白云中), director Edward Burger documents the lives of Buddhist hermits in the Zhongnan Mountains south of Xi’an, an area which for thousands of years has been home to Taoist seekers and Buddhist monks isolated from society. In a meditative, understated style, the film shows what their quiet, simple lives are like, including the hardships they must endure in their search for enlightenment. Having lived with one of these masters for four years, Burger has keen insight into their experiences. The DVD makes a good gift for anyone interested in Chinese religion, philosophy, and meditation, but the documentary can also be viewed on YouTube here.

China from the Inside - DVD cover - small - 125 x 125China from the Inside: In the U.S. media, we are often exposed to a very narrowly Western perspective on China. As its title suggests, the 2007 PBS documentary series China from the Inside makes a genuine effort to present representative opinions from many Chinese citizens, scholars, and government officials on some of the major issues and challenges in contemporary Chinese society. The producers of the series had unprecedented access to places and activities that could not be easily seen by foreigners, and many of the people interviewed speak with refreshing candor. Through its objective but sensitive portrayal of the lives of ordinary citizens, the film makes contemporary China comprehensible even to Westerners not already familiar with it. The major topics covered in the four-part series are the status of women, the Communist Party, environmental challenges, and justice and freedom. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to gain real insight into Chinese society.

China-Related Books

China Books (originally known as China Books and Periodicals), founded in 1960 and now located in South San Francisco, has a wide range of products (not just books and magazines), including some good deals in the “bargain bin” and “clearance” sections of its website.

Books About Chinese Art

Art in China (Oxford History of Art) (Craig Clunas): This comprehensive introduction to China’s 5,000 years of visual arts is an expanded 2009 edition of the highly rated first edition published in 1997. Available for Kindle.

book cover - China's Sacred SitesHighly rated books that focus on the architectural wonders and other important sites in China include China’s Sacred Sites by Professor Nan Shunxun and Beverly Foit-Albert, which features photographs of not only temples and other important architecture but also the stunning landscapes that they adorn; Chinese Houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation (also available for Kindle) by Ronald G. Knapp, Jonathan Spence, and A. Chester Ong; and Yale University Press’s voluminous Chinese Architecture, the third volume in a planned 75-volume series on Chinese culture, which boasts contributions from six leading historians of Chinese architecture.

Books About Chinese Philosophy

For people interested in Taoist philosophy, there are a wide range of English texts to choose from. Here is a brief guide to the most acclaimed English editions of the Tao Te Ching (道德經, or Dào Dé Jīng):
cover of the Feng-English translation of the Tao Te Ching

  • David Hinton’s translation is critically acclaimed for its poetic beauty as well as its linguistic and philosophical accuracy.
  • The Vintage translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, long prized for its poetic evocation of Lao Tzu’s style, has recently been republished in a new edition. Like the popular original, it is an oversized book (10.9 x 8.4 inches) enhanced with meditative photos and a calligraphic version of the Chinese text. (There is also a smaller edition available, so take care when ordering.) Available for Kindle and iBooks.
  • Red Pine’s spare and elegant translation is acclaimed as a faithful rendering of the original. Envisioned as “a discussion between Lao Tzu and a group of people who have thought deeply about his text,” this edition is also unique in providing selections from the many commentaries produced over more than two thousand years by Chinese thinkers to complement the text and give deeper insight into its meaning. Available for Kindle.
  • The audaciously titled Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition, translated and compiled by Jonathan Star, is a useful resource for anyone who wants to take a scholarly, in-depth approach to reading the text. In addition to his literary translation, it features a literal, line-by-line translation, as well as notes on the possible meanings and connotations of each character. Available for Kindle.
  • Tao: The Way (The Sayings of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Lieh Tzu) includes revised versions of the classic translations by the scholars Lionel and Herbert Giles, presented in a unique format. Rather than separating the three texts, it combines selections from each text in topical sections like “Tao as a Moral Principle, or Virtue” and “The Doctrine of Inaction.” For someone interested in a philosophy-oriented survey of Taoism, this is an especially useful book. Available for Kindle.

For those interested in Confucian philosophy, there are also a wealth of reading choices. Here are some of the best-reviewed and most important:
book cover of The Original Analects

  • The Original Analects, edited by E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, presents a translation and detailed analysis of the original Confucian text The Analects of Confucius for those inclined to a scholarly study of Confucian thought. Their analysis is unique and even revolutionary in that it attempts to distinguish between the original ideas and priorities of Confucius and those of his later followers who collected and altered his teachings.
  • With a detailed introduction to Confucian terms and concepts, helpful notes throughout the text, and a very literal approach to translation, Chichung Huang’s version of the Analects is distinguished by its philosophical clarity. As a member of a family of Confucian teachers, Huang has unique credentials among translators of the Analects.
  • For a more literary, poetically flavored version of the Analects, consider David Hinton’s translation.

Anyone who wants to explore Confucian thought even more deeply with a pilgrimage to Confucius’ hometown of Qufu, where the Kong Family Mansion and other important sites are located, might be interested in our Northeast China 15-Day Tour.

Books About Chinese Divination and Fengshui

Ancient Chinese Divination book coverWith a scholarly and historical (but also lucid and highly readable) approach to the subject of fengshui and other forms of divination, Dr. Stephen Field’s Ancient Chinese Divination is a fascinating tour through the origins and evolution of divination in ancient China, tying together Chinese cosmology, neolithic forms of divination, the Zhou Changes (later known as the I-Ching), fengshui, numerology, and more. Head of the Chinese program at Trinity University, Dr. Field is a specialist in pre-Qin Chinese literature and ancient Chinese cosmology. More of his writings about fengshui and ancient Chinese texts can be found on his website, Fengshui Gate.

Other highly rated books about fengshui include the following:

  • A Master Course in Feng-Shui is a comprehensive workbook and reference manual “for homeowners, renters, architects, and business owners who want to put feng-shui to practical personal use.”
  • Feng Shui That Makes Sense is intended as a personal guide to help you use basic principles of fengshui to create a more comfortable, harmonious home and garden environment. Available for Kindle.

For someone who is interested in applying fengshui principles or would simply like an unusual conversation piece for their coffee table, a fengshui compass might make an interesting gift.

Chinese Literature

cover of Classical Chinese PoetryAs an introduction to Chinese poetry in translation, David Hinton’s Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology (also available for Kindle) is a perfect gift. More than simply providing a faithful and pleasant translation, Hinton’s ear for verse gives these poems an added power that makes them worth reading as works of English literature too. Writer Bei Dao (Zhao Zhenkai) gave Hinton’s translations just about the highest praise possible: “Given the magnitude of his ability and his overall project, Hinton is creating nothing less than a new literary tradition in English, an event of truly major importance not only to English literature but also to the literature of my own language. I cannot recommend the value of his work too highly.”

Here are a few excerpts from Hinton’s translations of Song Dynasty poet Mei Yaochen’s work:

  • On the death of his wife: “I hide my tears, not wanting them to see,/push the lamp away and lie facing the wall,/a hundred sorrows clotting heart and lung”
  • On a rat infestation of his home: “Suddenly my silly boy/starts meowing like a cat! Goofy plan, eh?”
  • On going blind: “No telling what’s what in this confusion,/I’m suddenly free of likes and dislikes.”
  • On the sounds of autumn: “The ear hears, but mind is itself silent./Who’s left now all thought’s forgotten?”
  • On peasants forced by desperation to gather weeds in the snow: “Hands so raw they can’t feed themselves, they/live in hunger, and you’re ashamed to eat it?”

Bill Porter, better known by his Chinese name Red Pine, is considered one of the best translators of Chinese literature into English. He has translated numerous volumes of Chinese poetry, as well as other important literary and philosophical texts. For students of the Chinese language, his translations are essential because they include the original Chinese text. Here are some of his most popular volumes of Chinese poetry:

The temple named after the reclusive Tang Dynasty poet Cold Mountain (寒山, Hánshān), Hanshan Temple, can be seen on many of our tours that feature Suzhou.

Books About Chinese Society

A farmer in Wuxi, one subject of Tom Carter's China - Portrait of a PeopleChina: Portrait of a People (Tom Carter): The photos in this book were taken during a two-year journey taken by the author through all of China’s 33 provinces. It is highly recommended for its stunning photos, which are both beautiful and truly representative of China’s many ethnic groups—you can see several sample photos on the book’s Amazon page, and there is also a “book trailer” on YouTube with an array of architecture-oriented photos from the book.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Jung Chang): This powerful book tells the story of three women whose lives span the tumultuous changes in Chinese society over the course of the 20th century: Chang’s grandmother, her mother, and Chang herself. Both critically acclaimed and popular, Wild Swans is featured in many university and high school courses. Available for Kindle and iBooks.

Factory Girls - book coverFactory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Leslie Chang): Written by a former Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Factory Girls focuses on the lives of young women in southern China who have left home to take assembly-line work in search of a better future. In intimate detail, it reveals the intense, fast-paced world of migrant workers that is experienced by 130 million people in China but glimpsed by few outsiders. Available for Kindle and iBooks.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory (Peter Hessler): Hessler, a Mandarin-speaking American (and husband of Leslie Chang) who has spent years living and traveling in China, is a sharp, sympathetic, and dauntless observer and explorer with a gift for drawing you into his experiences. Country Driving, as its title suggests, covers his extensive road trips through northern China, as well as the time he spent living in a village outside Beijing and visiting factories in southern China. Moving, fascinating, and funny, it is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in understanding the effects that China’s rapid changes have had on its people. Hessler has also written two other well-received books about his time in China: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and Oracle Bones. Available for Kindle and iBooks.

This Is China: The First 5,000 Years (Haiwang Yuan): This introduction to China and its history draws from The Berkshire Encyclopedia of China to give readers a concise but comprehensive overview of China. Available for Kindle.

China (DK Eyewitness Books) (Hugh Sebag-Montefiore): This book provides a great introduction to contemporary China for children, with a wealth of photos and information. DK’s Ancient China (by Arthur Cotterell) provides a complementary overview of China’s long history.

Chinese Language Books and Educational Software

For a much more detailed discussion of Chinese language educational materials, many of which would make excellent gifts, see our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page. Don’t miss the links to our Language and Culture Learning Pages with educational materials designed to enhance your tour experience.

Niubi - book coverNiubi: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School (Eveline Chao): One fascinating effect of China’s continuing growth and modernization on its popular culture is the explosion in slang expressions that has occurred in recent years, in large part because of the use of the Internet by ever-larger numbers of Chinese citizens. As in the United States, wildly creative, funny, and vulgar new slang can become popular overnight as a result of mass exposure online. Many now-common colloquialisms are given a clear and thorough explanation in this book. For anyone who wants to really speak like a native and have fun with the dynamic, living language that is contemporary Mandarin, this book is a great resource. Available for iBooks. For an introduction to the slang covered in this book, see our past blog posts “Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 1” and “Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 2: Flirting, Dating, Romance, Marriage, and Heartbreak.”

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma): For the serious student of Mandarin, this 432-page guide presents detailed, comprehensive information about contemporary grammar and usage. To make the book as useful and relevant as possible, its authors favor the practical over the obscure. Available for Kindle.

Learning Chinese Characters, Vol. 1: A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters (Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews): Most helpful for beginners but also a good reference tool for more advanced learners, this book uses a cartoon-based mnemonic approach to aid in memorization. It presents the characters in a logical order that also makes them easier to memorize, and it also contains useful information about each character. Available for Kindle.

cover of Schaum's Outlines - Chinese VocabularySchaum’s Outline of Chinese Vocabulary (Yanping Xie and Duan-Duan Li): For intermediate-level students, this book contains a well-designed course of 200 exercises to help students understand and memorize practical vocabulary, including topics like computer terminology that are neglected in many other Mandarin sources.

Chinese (Mandarin), Conversational: Learn to Speak and Understand Mandarin Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Pimsleur Instant Conversation): This well-reviewed audiobook (CD) conversational Mandarin course of 16 half-hour lessons is based on the Pimsleur Method. There is also a much more expensive 30-lesson version available.

ChinesePod logoChinesePod and Rocket Chinese are both getting rave reviews for their online multimedia courses, which include interactive audio lessons, video lessons, games, online communities, and vocabulary building materials. A subscription to either service would be a fantastic gift for someone interested in learning Chinese.

Rocket Chinese logoFluenz Version F2: Mandarin 1+2+3 with supplemental Audio CDs and Podcasts: A well-reviewed (but expensive) 3-disc, 75-lesson CD-ROM set with two audio CDs and supplemental podcasts. Since this course uses pinyin (romanized Chinese) only without Chinese characters, it is appropriate for those who are only interested in learning to speak the language or who want to use this course as a supplement to other materials. The developers of this course describe it as a teacher-oriented approach, with each lesson led by a tutor. They emphasize that in contrast to other learning systems that focus on mimicking patterns, their course involves explanations of grammar and sentence structure to build clear, conscious understanding. For both PC and Mac operating systems, though Mac OS X users should check to make sure it is compatible with recent versions of OS X.

Multimedia Learning Suite Chinese Characters Memory LifterMultimedia Learning Suite Chinese Characters Memory Lifter: Presented in a convenient “plug and play” USB stick format, this program uses multimedia flashcards organized by subject to help you memorize 3,000 Chinese words. Its useful features include a variety of learning modes, the ability to track your learning progress, statistical feedback on your performance, the ability to edit and expand vocabulary sets with your own data, and the ability to print flashcards. The package also includes a study guide, introductory videos, MP3 audiobooks for playback on portable listening devices, and a “Learn to Learn” booklet to help you get the most out of the system.

Tea and Teaware

Good information about tea and teaware can be found on the discussion boards at TeaChat.

An Yixing teapot - photo by Alexandr SoloYixing zisha (“purple clay”) teapots (photo credit: Alexandr Solo) are prized for both their beauty and the added richness they impart to the flavor of tea. Although there are apparently a number of English-language retail websites that sell authentic Yixing teapots, my research suggests that the sites introduced below may be the best places to purchase them. However, to ensure faster shipping for Christmas, you might also consider purchasing a pot directly from the Yixing teapots page on the U.S.-based website of Yunnan Sourcing, a company that also sells high-quality tea leaves.

  • Wan Ling Tea House: With a tea shop in Shanghai and other operations based in the U.K., Wan Ling Tea House is a great source for both tea leaves and tea accessories, including Yixing teapots.
  • Chinese Tea Culture: This site is operated by a Mandarin-speaking American living in China who is able to ensure the quality of the products he sells (tea leaves, Yixing teapots, and other tea accessories) by getting them directly from producers. (Note: As of the publication of this post, this site appears to be down and may no longer be in operation.)

The wonderful Teavana Yixing Travel Tea Tumbler (a stainless-steel, clay-lined thermal tumbler) that we used to recommend is no longer available. Here are a few highly rated alternatives:

The following books would make great gifts for anyone interested in learning more about tea culture and the complexities of tea itself:
cover of The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook

  • The Tea Drinker’s Handbook (Francois-xavier Delmas, Mathias Minet, and Christine Barbaste): Written in clear English by the co-directors of France’s Le Palais des Thés (“Palace of Tea”) retail chain, this well-designed, accurate, and comprehensive book goes beyond many other books about tea in giving detailed information about tea bushes and the cultivation of tea. It also features 200 full-color photographs and illustrations.
  • The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas and The Story of Tea: A Cultural History & Drinking Guide (Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss): Written by the founders of Tea Trekker, these books have received a great deal of critical praise and high marks from readers. The Handbook is a “pocket guide” (for a large pocket) that focuses on practical buying, brewing, and tasting advice; The Story of Tea is a more comprehensive tea tome augmented by 150 full-color photographs. Both books are also for sale on Amazon and available for both Kindle and iBooks.
Chinese Cuisine

Easy Chinese Recipes book coverEasy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao (Bee Yinn Low) and The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight’s Dinner (Jaden Hair): Two very highly rated cookbooks covering the spectrum of Chinese cuisine, with an emphasis on convenient recipes that use ingredients available at American supermarkets. Both books are now available for Kindle.

Joyce Chen 10-Inch Bamboo Steamer Set and Joyce Chen 50-count Steaming Papers: A set of two stackable bamboo steaming baskets, along with convenient paper liners fitted to the baskets. Other highly rated 10-inch steamer liner options are Helen’s Asian Kitchen Parchment Steamer Liners, 20 Count and Pre-Cut Perforated Parchment Steamer Liner / Non-Stick Rounds (Pack of 40).
cast iron wok set - small - 125 x 125
14-Inch Traditional Cast Iron Wok Set: A perfect gift for the budding Chinese cook who wants to cook the traditional way, this is an “old-school” wok (without teflon) that has received rave reviews on Amazon. It includes five pieces: the wok, an aluminum lid, a stainless steel spatula, a ring, and a bamboo cleaning whisk. For a high-quality teflon-coated wok, consider this 14-inch wok from T-Fal. Those with a bigger budget might also like the Calphalon Elite Nonstick Wok, which features a glass cover.

Chinese Art and Calligraphy

Mystic East Art’s website,, has a good reputation and features beautiful Chinese-style paintings—original paintings only, not prints. Oriental Furniture is a highly rated seller with a broader selection of Chinese and Asian furniture, art, and decorative accessories.

Oriental Art Supply and Asian Art Mall are two reputable online retailers that offer a huge selection of calligraphy- and art-related supplies and products. Oriental Art Supply is owned by the family of Dr. Ning Yeh, an accomplished painter.

Here are a few art-related gift ideas available on Amazon:

Chinese calligraphy set - small - 125 x 125Chinese calligraphy writing and brush painting set with 5 brushes, an ink stick, an inkstone, signing ink, a water well, a brush rest, and a stone chop. Be aware that the brushes are quite small and may be unsuitable for people with larger hands. (This set can be supplemented with these medium-sized or large brushes.) Although it has a reasonably good rating overall, numerous reviewers have criticized the quality of this set; this similar but somewhat more expensive set may be a better option.

Chinese Calligraphy Made Easy: A Structured Course in Creating Beautiful Brush Lettering (Rebecca Yue): A well-reviewed book for beginning practitioners of Chinese calligraphy.

100 sheets Japanese Chinese Calligraphy Rice Paper: Well-reviewed paper used for calligraphy and brush painting practice.

Chinese seal - Oriental Art Supply - small - 125 x 125A personalized Chinese seal, also referred to as a chop or stamp, makes a classy and unique gift. Oriental Art Supply sells personalized seals carved in China in a variety of configurations; square artist name seals like the ones pictured here are the most commonly used. (See the “Related Products” links at the bottom of the page for other kinds of seals.) Asian Brush Art & Graphic Design also sells customized seals.

If you need to create a Chinese name for someone without one, try these websites:

  • A sophisticated name generator with a variety of options; it gives rough phonetic transliteration of Western names within the parameters of a traditional three-character Chinese name (one-character surname, two-character given name). It also provides some information about the specific names it generates and Chinese names in general, along with links to other sources of information about Chinese names.
  • This name generator handles one name at a time only (given name or surname), and it outputs common transliterations of Western names that do not follow the format of a traditional Chinese name. These names are immediately recognizable as Western names and may or may not work well on a seal.
  • This name generator works just like the one above.

You can get a digital version of the seal stamp on these websites to see what it might look like:Fu Mingdao seal stamp - positive - 75 x 75

Kung Fu and Martial Arts

Master Amin Wu performing a t'ai chi fan formFor Bay Area residents interested in t’ai chi ch’uan (太極拳, tàijíquán), lessons with a local instructor would be a perfect gift. We are fortunate to have an internationally famous sifu available for both group classes and individual lessons: Master Amin Wu (吴阿敏, Wú Āmǐn). A graduate of the Wushu Department of the Beijing University of Physical Education, she has won numerous international tournaments and China national championships, served as a judge at China’s national championships, and been a featured instructor on China Central Television (CCTV). She teaches all major styles of taijiquan (Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wu), as well as ch’i kung (氣功, qìgōng) exercises for health, t’ai chi weapons, and self defense. Her group classes are held in Millbrae, and she is also available for private lessons. Her classes and lessons are very reasonably priced, especially for such an accomplished teacher. Visit her website to find out more and purchase her Yang-style Tai Chi Fundamentals for Beginners DVD and other VCD’s. See performance videos and interviews on her YouTube channel.

Medicine Begins With Me logoChilel Wellness and its website, Medicine Begins With Me, have an admirable mission: to empower people to improve their own health by combining traditional Chinese practices like ch’i kung and t’ai chi ch’uan with modern medical knowledge. In addition to seminars and other products, they host annual group tours of China that feature both cultural exploration and qigong/taijiquan study sessions with local masters. Based in Rocklin, California, northeast of Sacramento, they hold workshops and retreats in a number of cities in California, Hawaii, and Indiana.

For basic instructional videos on ch’i kung or t’ai chi ch’uan, consider these highly rated DVDs created by Chris Pei: Qi Gong for Beginners and Tai Chi for Beginners.

Feiyue martial arts shoes (black)The Martial Arts Store has an incredible selection of martial arts-related goods.

Feiyue martial arts shoes: These shoes are apparently the kind worn by Shaolin monks during training. Flexible, padded, and light, they are ideal for martial arts and similar activities. One drawback is that the shoes’ rubbery soles have a strong smell at first that diminishes over time. Note that these shoes are different (lighter, for martial arts practice) than the shoes sold on the official Feiyue website based in France, which are more fashion-oriented shoes.

Martial arts practitioners interested in incorporating Taoist philosophy into their daily lives will find Deng Ming-Dao’s Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life invaluable. Also available for Kindle.

The Way of Energy book coverThe Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise (Master Lam Kam-Chuen): An introduction to zhanzhuang (站樁, zhànzhuāng), a simple but powerfully health-promoting form of ch’i kung that involves standing still in various postures and can be done by people of all ages. This book is very highly regarded for its lucid explanations of qigong concepts and its easy-to-follow instructions, augmented by more than 100 drawings and photographs. Complementary video clips by the author can be found on the StandStillBeFit channel on YouTube.

Serious students of martial arts might find a trip to the Shaolin Monastery, the home of kung fu, fascinating; the monastery is included on our Roots of Chinese Culture 14-Day Tour.

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Read more about the situation in this New York Times report.

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The Shanghai Museum is a world-class museum whose collection of approximately one million pieces primarily consists of Chinese relics from throughout China’s dynastic history. Nearly 130,000 items in its collection are considered national treasures. Located in the People’s Square near Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai, the museum hosts nearly two million visitors a year (1,944,820 in 2012). The museum was originally established in 1952; its current location opened in 1996.

The museum has ten galleries for permanent collections and three for special exhibits. The museum’s permanent exhibits (listed from the ground floor up) include the following:

Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery

This sprawling exhibit features over 400 bronze relics, the oldest of which date to the 18th century BCE. The relics include numerous weapons, along with many ancient vessels used in religious rituals.
Noteworthy piece: “Large Ding Made for Ke”, from the reign of King Xiao (late 10th century BCE) of the Western Zhou Dynasty, pictured below.

Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery

The approximately 120 sculptures in this gallery include examples from the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). Many of them are Buddhist artworks such as Bodhisattva statues and steles, reflecting the importance of Buddhism in the development of Chinese art.
Noteworthy piece: “Stone Statue of Bodhisattva,” from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), pictured below.

Closeup of a statue of a Heavenly Guardian in the Shanghai Museum
Statue of a Heavenly Guardian
(photo by Colin J.)
Ancient Chinese Ceramics Gallery

This fantastic exhibit of over 500 pieces of pottery and porcelain covers an 8,000-year period, from the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000-2000 BCE) to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It includes such items as vases, statues, cups, bowls, flasks, dishes, and teapots. The adjacent Zande Lou Ceramics Gallery displays an additional 130 pieces.
Noteworthy piece: “Famille Rose Vase with Peach and Bat Design” from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735 CE) of the Qing Dynasty, pictured below.

Chinese Painting Gallery

This collection includes Chinese paintings from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) through the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), of which approximately 140 are on display at any time.
Noteworthy piece: “Flowers,” completed in 1859 by the Qing Dynasty artist Zhao Zhiqian, pictured below.

Chinese Calligraphy Gallery

This outstanding collection comprises about half of the calligraphic artworks in all of China’s public collections, of which about 60-70 are on display at any given time. The earliest examples of Chinese calligraphy are characters inscribed on oracle bones and bronze relics. The items in this gallery range from such early Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) examples through Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE) masterpieces.
Noteworthy piece: Cursive Poem by Wen Peng, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Seal Gallery

Also called chops or stamps, seals have been used in China since the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). The approximately 500 seals in this exhibit extend from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1029-771 BCE) to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE).
Noteworthy piece: “Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin-shaped Knob,” the Seal of the Prince of Duo Luo Ding, from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), pictured below.

Jade cup in the Shanghai Museum
Jade cup
(photo by Allan Siew)
Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery

A stunning variety of jade relics and artworks are on display in this gallery, from jewelry and ornaments to cups and figurines. The collection’s 300 pieces include relics dating back to China’s pre-2000 BCE Neolithic period, as well as more sophisticated Ming and Qing masterpieces. This gallery emphasizes the profound cultural and historical significance of jade in Chinese civilization, which was the first to mine and use jade.
Noteworthy piece: “Model of a Mountain with Figures,” Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE).

Chinese Currency Gallery

This large collection of over 3,300 pieces covers a period of 1,000 years, including the origins of Chinese currency. The gallery features a special exhibit of ancient coins from nations along the Silk Road.
Noteworthy piece: “Reward of the Western King Coin,” issued by the rebel leader Zhang Xianzhong (1606-1657 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Ming and Qing Furniture Gallery

About 100 pieces of high-quality hardwood furniture from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE) are displayed in this gallery, including tables, chairs, beds, and bookcases, along with rarer items such as funerary furniture models.
Noteworthy piece: “Rectangular Table with Engraved Cloud and Dragon Design” and “Throne Chair with Engraved Cloud and Dragon Design,” Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Minority Nationalities’ Art Gallery

This gallery comprises more than 600 exhibits of a wide variety of artworks from China’s nearly 60 ethnic minority groups, including clothing, embroidery work, metalware, and masks.
Noteworthy piece: “Hand-painted Wood-carved Fishing Boat,” from Taiwan’s Gaoshan (“high mountain”) people, second half of the 20th century, pictured below.

Tips for visiting the Shanghai Museum

Admission: Admission to the museum is free. Keep in mind that the museum limits the number of visitors to 8000 per day and does not admit new visitors after 4 PM. Also, visitors may not be allowed to enter when the galleries are overcrowded.

Planning your visit: If you don’t have at least half a day to tour the museum, be sure to decide in advance which galleries you want to focus on. (Refer to this floor map of the museum.) For anyone interested in Chinese art, culture, and history, it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring all the galleries.

The exterior of the Shanghai Museum in the People's Square
The Shanghai Museum in the People’s Square
(photo by xiafenfang_1959)

Gift shop: The gift shop on the ground floor has a great selection of books. Not only does it have museum guidebooks (including an excellent, thorough guide in English currently available for US $12); it also has photo books in both Chinese and English devoted to each permanent exhibit (currently only US $5 each). You can essentially take the museum home with you via these books and save yourself the effort and distraction of taking a ton of photos during your visit.

Guided tours: For those going to the museum without a local tour guide, audio tours in English and a number of other languages are available on the ground floor. Daily guided tours are also available; information about them is posted next to the information desk in the lobby.

Tour packages: Normally, all of our standard tour packages that include Shanghai feature the Shanghai Museum. Read about them on our Mainland China Tours page. Although our current value tour packages (EBIV and EBXF) do not include the Shanghai Museum, it’s easy to fit in a visit to the museum at the end of your tour. Contact us for details and options.

Facts about the Shanghai Museum:

  • The shape of the museum building, designed by local architect Xing Tonghe, is meant to suggest the shape of an ancient Chinese food vessel called a “ting” or “ding” (鼎, dǐng).
  • The Da Ke Ding (“Large Ding Made for Ke”), unearthed in Shaanxi Province in 1890, is considered the museum’s greatest treasure and is cited as the specific inspiration for the museum’s architectural design. See the photo of the Da Ke Ding below.
  • The building’s circular shape and square base reflect the ancient Chinese conception of the heavens as round and earth as square.
  • The museum’s collections of Chinese bronzeware, ceramics, calligraphy, and paintings are considered among the best in the world.

Further reading and resources:

  • View or download a floor map of the Shanghai museum.
  • Read more general information about the Shanghai Museum on Wikipedia.
  • Get more specific and up-to-date information about the museum on its official website.
  • See a great selection of photos of the museum and its collection via this search on Flickr. In many cases, these photos are of higher quality than the ones on the museum’s official website.

Like this page? Please share it with your friends!

Shanghai Museum Photo Gallery

Click on any photo below to see a full-sized version.

The main entrance of the Shanghai Museum Da Ke Ding food vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
The main entrance to the museum, whose design
was inspired by the Da Ke Ding on the right

(photo by CIT)
Large Ding Made for Ke
(Da Ke Ding)

(photo by CIT)
Dui with Inlaid Geometric Pattern food vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Bells of Marquis Su of Jin in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Dui with Inlaid Geometric
Pattern (food vessel)

(photo by CIT)
The Bells of Marquis Su of Jin
Click here to listen to the bells
(photo by CIT)
Zi Zhong Jiang Pan water vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Ox-Shaped Zun wine vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Zi Zhong Jiang Pan (water vessel)
(photo by CIT)
Ox-Shaped Zun (wine vessel)
(photo by CIT)
Drums in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Drum Stand with Openwork Coiled Dragon Design in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Bronze Drums
(photo by CIT)
Drum Stand with Coiled Dragon Design
(photo by CIT)
Stone Bodhisattva in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Stone Buddhist Stele in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Stone Thousand-Buddha Stele in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Stone Statue of Bodhisattva
(photo by Kris)
Stone Buddhist Stele
(photo by CIT)
Thousand-Buddha Stele
(photo by CIT)
Polychrome-Glazed Pottery Statue of Heavenly Guardian in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Wooden Bodhisattva painted in color and gold in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Celadon Jar with Cloud and Dragon Design in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Statue of Heavenly Guardian
(photo by CIT)
Painted Wooden Bodhisattva
(photo by CIT)
Celadon Jar with Cloud and Dragon Design
(photo by CIT)
Famille Rose Vase with Peaches and Bats Design in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Famille Rose Eight Immortals Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Red Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Underglaze Blue Landscape Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Famille Rose Vase
with Peaches and Bats

(photo by Bill Taroli)
Famille Rose Vase
with Eight Immortals

(photo by CIT)
Vase with Red
Underglaze Design

(photo by CIT)
Underglaze Blue
Landscape Vase

(photo by CIT)
Prince of Duo Luo Ding Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin in the Seal Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Display of seals from the Qing and Ming dynasties in the Shanghai Museum
Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin Knob
(photo by Bill Taroli)
Display of seals from the Qing and Ming dynasties
(photo by CIT)
Seal with Eight Immortals Relief Carving in the Seal Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Flowers by Zhao Zhiqian in the Painting Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Cursive Script Poem by Wen Peng in the Calligraphy Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Seal with Eight Immortals
(photo by CIT)
Flowers, Zhao Zhiqian
(photo by CIT)
Cursive Poem, Wen Peng
(photo by CIT)
Wood-Carved Fishing Boat in the Minority Nationalities Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Reward of the Western King Coin in the Currency Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Belt Plaque with a Dragon-Through-Peonies Design in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Wood-Carved Fishing Boat
(photo by Dennis Jarvis)
Reward of the Western King Coin
(photo by Bill Taroli)
Belt Plaque with Dragon and Peonies
(photo by CIT)
Flying Apsara in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Model of a Mountain with Figures in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Flying Apsara, jade
(photo by CIT)
Model of a Mountain with Figures, jade
(photo by CIT)
Rectangular Table and Throne Chair in the Furniture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Strange cartoon figure that adorns some displays in the Shanghai Museum
Rectangular Table and Throne Chair
(photo by CIT)
Strange cartoon figure adorning some displays
(photo by CIT)

Shanghai Museum-Related Words

Study the words below on Quizlet:
Complete List: Characters, Pinyin, and English
Detailed Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English
Reversible Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English | Characters and Pinyin
Chinese Language Resources page

上海博物馆 (Shànghǎi Bówùguǎn): the Shanghai Museum, world-class museum located in the People’s Square in downtown Shanghai with a collection of approximately one million pieces, including nearly 130,000 pieces classified as national treasures

  • 人民广场 (Rénmín Guǎngchǎng)
    the People’s Square, public space in downtown Shanghai near several important cultural centers
  • 古物 (gǔwù)
    ancient object; antique; antiquities
  • 文物 (wénwù)
    cultural relic; historical relic; artifact (measure word: 件, jiàn, or 个, )
  • 珍贵文物 (zhēnguì wénwù)
    masterpiece; museum piece officially recognized as a masterpiece according to a grading system including first-class (一级, yījí), second-class (二级, èrjí), and third-class (三级, sānjí) rankings
A spiked bronze food vessel in the Shanghai Museum
Bronze food vessel
(photo by
Dennis Jarvis)
  • 出土 (chūtǔ)
    to be unearthed or excavated; to come up out of the ground
  • 收藏 (shōucáng)
    to collect; collection (e.g., museum collection)
  • 艺术品 (yìshùpǐn)
    artwork; art piece; work of art (measure word: 件, jiàn)
  • 展览 (zhǎnlǎn)
    display, exhibit; to put on display, to exhibit, to show

中国古代青铜馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Qīngtóngguǎn): Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery, ground-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of bronze relics

  • 古代 (gǔdài)
    the period in Chinese history from remote antiquity to the mid-19th century; also, ancient times in general

中国古代雕塑馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Diāosùguǎn): Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery, ground-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese sculptures

Wooden Head of Kasyapa in the Shanghai Museum
Head of Kasyapa
(photo by Khalid Albaih)

中国古代陶瓷馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Táocíguǎn): Ancient Chinese Ceramics Gallery, second-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese pottery and porcelain

  • 陶瓷 (táocí)
    pottery and porcelain; ceramics

中国历代绘画馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Huìhuàguǎn): Chinese Painting Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese paintings

  • 历代 (lìdài)
    successive dynasties; past dynasties (refers to the various dynastic periods of imperial China)

中国历代书法馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Shūfǎguǎn): Chinese Calligraphy Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese calligraphy

  • 书法 (shūfǎ)
    calligraphy; penmanship

中国历代印章馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Yìnzhāngguǎn): Chinese Seal Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese seals

中国古代玉器馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Yùqìguǎn): Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese jade artifacts

  • 玉器 (yùqì)
    jade artifact
Spear with Cloud and Thunder Pattern in the Shanghai Museum
Bronze spear
(photo by Dennis Jarvis)

中国历代货币馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Huòbìguǎn): Chinese Currency Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese coins and other forms of currency

中国明清家具馆 (Zhōngguó Míng-Qīng Jiājùguǎn): Chinese Ming and Qing Furniture Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum displaying antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties

中国少数民族工艺馆 (Zhōngguó Shǎoshù Mínzú Gōngyìguǎn): Chinese Minority Nationalities’ Art Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of clothing, artworks, and handicrafts from many of China’s ethnic minorities

  • 工艺 (gōngyì)
    arts and crafts; handicrafts; technology

For many more Chinese vocabulary lists and information about tools and resources for learning Chinese,
visit our Chinese Language Resources page.

CIT Tour Packages Featuring the Shanghai Museum

The standard tour packages below include a visit to the Shanghai Museum. Although our current value tour packages (EBIV and EBXF) do not include the Shanghai Museum, it’s easy to fit in a visit to the museum at the end of your tour. Contact us for details and options.


Open the CIT001 tour information page
China Highlights 11-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai
Open the information page for our China Highlights 15-Day Tour
China Highlights 15-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai – Zhouzhuang – Suzhou – Wuxi – Hangzhou
CIT003 icon - 75 x 75
Jiangnan Gourmet Cuisine / Yellow Mountain 10-Day Tour
Shanghai – Zhouzhuang – Suzhou – Wuxi – Hangzhou – Hong Village – Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)
Open the information page for our Magnificent Yangtze / Ancient Capitals Deluxe 15-Day Tour (CIT005)
Magnificent Yangtze/Ancient Capitals Deluxe 15-Day Tour
Beijing – Three Gorges (Yangtze Cruise) – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai
Open the information page for our Mysterious Tibet 16-Day Tour (CIT008)
Mysterious Tibet 16-Day Tour
Beijing – Three Gorges (Yangtze Cruise) – Xi’an – Lhasa – Shanghai
Open the information page for our China Discovery 11-Day Tour (CIT011)
China Discovery 11-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Shanghai – Hong Kong
CIT012 tour icon - 75 x 75
Ancient and Modern China
13-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai – Hong Kong
CITSH1 icon - 75 x 75 Shanghai 3-Day Tour Extension

Beloved for centuries as a peaceful refuge from the stresses of life and a source of artistic and literary inspiration, West Lake is perhaps the most famous lake in China. It is located among the hills just west of downtown Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai. Originally a lagoon connected to the Qiantang River, it was dredged and converted into a lake in the 8th century CE. Over the centuries, various local government projects have added to and improved the lake and its surroundings, creating a vast, picturesque garden-like environment ideal for strolling about, boating, drinking tea, or simply contemplating nature’s beauty.

One side of the lake is bordered by bustling downtown Hangzhou; the other three by verdant hills containing temples and tea fields. Within and around the lake are numerous major attractions, including three major causeways that cross that lake, islands, temples, and hilltop pagodas. Leifeng Pagoda, popularized in legend as the place where the immortal Madame White Snake (or Lady White Snake) was cast into a well as punishment for falling in love with a mortal, is perhaps the most iconic structure. The causeways, renowned as peaceful places for strolling and admiring the view, were built with dredged silt and beautified with flowering plants and trees. Two famous poet-officials were responsible for the construction of the causeways that take their names: Bai Juyi ordered the construction of what is now called the Bai Causeway during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and Su Dongpo (or Su Shi) followed suit about 200 years later when he built a longer causeway extending across the entire lake from north to south.

Sampans float on the surface of West Lake in front of Leifeng Pagoda and Jingci Temple in Hangzhou, China
Leifeng Pagoda and Jingci Temple
(photo by Louisa Salazar)

Even centuries ago, the attractions and scenic spots in and around West Lake were so numerous as to make it impossible to see them all. The most popular and significant sights became codified into an official list called the Ten Scenes of West Lake (西湖十景, Xī Hú Shí Jǐng) when Hangzhou served as the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 CE), an especially prosperous period for the city. Rather than simply a list of places, the Ten Scenes also incorporate the element of time, as the time of day and the changes of the seasons are important factors in West Lake’s beauty.

That beauty, seen as the perfect blend of the human and the natural, has inspired countless painters and poets to attempt to render its power in art and verse. Marco Polo called Hangzhou “the most beautiful and elegant city in the world” after he visited it, and the famous Chinese saying “Up above there is Heaven, down here there are Suzhou and Hangzhou,” is attributed in large part to the lake’s scenery. For examples of art and poetry about West Lake, see the list of further reading and resources below.

Tips for visitors to West Lake:

  • Hangzhou, like other cities in the Jiangnan region, is quite hot and humid during the summer months.
  • As West Lake is a very popular tourist destination, and most traffic around the lake travels along one small road, traffic can be excruciatingly slow. Weekdays are a better time to visit than weekends or holidays. Be sure to allow plenty of time if you expect to visit different sites around the lake.
  • For independent travelers, bike rentals are a good way to get around the lake and avoid traffic.
  • Recommended activities: drinking local “Dragon Well” green tea as you admire the view, cruising around the lake in one of the many small gondola-like sampans available for hire.

Further reading and resources:

Like this page? Please share it with your friends!

West Lake Photo Gallery
West Lake-Related Words

Study the words in this section on Quizlet:
Detailed Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English
Reversible Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English | Characters and Pinyin
Chinese Language Resources page

西湖 (Xī Hú): West Lake, freshwater lake west of downtown Hangzhou surrounded on three sides by hills and on one side by the downtown area; featured in many poems and other works of art, it has a long history of cultural significance in China

Leifeng Pagoda on a hill overlooking West Lake in Hangzhou, China
Leifeng Pagoda and West Lake
(photo by Gustavo Madico)
  • 西湖十景 (Xī Hú Shí Jǐng)

    Ten Scenes of West Lake, an official list of ten poetically named sights and activities around the lake dating back to the Southern Song Dynasty (南宋, Nán Sòng, 1127-1279 CE) marked by stelae in the calligraphy of the Qing Dynasty Qianlong Emperor (乾隆帝, Qián Lóng Dì), who composed a poem for each scene; there is also an official New Ten Scenes of West Lake (西湖新景, Xī Hú Xīn Jǐng) list chosen in 1984

  • 雷峰塔 (Léifēng Tǎ)

    Leifeng Pagoda (literally, “Thunder Peak Pagoda”), a tower on Sunset Hill (夕照山, Xīzhào Shān) on the southeastern shore of West Lake originally built in 975 CE during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (五代十国, Wǔ Dài Shí Guó) period; Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照, Léifēng Xīzhào) is one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake

  • 白蛇传 (Bái Shé Zhuàn)

    Legend of the White Snake, a Chinese legend about Madame White Snake (白娘子, Bái Niángzi), a thousand-year-old white snake who takes on human form and falls in love with a man; because their love is forbidden, she is cast into a deep well at Leifeng Pagoda

  • 净慈寺 (Jìngcí Sì)

    Jingci Temple (literally, “Temple of Pure Compassion”), a temple on Nanping Hill (南屏山, Nánpíng Shān) near Leifeng Pagoda originally built in 954 CE; Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill (南屏晚钟, Nánpíng Wǎnzhōng), the nightly ringing of the temple’s large bronze bell, is one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake

West Lake and downtown Hangzhou at night
West Lake and downtown Hangzhou
(photo by Lu Yu)
  • 三潭印月 (Sāntán Yìnyuè)

    Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, a group of three small towers in the water south of Lesser Yingzhou Island (小瀛洲, Xiǎo Yíngzhōu) that emit candlelight on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节, Zhōngqiū Jié); one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, it is located in the south-central part of the lake

  • 花港观鱼 (Huāgǎng Guānyú)

    Red Carp Pond (literally, “Viewing Fish at the Flower Pond”); one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, it is located on the southwestern shore

  • 柳浪闻莺 (Liǔlàng Wényīng)

    Liulang Wenying Park or Orioles Singing in the Willows (more literally, “Listening to Orioles in the Waving Willows”); one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, it is located on the eastern shore

  • 断桥残雪 (Duànqiáo Cánxuě)

    Broken Bridge (literally, “Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge”); one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, it is located on the northeastern shore

  • 保俶塔 (Bǎochù Tǎ)

    Baochu Pagoda, a slender pagoda on Baoshi Hill (宝石山, Bǎoshí Shān, “Precious Stone Hill”) on the northern shore of West Lake

Tourists relax in covered rowboats on Hangzhou's West Lake at sunset
Boats on West Lake at sunset
(photo by Ricky Qi)
  • 白堤 (Bái Dī)

    Bai Causeway, a long dyke and walkway in the northern part of West Lake named after the renowned Tang Dynasty (唐朝, Táng Cháo, 618-907 CE) poet and government official Bai Juyi (白居易, Bái Jūyì), who ordered the construction of the original causeway

  • 孤山 (Gū Shān)

    Solitary Hill, a large island in the northwestern part of West Lake; connected to the northern shore by Bai Causeway, it is the location of a number of attractions, including the internationally famous restaurant Lou Wai Lou (楼外楼, Lóuwàilóu)

  • 苏堤 (Sū Dī)

    Su Causeway, a long dyke and walkway in the southwestern part of West Lake named after the renowned Song Dynasty (宋朝, Sòng Cháo, 960-1279 CE) poet and government official Su Dongpo (苏东坡, Sū Dōngpō), or Su Shi (苏轼, Sū Shì), who ordered its construction; Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (苏堤春晓, Sūdī Chūnxiǎo) is one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake

  • 杨公堤 (Yánggōng Dī)

    Yanggong Causeway, a long walkway in the western part of West Lake

  • 湖心亭 (Húxīn Tíng)

    Mid-Lake Pavilion, pavilion on an island in the middle of West Lake

  • 印象西湖 (Yìnxiàng Xī Hú)

    Impression West Lake, a popular show produced by director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋, Zhāng Yìmóu) that is performed on the lake

A densely packed cluster of red and white carp in West Lake's Red Carp Pond, also called Viewing Fish at the Flower Pond
Red Carp Pond
(photo by Brian)
  • 龙井问茶 (Lóngjǐng Wèn Chá)

    Dragon Well Tea Village (literally, “Inquiring About Tea at Dragon Well,” its name in the New Ten Scenes of West Lake), the site of the spring from which Dragon Well tea gets its name

For many more Chinese vocabulary lists and information about tools and resources for learning Chinese,
visit our Chinese Language Resources page.

CIT Tour Packages Featuring West Lake


What is known as the Great Wall of China is in fact not one unbroken wall, but a sprawling series of walls built by various states and dynasties over many centuries. Tremendous efforts were made during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) to link these walls together. Its name in Chinese, 万里长城 (Wànlǐ Chángchéng), more literally means “long wall of ten thousand li” (a li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance equivalent to half a kilometer), which is actually a drastic understatement of the length of the wall. One survey calculated the combined length of all the sections of the wall to be over 13,000 miles.

Beijing - Great Wall - Badaling - Rafael Gomez - 187 x 140
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Rafael Gomez)

The primary purpose of the wall was to protect the Chinese empire from attacks by “barbarians” to the north (though it was not always successful in doing so), but it also facilitated travel and transportation, communication, trade, and taxation. One of humankind’s most impressive achievements, it was made possible only by engineering expertise, an advanced administrative system, sustained political will, vast resources, and the labor (and suffering) of countless individuals—not to mention the imagination and audacity necessary to envision such an undertaking in the first place.

Some of the more popular sections of the wall in the Beijing area are Badaling (八达岭, Bādálǐng), Juyongguan or Juyong Pass (居庸关, Jūyōngguān), and Mutianyu or Mutian Valley (慕田峪, Mùtiányù). Our tour packages that feature Beijing usually include a visit to either Badaling or Juyongguan. They do not include Mutianyu and some other Beijing-area sections of the wall because they are too far away from the city to fit into an itinerary with other popular attractions. However, if you wish to visit one of these other, less crowded sections of the wall, we will gladly make custom arrangements for you.

Other notable sections of the wall include Shanhaiguan (山海关, Shānhǎiguān), the easternmost section where the wall meets the ocean, and Jiayuguan (嘉峪关, Jiāyùguān), the westernmost extant section of the wall in Gansu Province. Silk Road-oriented tour packages, such as our Silk Road 16-Day Tour (CIT007), often include a trip to Jiayuguan.

Facts about the Great Wall:

  • The oft-repeated claim that it can be seen from the moon with the naked eye is not true.
  • The first sections of the wall were built during the Spring and Autumn Period (776-403 BCE).
  • As early as the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE), construction involved hundreds of thousands of laborers.
  • The Ming Dynasty construction project continued for more than 100 years, but the wall failed to prevent the Manchus from conquering China and establishing the Qing Dynasty.

Tips for visiting the Great Wall:

  • Be sure to wear good walking shoes, or even hiking boots for more adventurous walks along the wall.
  • The more touristy sections of the wall have the advantage of cable cars. Cable car rides up the wall are included in most of our tour packages, and they allow you to avoid a strenuous climb in what can be very hot conditions.
  • Good planning is essential, as Beijing-area Great Wall trips entail a substantial drive outside the city, and you will want to make sure you have adequate time to fully enjoy your visit.

Further reading and resources:

  • Read more general information about the Great Wall on Wikipedia.
  • Peter Hessler’s fascinating book, Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, recounts (among other experiences) his visits to many sections of the wall, including remote, unrestored, and almost forgotten sections seldom visited by anyone. He also wrote an article called Walking the Wall for the New Yorker (subscribers only).
  • The Great Wall is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Its UNESCO page has information and resources related to the history and preservation of the wall.

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Great Wall of China Photo Gallery

Click on any photo below to see a full-sized version.

The Great Wall of China climbing up the side of a hill at Badaling near Beijing Snow-covered stretch of the Great Wall of China at Badaling near Beijing
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Rux)
The Great Wall at Badaling in winter
(photo by Inyucho)
Great Wall of China at Badaling Old Dragon's Head, the eastern end of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan
A stretch of the wall at Badaling
(photo by Brian Snelson)
Old Dragon’s Head at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Like Yesterday)
Old Dragon's Head, the eastern end of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan Chenghai Tower, part of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan
Another view of Old Dragon’s Head
(photo by Caitriana Nicholson)
Chenghai Tower at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Daniel Ng)
The Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan A gate at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Daniel Ng)
Gate at Jiayuguan
(photo by Kevin Hale)
Fortress at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China Tower atop the wall at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China
Fortress at Jiayuguan
(photo by Kevin Hale)
A tower at Jiayuguan
(photo by Tom Thai)
Great Wall-Related Words

Study the words below on Quizlet:
Detailed Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English
Reversible Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English | Characters and Pinyin
Chinese Language Resources page

万里长城 (Wànlǐ Chángchéng): Great Wall of China (literally, “long wall of ten thousand li”), actually not one wall but a series of fortifications extending across northern China built during various dynasties as a defense against invaders, among other purposes; usually referred to simply as 长城 (Chángchéng)

Trees and plants with multicolored leaves in front of the Great Wall of China at Badaling near Beijing
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Faqiang Wu)
  • 居庸关 (Jūyōngguān)
    Juyongguan or Juyong Pass, a mountain pass northwest of Beijing through which the Wall passes
  • 云台 (Yúntái)
    Cloud Platform, a gate at Juyongguan constructed of white marble and decorated with Buddhist carvings of figures, symbols, and texts
  • 八达岭 (Bādálǐng)
    Badaling, the most-visited section of the Wall; further northwest of Beijing from Juyongguan
  • 山海关 (Shānhǎiguān)
    Shanhaiguan or Shanhai Pass, the eastern endpoint of the Wall in Hebei Province (河北省, Héběishěng); shanhai means “Mountain and Sea”
  • 嘉峪关 (Jiāyùguān)
    Jiayuguan or Jiayu Pass, location of the westernmost extant section of the Wall in Gansu Province (甘肃省, Gānsùshěng); jiayu means “excellent valley”
  • 春秋时代 (Chūn-Qiū Shídài)
    Spring and Autumn Period (776-471 BCE or 776-403 BCE), the historical period during which the earliest sections of the Wall were built
  • 明朝 (Míngcháo)
    Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), the period during which most of the extant wall was built; a total of 5,500 miles of wall were built during the Ming
  • 丝绸之路 (Sīchóu Zhī Lù)
    Silk Road, ancient trade route protected by some stretches of the Wall in western China
  • 匈奴 (Xiōngnú)
    Xiongnu, nomadic people traditionally identified with the Huns whose military conflicts with China during the Qin Dynasty (秦朝, Qíncháo, 221-207 BCE) led to the building of long stretches of the Wall

For many more Chinese vocabulary lists and information about tools and resources for learning Chinese,
visit our Chinese Language Resources page.

CIT Tour Packages Featuring the Great Wall


Happy Year of the Snake from China International Travel CA! Big thanks to all of our valued clients and travel partners for your friendship and support through this last year and into the new year! We wish you wealth, good health, and success in all your undertakings.


In Shanghai, there was a special pre-New Year treat—snow on the ground:

Shanghai - February 2013 Chinese New Year snow
Shanghai - February 2013 Chinese New Year snow 2 - small - CIT - 400 x 300

And as you can see, the traditional Chinese New Year revelry continues in 2013, with a fortune in fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve in one spot in Shanghai alone:

Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead 2
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead 3
Shanghai - Chinese New Year firework remnants

For more photos (and video clips) of Chinese New Year fireworks, see our post from last year.

Read on for specific information about the China tour discounts we’re offering in 2013. We hope these special offers will help you realize your dreams of traveling to China! 觀看中文版

Like these offers? Share the news with your friends!

early bird icon - Unit66 - 75 x 75

Early Bird Discount: Customers who book a 2013 standard tour and pay by 1/31/13 will receive a $100 discount! (Tour must be booked 90 days or more before departure date.)

2013 Year of the Snake icon - 75 x 75

2013 Discounts: Seniors (age 60 and up) and Snakes (customers born in 1953, 1965, 1977, etc.) will receive a $50 discount on standard tours departing in 2013!

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Group Discount: In 2013, groups of 6 or more who book a standard tour together will continue to receive a discount of $50 per person!

Please note:

  • “Standard tours” are our Mainland China tour packages, tour codes CIT001 through CIT012.
  • China International Travel CA’s discount offers may not be combined and may only be used once per tour participant per tour.

Early bird icon image credit: Unit66

When you travel to a faraway, fascinating land, you want to make the most of the experience. China, in particular, is a country both so rich in culture and history and so different from Western nations that engagement with the Chinese language opens up vast new possibilities for your journey—plus, speaking Chinese is just plain fun.

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Homework on vacation? YES.”
Ok, we know this isn’t for everyone,
but learning Chinese is truly rewarding.

As a serious student of Mandarin and a frequent traveler to China, I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of tools available to properly pursue this kind of immersive travel experience. On all the trips I’ve taken there, I’ve wished that I had detailed resources to tell me the Chinese names of the places on my itinerary, along with related historical events and figures; provide me with relevant vocabulary to enrich my conversations during the trip; and, most uniquely, make it convenient for me to study this information so that I could remember it and really put it to use. While a lot of websites and books provide detailed information about China and its tourist destinations, I haven’t seen anything ready-made to enhance a specific tour experience that is also presented in a convenient (and easily portable) format for learning.

Now China International Travel CA is making materials like this available to you.

Whether you’re a tourist simply seeking the correct pronunciations of names on your itinerary or a student of the language who wants to be able to converse with the people you encounter on your tour, these learning resources will help you achieve your goal:

In the future, we will be adding further information and features to the existing pages, as well as resources for more itineraries and more of the destinations featured on our tours.

How to use these resources: Given that our clients and visitors to this website will have widely varying goals for their study of Chinese, we have put together a brief guide for three basic levels of ambition.

Study Plan A: The Curious Tourist

If you just want to learn a little Chinese to enhance your trip, consider these suggested steps:

  1. Learn how to read and pronounce Hanyu Pinyin*: Since learning how to read and write Chinese characters is a very time-consuming process, don’t worry about that if your time is limited. Stick with pinyin, which will enable you to engage in some spoken communication and read many signs and names written in pinyin. Our Resources for Learning Pinyin section will help you understand how to pronounce Mandarin words.

  2. Consult phrase guides for travelers: See the “pocket guides” (books and downloadable documents), which include useful phrases and everyday vocabulary, in our Basic Resources for Travelers section.

  3. Read our Language and Culture Learning Resources pages: Learn about the destinations featured on your tour, including their Chinese names and related Chinese terms. If you can’t read pinyin, simply click the pinyin pronunciation for each name or expression to hear what it sounds like.

  4. Use the vocabulary lists on our Quizlet page: Each page and section of our Chinese Language Resources has links to individual lists. You can also import our lists (which have pinyin-only versions) into your Quizlet account or Quizlet-compatible app and simply delete any terms you’re not interested in reviewing. If you’d like, create your own lists with additional words and expressions you want to memorize. If you can’t read pinyin, Quizlet and some Quizlet-compatible apps (such as Quizlet’s own app and Flashcards++) have audio pronunciation features.

  5. Use an electronic dictionary to facilitate communication and study: The Pleco Chinese Dictionary, available for both Apple and Android mobile devices, is a thorough, well-designed, and free dictionary that allows you to make flashcards out of words that you look up. If you can’t read pinyin, you can purchase an audio pronunciation add-on for the Pleco dictionary; you might also try the $4.99 Qingwen dictionary, which has audio pronunciations as a standard feature.

* Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to read pinyin, you can still follow steps 3-5 above since they all involve audio pronunciation options.

Study Plan B: The Novice or Casual Student

If you already have some experience with and understanding of the language, but you are either a beginner or just a casual student, consider these suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have a solid understanding of pinyin.  Review or practice with the resources listed here.

  2. Give yourself a good foundation in understanding written Chinese.  If you are learning how to read and write characters, consider using the resources in our Resources for Learning Chinese Characters section to help in memorizing individual characters and basic vocabulary. Also check out the sections on Chinese-English dictionaries and vocabulary building tools.

  3. Choose a systematic curriculum to follow.  If you are not taking a Chinese course in school, consider using one of the courses introduced in our Courses of Study for Students of Chinese section.

  4. Read our Language and Culture Learning Resources pages: Before (or during) your trip, learn about the destinations featured on the tour, including their Chinese names and related Chinese terms. Use our Quizlet lists and/or a compatible mobile app to facilitate retention of this information.

Study Plan C: The Budding Scholar

If you’re a serious, experienced student with an intermediate or higher level of proficiency, you should be able to skip some of the above steps and proceed directly to using our lists. Consider these suggestions:

  1. Explore our Chinese Language Resources page: With the wealth of information we’ve provided, you’re sure to find helpful new tools and materials with which to supplement your study. The Chinese Vocabulary Building Resources and Resources for Intermediate and Advanced Students sections should be particularly helpful.

  2. Practice, practice, practice: Make sure you avail yourself of every opportunity to actually put your knowledge to use. Through online communities like those at Livemocha, ChinesePod, and, you can engage in discussions with people online and find language partners to practice with.

  3. Read our Language and Culture Learning Resources pages: Learn more about the destinations featured on your tour so that you can discuss them in detail during the trip. Use our Quizlet lists and/or a compatible mobile app to facilitate retention of this information.

If you have any questions about these Chinese language resources or about our tours, please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail. Happy studying!

Here is another collection of Mandarin slang expressions—some of the more commonly used expressions I’ve come across in chatting with and listening to native speakers, and in books like Eveline Chao’s Niubi! The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School, Zhou Yimin and James J. Wang’s Mutant Mandarin, James J. Wang’s Outrageous Chinese: A Guide to Chinese Street Language, and Li Shujuan and Yan Ligang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Slang of China.

For more Chinese slang expressions, read my previous post, Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 1. Comprehensive learning resources, advice, reviews, and links for people interested in Chinese can be found on our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page.

Like this post? Share it with your friends!

Click on the pronunciation key for each expression to hear an MP3 recording of it. (Warning: Keep in mind that although my pronunciation is considered very good, I am not a native speaker of Chinese.)

Flirting and Dating Behavior, Compliments and Insults

调情 (tiáoqíng): to flirt

泡妞 (pàoniū): to pick up girls; to flirt with, hit on, or hook up with girls

辣妹 (làmèi): hot chick; sexy girl (literally, “spicy little sister”)

帅哥 (shuàigē): hunk; handsome guy (often used to address a man in a flattering way)

倍儿棒 (bèir bàng): northern Chinese slang for “really awesome”; one common use of this expression is to describe someone’s body

花瓶 (huāpíng): a beautiful person who is not intelligent, capable, or talented; eye candy (literally, “flower vase”)

绣花枕头 (xiùhuā zhěntou): synonym for 花瓶; someone (or something) beautiful but useless (literally, “embroidered pillow”)

撒娇 (sǎjiāo): [of females] to act like a spoiled child, speaking in the voice of a little girl, whining, pouting, acting clingy and dependent; such behavior on the part of a woman to her boyfriend or husband is considered charming in Chinese culture

女人小坏,男人疼爱 (nǚrén xiǎohuài, nánrén téng’ài): “If a woman behaves mischievously (more literally, “is a little bit bad” or “does little bad things”), a man will love her dearly.”

老牛吃嫩草 (lǎoniú chī nèncǎo): a relationship between two people with a large age gap (literally, “old cow eating tender grass”)

装嫩 (zhuāng nèn): to “pretend to be tender”; to act, speak, and/or dress much younger than one’s actual age

(huā): an adjective used to describe a player; horny, womanizing

花心 (huāxīn): to be fickle in love; to have a tendency to be unfaithful

花花公子 (huāhuā gōngzi): playboy; “player,” often one who dresses up like a dandy (literally, “flower prince”)

麦芽糖女人 (màiyátáng nǚrén): clingy, possessive woman (literally, “malt sugar woman,” as malt sugar is sticky)

约会 (yuēhuì): to have a date [with someone]; to make an appointment [with someone]; also, a date or appointment (noun)

网恋 (wǎngliàn): Internet dating

AA (AA zhì): “going Dutch”; each person paying his or her share (often used as just “AA” in sentences, e.g. 我们 AA 吧。)

有异性,没人性 (yǒu yìxìng, méi rénxìng): “Once you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you forget your friends”; used to complain about a friend’s failure to spend time with you after starting to date someone new. (More literally, “Once you have someone of the opposite gender, you lose your humanity.”)


暗恋 (ànliàn): to have a crush (on); literally, “secretly love”

谈恋爱 (tán liàn’ài): to date; to “go steady” with; to have a relationship with

来电 (láidiàn): to have a romantic spark, feel electricity, have chemistry [with someone]

一见钟情 (yí jiàn zhōng qíng): love at first sight; to fall in love at first sight
(Note: The character “” takes the second tone when spoken before a fourth-tone character.)

宝贝 (bǎobèi): “baby” or “dear”; a term of endearment for a loved one


老公 (lǎogōng): affectionate term for husband, originally from Cantonese but now in widespread use

老婆 (lǎopó): affectionate term for wife, originally from Cantonese but now in widespread use

私房钱 (sīfángqián): money kept secret from a wife or husband; e.g. for use after leaving one’s spouse or in case one is left by one’s spouse, or as personal spending money

床头儿柜 (chuángtóurguì): a hen-pecked husband (literally, “bedside cabinet”; 柜 is a homophone for 跪, suggesting a man who kneels beside the bed in deference to his wife)

Cheating and Heartbreak

吃醋 (chīcù): to be jealous (literally, “eat vinegar”)

醋坛子 (cù tánzi): jealous person (literally, “vinegar jar”)

三角恋 (sānjiǎo liàn): love triangle

(): girlfriend; lover; mistress (literally “honey”)

有一腿 (yǒu yì tuǐ): to have an affair (literally, “to have one leg,” suggesting the entwined legs of lovers)
(Note: The character “” takes the fourth tone when spoken before a third-tone character.)

戴绿帽子 (dài lǜ màozi): to be cuckolded (literally, “wear a green hat”)

包二奶 (bāo èrnǎi): to have a mistress (“二奶” is a term meaning “second wife” from the days when polygamy was practiced in China)

小老婆 (xiǎo lǎopó): mistress (literally, “little wife”)

外遇 (wàiyù): affair; extramarital relations (literally, “outside/external meeting”)

心碎 (xīnsuì): brokenhearted

One fascinating effect of China’s continuing growth and modernization on its popular culture is the explosion in slang expressions that has occurred in recent years, in large part because of the use of the Internet by ever-larger numbers of Chinese citizens. As in the United States, wildly creative, funny, and vulgar new slang expressions can become popular overnight as a result of mass exposure online. Posts tagged with “China” on the Schott’s Vocab blog in the New York Times will give you a brief taste of recent developments in Mandarin slang.

If you’re interested in learning much more about Chinese slang, either as part of a serious course of study or just for the hell of it, I highly recommend Eveline Chao’s book Niubi! The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School, which I’ve been enjoying lately. Many expressions I’ve heard my Chinese friends and in-laws use quite frequently (disclaimer: not the dirty ones!) but didn’t fully understand are given a clear and thorough explanation in the book. If you want to really speak like a native and have fun with the dynamic, living language that is contemporary Mandarin, this book is a great resource. Here is a selection of some widely used expressions, along with some of my personal favorites that I’ve come across so far, in both my own daily life and her book.

For more Chinese slang expressions, read my later post, Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 2: Flirting, Dating, Romance, Marriage, and Heartbreak. Comprehensive learning resources, advice, reviews, and links for people interested in Chinese can be found on our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page.

Like this post? Share it with your friends!

Click on the pronunciation key for each expression to hear an MP3 recording of it. (Warning: Keep in mind that although my pronunciation is considered very good, I am not a native speaker of Chinese.)

加油 (jiāyóu)
literal meaning: “add fuel” (add + fuel)
colloquial usage: “Go!” or “Let’s go!” (a way of offering encouragement, e.g. to players in a sporting event)

literal meaning: ruthless, strong (e.g. wine)
colloquial usage: “cool” (a loanword from English slang)

给力 (gěilì)
literal meaning: “give power” (give + power)
colloquial usage: “cool,” “awesome,” “exciting” (northern slang)

无聊 (wúliáo)
literal meaning: “nothing to chat (about)” (nothing/lacking + chat)
colloquial usage: “boring” or “bored”; also used to playfully scold someone who’s making a joke of questionable taste

郁闷 (yùmèn)
literal meaning: “melancholy,” “depressed” (melancholy + depressed)
colloquial usage: “boring”/“bored,” “depressing”/“depressed,” “(I’m) bored/depressed!”

白吃 (báichī)
literal meaning: “blank imbecile” (white/blank + stupid/imbecile)
colloquial usage: “idiot,” “dumbass”

笨蛋 (bèndàn)
literal meaning: “stupid egg” (stupid + egg)
colloquial usage: “dummy” (not necessarily harsh; often affectionate)

滚蛋 (gǔndàn), 滚开 (gǔnkāi)
literal meaning: “roll egg,” “roll away” (roll + egg, roll + away)
colloquial usage: “Go away!”, “Get out of here!”, “Get lost!”

(), 土包子 (tǔbāozi)
literal meaning: 土 = “dirt” or “earth”; 包子 = “steamed bun,” a common food in poor and rural areas (“dirt”; “dirt” + “steamed bun”)
colloquial usage: 土 = “ignorant,” “uncultured,” “rural,” “untrendy,” “out”; 土包子 = “yokel” or “bumpkin” (also, anyone out of touch with or ignorant about modern or trendy things)

土得掉渣 (tǔdediàozhā)
literal meaning: “so rural that [one is] shedding dirt”
colloquial usage: “What/Such a bumpkin!”, “So ignorant/untrendy!”

狗屁 (gǒupì)
literal meaning: “dog fart” (dog + fart/butt)
colloquial usage: “BS!”, “Nonsense!”

废话 (fèihuà)
literal meaning: “wasted words” (waste + words/speech)
colloquial usage: “Nonsense!” or “Duh!” (“Well, of course, you dummy!”, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!”)

瞎说 (xiāshuō)
literal meaning: “speak blindly” (blind + speak)
colloquial usage: “to speak nonsense,” “Nonsense!”

拜托 (bàituō), 帮帮忙 (bāngbāngmáng)
literal meaning: “please”; “help [me] out”
colloquial usage: “Oh, please!”, “Yeah, right!”, “Come on!”, “Gimme a break!” (sarcastic)

吹牛 (chuī niú) [from 吹牛皮 (chuī niúpí)]
literal meaning: “to blow up (inflate) a cow” [“blow up a cowhide”]
colloquial usage: “to brag” (especially when making exaggerated or false claims)

literal meaning: cow, ox
colloquial usage: “awesome,” “badass” (For an explanation of the surprisingly vulgar origin of this widely used expression, see Eveline Chao’s book.)

拍马屁 (pāi mǎpì)
literal meaning: “pat the horse’s butt” (pat + horse + butt)
colloquial usage: “flatter” (especially to flatter someone in a position of authority or someone with the power to help you with something)

没劲 (méijìn)
literal meaning: “lacking strength” (lacking/no + strength)
colloquial usage: “lame”

(miàn), 面瓜 (miànguā)
literal meaning: “noodles”; “noodle melon” (noodles + melon)
colloquial usage: “wimpy,” “timid,” “weak”; “wimp,” “wuss,” “coward” (northern slang)

傻瓜 (shǎguā)
literal meaning: “foolish melon”
colloquial usage: “little fool,” “silly billy” (usually affectionate)

三八 (sānbā)
literal meaning: “three eight” (three + eight)
colloquial usage: “silly” (often used to describe feminine silliness), though it can have a stronger, more insulting meaning among some Mainland Chinese

书虫 (shūchóng), 书呆子 (shūdāizi)
literal meaning: “bookbug” (book + bug/insect), “bookish fool” (book + fool/idiot)
colloquial usage: “bookworm,” “nerd,” “a person with no social skills”

In her book, Eveline Chao doesn’t pull any punches; she includes a wide array of vulgar and extremely insulting expressions that I’ve elected to leave out of this post. So if you want to know when people are saying bad things about or to you (or want to be able to dish it out in return), you’ll find her book extremely useful.

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