What’s the Chinese word for “Hi!”?

The word “Hi” was not part of the traditional Chinese vocabulary. Following the teaching of Confucius, the majority of rulers endeavored to maintain an orderly and structured society in China. Consequently, within any group, no matter how small, there was a “pecking order” to be observed. The subjects would greet the rulers first, before the ruler would nod his approval. The students would say “Good morning.” to the teacher first, before the teacher would reciprocate. In a family, the son or daughter would greet their parents first, and not the other way around. In the same way, an elder brother would expect his younger siblings to salute first. And, of course, an employee would be remiss in not greeting his boss first. The subordinates would employ such standard greetings as: 早安 (zǎoān Good morning.), 你好 (nĭ hǎo Good day; good afternoon.), and 晚安 (wǎnān Good night.). A casual “Hi!” just wouldn’t do. That would be too democratic.

In fact, (Hāi) is a contemporary term borrowed from English. It is mostly used among the young and not so young people who have adopted the Western ways. Similarly, 拜拜! (bái bái) is the Chinese transliteration of “Bye-bye!”. The word (bài) actually means to make obeisance to one’s elders or to perform a religious worship. You could regard this character as representing two hands brought together in worship.

The more courteous form of 你好 (nĭ hǎo) is 您好 (nín hǎo). The lower part of the word (nín) is (xīn), which sounds exactly like the word (xīn new) in 新年快乐 (xīnnián kuàilè Happy New Year!). (xīn) is the heart. It is added to (nĭ you) to represent sincere respect.

Until next time, 再见! (zàijiàn See you! Good-bye!).

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