Common Abbreviations in Chinese

Chinese Brush Painting – Chicks in Springtime

As if there weren’t already so many words to learn in Chinese, we must also be able to deal with abbreviations that are thrown at us from time to time, especially by news reporters, who must deliver vast amount of information within a very short time.

Many of the Chinese abbreviations, or 简称 (jiǎnchēng), are sort of like acronyms. When a word is made up of two or more other multi-character words, often a new word is formed by combining the initial character of each of the constituent words. For example,

今早 (jīnzǎo) stands for 今天早晨 (jīntiān zǎochén this morning); 明早 (míngzǎo) stands for 明天早晨 (míngtiān zǎochén tomorrow morning).

Hey, aren’t you glad that spring has sprung? 今春 (jīnchūn) stands for 今年春天 (jīnnián chūntiān this spring); 明春 (míng chūn) stands for 明年春天 (míngnián chūntiān next spring).

流感 (liúgǎn) refers to 流行感冒 (liúxíng gǎnmào, influenza); 股市 (gǔshì) refers to 股票市场 (gǔpiào shìchǎng, stock market).

台湾大学 (Táiwān Dàxué National Taiwan University) is abbreviated as 台大 (Táidà).

中学 (zhōngxué) is middle school. 女子中学 (nǚzǐ zhōngxué) is abbreviated as 女中 (nǚ zhōng).
高中 (gāozhōng) is high school. A girls high school is called 女高 (nǚ gāo).

Obsiously, any word that starts wtih 国 has something to do with a country or nation.
国防 (guófáng) is short for 国家防卫 (guójiā fángwèi, national defense).
国小 (guó xiǎo) is short for 国民小学 (guómín xiǎoxué, national elementary school).
内宣 (nèi xuān) is short for 内部宣传 (nèibù xuānchuán, internal propaganda).
外宣 (wài xuān) is short for 外部宣传 (wàibù xuānchuán, external propaganda, or publicity).

The Chinese transliteration of most of the foreign country names are a mouthful. Luckily we mostly refer to these countries by their abbreviated names. For example:

United States of America 美利坚合众国 (Měilìjiān hézhòngguó) is shortened to 美国 (Měiguó).
China 中华人民共和国 (Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is 中国 (Zhōngguó).
Great Britain 大不列颠 (Dàbùlièdiān) is 英国 (Yīngguó).
France 法兰西 (Fǎlánxī) is 法国 (Fǎguó).

When talking about two or more countries, each will usually be represented by just one character, as shown below.

台美半导体会议 (Tái Měi bàndǎotǐ huìyì, Taiwan American Semiconductor Conference)
中美贸易 (Zhōng Měi màoyì, Sino-U.S. Trade)

For Hong Kong 香港 (xiānggǎng), the second character is chosen for the abbreviation, as in 台港关系 (Tái gǎng guānxì, Taiwan-Hong Kong relations).

欧盟 (ōuméng) stands for 欧洲联盟 (ōuzhōu liánméng, European Union).

公共 (gōnggòng) means shared by the public, and 公用 (gōngyòng) means for public use. Therefore, a bus is called 公共汽车 (gōnggòngqìchē), or 公车 (gōngchē) for short. Similarly, 公园 (gōngyuán) is short for 公共花园 (gōnggòng huāyuán, a public garden or a park), and 公厕 (gōngcè) is short for 公共厕所 (gōnggòng cèsuǒ, public restroom).

公公 (gōnggōng) is the father-in-law and 婆婆 (pópo) is the mother-in-law, whereas 公婆 (gōngpó) refers to both of them. Similarly, 父母 (fùmǔ) means parents, i.e. 父亲 (fùqīn, father) and 母亲 (mǔqīn, mother).

家用电器 (jiāyòngdiànqì, household appliance) is abbreviated as 家电 (jiādiàn).
驾驶执照 (jiàshǐ zhízhào, driver’s license) is abbreviated as 驾照 (jiàzhào).
空气调节 (kōngqì tiáojié, air conditioning) is abbreviated as 空调 (kòngtiáo).
空中运输 (kōngzhōng yùnshū, air transportation) is abbreviated as 空运 (kōngyùn).
世运会 (Shìyùnhuì) is short for 世界运动会 (Shìjiè yùndònghuì World Games).

Often some other (more significant) characters, rather than the initial characters, in the constituent words are selected to form the abbreviation, as shown in the following examples.

汽车 (qìchē) are cars. Vehicle license plates are called 汽车牌照 (qìchē páizhào), or 车牌 (chēpái).
厨具 (chújù) stands for 厨房用具 (chúfáng yòngjù, kitchen utensils).
糕饼 (gāobǐng) covers the sweet treats, such as 蛋糕 (dàngāo, cakes) and 饼干 (bǐnggān, cookies).

学校 (xuéxiào) are schools. Here, the second character is the one that designates the educational institution and is used for the following abbreviations:
校园 (xiàoyuán) is the school compound.
校花 (xiàohuā) is the generally acknowledged prettiest girl of a school.
校车 (xiàochē) is a school bus.
校长 (xiàozhǎng) is the principal.

专科学校 (zhuānkē xuéxiào) is a specialized school, such as a technical college. It is abbreviated as 专校 (zhuān xiào).

Finally, the four-character Chinese idioms are the ultimate in abbreviations. As we have seen in my previous blog post about 塞翁失馬 (sāiwēngshīmǎ), there can be a long story behind some of those pithy expressions.

Chinese word for beans

Shrimp with Young Soy Beans

Shrimp with Young Soy Beans

The Chinese words (dòu) and 豆子 (dòuzi) can refer to beans or peas. Therefore, you’ll need to add another character to the word to clarify what you are talking about.

豌豆 (wāndòu) are peas.

绿豆 (lǜdòu) are mung beans.

红小豆 (hóngxiǎodòu) are the little red beans used for making sweet red bean paste. They are often referred to simply as 红豆 (hóngdòu), although this term can be applied to any bean that has a reddish color. In fact, the Chinese call the red seeds of the Abrus precatorius (crab’s eye) 红豆 (hóngdòu) or 相思豆 (xiāngsī dòu love bean). 相思 (xiāngsī) is the longing between lovers or close friends. This word can be used as a noun or a verb. Before I looked up information about these seeds at this link, I did not know that they are poisonous. Young people give these to friends as a token of their affection, and I did receive a few of these seeds on a couple occasions before.

There is a well-known poem written by the famous poet 王维 (Wáng Wéi)
during the Tang Dynasty, or 唐朝 (Tángcháo).

红豆生南国,
Hóngdòu shēn nánguó,
Red beans grow in the country to the south,

春来发几枝.
chūn lái fā jǐ zhī.
and in spring they issue a few new shoots.

愿君多采撷,
Yyuàn jūn duō cǎixié,
I hope you will pick a bunch of them

此物最相思.
cǐ wù zuì xiāngsī.
as this thing evokes the most intense longing for a dear  friend afar.

Soybeans are called 大豆 (dàdòu) or 黄豆 (huángdòu). As they say, “If you plant melon seeds, you will get melons; if you plant beans, then you will get beans.”

种瓜得瓜, 种豆得豆.
Zhòngguādéguā, zhòngdòudédòu.
You will reap what you sow.

That is true if the conditions are favorable and the seeds germinate and grow, and the seedlings are not devoured by critters. Young bean shoots and the tender new growth at the tip of the vines are called 豆苗 (dòumiáo). They are delicious stir-fried or added to soups.

When the 豆荚 (dòujiá bean pods or pea pods) have swollen but still green, the seeds that you find in them are young and tender. At this stage, they are referred to as 毛豆 (máodòu fuzzy soybean) because of the fuzz covering the pods. In Japanese they are called edamame. The tender green seeds look somewhat like lima beans but have a smoother texture and a more subtle taste. They are excellent as a snack or in stir-fried dishes.

When fully ripened, the seeds are hard and take on a light yellowish color. Those are the 黄豆 (huángdòu soybeans) used for making soy milk, bean curds, bean pastes and sou nuts.

豆腐 (dòufu bean curd, tofu) is an important source of protein for many Asian vegetarians. Many Chinese drink 豆浆 (dòujiāng soybean milk) as part of their breakfast. 豆腐皮 (dòufupí) is the protein-rich film that floats to the top when you cook soy milk. This term also refers to very thin sheets of bean curd or the outer layer of deep-fried bean curd.

Tofu products are often flavored with 酱油 (jiàngyóu soy sauce), yet another food product made from the amazing soy beans.

Sweet bean pastes are called 豆沙 (dòushā). These are used as fillings for moon cakes, sweet rice dumplings, buns and many other snacks.

If you have a handful of soy beans, you could put them in a jar of water and grow your own bean sprouts, or 豆芽儿 (dòuyár). The soy bean sprouts are larger than the mung bean sprouts that are sold in the supermarkets.

Following are a few words that make use of the “bean” radical.

(duǎn) means short, brief, lacking or a weak point.

(gǔ) is a percussion instrument like a rattle or a drum. As a verb, this word means to strike (a musical instrument), to agitate or to swell.

厨房 (chúfáng) is the kitchen.

逗留 (dòuliú) is to stay or stop at a place.

(dēng) is to ascend or scale a height, as in 登山 (dēngshān mountain-climbing). To put an article in a magazine or newspaper is called 刊登 (kāndēng).

You already know how to draw a horizontal stroke to write the numeral 1 in Chinese. There is a set of more complicated characters used for writing the numerals on checks, banknotes and currencies to help prevent alterations. For the numeral 1, the “official” character is (yī). I’ll let you do some research and find out what the characters are that represent the other nine numerals.

Learn the Chinese radical for factory

Apricot Blossoms


The word 鹿 (lù), which means deer, makes use of the 广 (guǎng) radical.

If we remove the tick from the top of 广 (guǎng spaceous), we would get the word (chǎng), which is a factory or a depot.

他在工厂上班.
Tā zài gōngchǎng shàngbān.
He works at a factory.

We already came across the word (yā), which means to press, push down or weigh down. It also means to keep under control or suppress. 压力 (yālì) is pressure or stress, and 气压 (qìyā) is atmospheric pressure.

他的工作压力很大.
Tā de gōngzuò yālì hěn dà.
He incurs much job-related stress.

(lì) is to experience or to undergo. 经历 (jīngl) is one’s past experience. This word can also be used as a verb. 历史 (lìshǐ) is history. 历代 (lìdài) refers to past dynasties.

(chú) or 厨房 (chúfáng) is the kitchen.

我喜欢这位厨师做的菜.
Wǒ xǐhuān zhè wèi chúshī zuò de cài.
I like the dishes prpared by this cook.

(cè) or 厕所 (cèsuǒ) is the labatory or washroom, and 马厩 (mǎjiù) is a stable.

(yuán) means original or unprocessed. 复原 (fùyuán) is to recover from an illness. 原因 (yuányīn) is the cause or reason for something. 原来 (yuánlái) means originally. This expression also refers to the root of a matter.

她原来是我的女友.
Tā yuánlái shì wǒ de nǚ yǒu.
Orignally she was my girlfriend.

原来是这样!
Yuánlái shì zhèyàng!
So, that’s the story! (I didn’t know that. I see it now.)

(yuán) also refers to open country. For example, 草原 (cǎoyuán) are grasslands.

(hòu) means thick, large or generous. (pí) is skin or hide. Therefore, 厚脸皮 (hòuliǎnpí) means thick-skinned or brazen.

(yuán) primary; original; former; unprocessed; raw; excuse; pardon; level; open country; plain; (Yuan2) a surname.

讨厌 (tǎoyàn) means to dislike. It is also an adjective that means disgusting or repugnant.

他脸皮很厚. 真讨厌!
Tā liǎnpí hěn hòu. Zhēn tǎoyàn!
He is so brazen. It’s really disgusting!

(é) is a domesticated goose, while (yàn) is a wild goose. This is the time for the Canada Geese to fly back north, and time for the apricot trees to bloom.

I originally mislabeled the picture displayed above as Almond Blossoms. Then I realized that those branches were trimmed off an apricot tree. Well, although the apricot and almond trees are related but different, it just so happens that they do share the same name in Chinese, (xìng).

So, (xìng) and 杏子 (xìngzi) refer to apricot. 杏仁 (xìngrén) is an apricot kernel or an almond. 银杏 (yínxìng) is a tree named ginkgo.

Roasted sweet almonds are a nutritious treat (unless you are allergic to nuts). You could make a batch for yourself by following the directions at this link.

If you have a sweet tooth, try the recipe at this link . Click on this link to see it in action. As I’m not a fan of eating bits of stuck-on aluminum foil or waxed paper, I let the coated almonds cool down on a couple large, sturdy dinner plates that have been lightly buttered. If you can wait an hour before sampling the almonds, you will be rewarded with a delightful crunchiness. The almonds will taste even better if you put them in a jar and refrigerate them for 30 minutes or longer. A handful a day is plenty. According to traditional Chinese medicine, nuts tend to elevate the levels of one’s 火气 (huǒqì fire in the vitals).

%d bloggers like this: