Chinese phrases you think about a lot when doing translations

Hi, everyone! :grinning:

I was inspired by a similar topic for Korean (created by @choitrio - thank you everyone who contributed in that topic; it was a very interesting read!) and decided to start one for Chinese. English-Chinese subbers and OL subbers for Chinese / Taiwanese dramas, are there any Chinese phrases that made you think, or that you simply find interesting?

A common phrase that I always have a problem translating is 委屈 (wěi qū). By definition, this phrase is defined to be:

Feeling unhappy / uncomfortable because one is experiencing unfair treatment and/or is wrongly accused / criticised.

Hence, it is usually translated as “grievance”, “wronged” or “suffering from injustice”.

This phrase is mostly commonly used as such:

离开这 再也不用看别人的脸色 (lí kāi zhè zài yě bù yòng kàn bié rén de liǎn sè)
你娘要是还在 也不想看你受委屈 (nǐ niáng yào shi hái zài yě bù xiǎng kàn nǐ shòu wěi qū)
Let’s leave this place. We won’t have to face those people who judge us again.
If your mother were still alive, she wouldn’t want to see you suffer from injustice either.

However, these translations don’t always fit all contexts.

For example:

  1. 我这个人还特别不爱洗澡 (wǒ zhè ge rén hái tè bié bù ài xǐ zǎo)
    希望你跟我成亲之后 不会觉得委屈 (xī wàng nǐ gēn wǒ chéng qīn zhī hòu bù huì jué dé wěi qū)
    I am a person who especially hates to shower.
    I hope that you won’t feel aggrieved after you marry me.

  2. 看你这身子骨 你应该也是江湖中人哪 (kàn nǐ zhè shēn zi gǔ nǐ yīng gāi yě shì jiāng hú zhōng rén nǎ)
    在这里端菜 不觉得太委屈吗?(zài zhè lǐ duān cài bù jué dé tài wěi qū ma)
    Looking at your physique, you must also be a traveller in this pugilist world?
    Don’t you feel small, serving dishes here?

Till today, I’m still unsure how to best translate this phrase.

To end it off, here’s a variety show where they had to sing songs which lyrics expressed 委屈 (wěi qū). (It is unfortunately, not subbed. Chinese speakers, do check it out; it’s hilarious.) Here are some lyrics that were sung:

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding on the different uses of this phrase. What do you guys think? :slight_smile:


“委屈” is definitely a hard one. When I encounter it, I usually translate it based on the context - very heavily based on the context. The term I use most often though - based off memory right now - is “suffer.”

Another phrase/sentence I had to check recently was “你能有点出息吗?” For context, a girl was crying heavily over a break up and her friend said that. I ended up translating it as “Can you please have some pride?” I think another translation that may work would be “Can you be better than this?” but this one doesn’t have the same feel as the first…:sweat_smile:

When translating, I also try to write a phrase that carry the same feel as the original.


Some phrases are indeed difficult to translate from Chinese. A very simple and common one is 好 (hǎo) where the direct translation is good. But then, depending on the context, it can also mean okay, alright, fine etc. When translating, like pandali_666, I would translate according to context.

Another challenge I have found is that sometimes certain words or phrases are not found in English simply because of the difference in culture, where it’s simply not said or done in an English or American culture.


I’ve noticed that too. Well, it’s one of the very few Chinese words that I actually understand, so it always stands out, but indeed I’ve seen it being translated into different things, according to context.
But that’s also the art of translation. Transporting the information from one language to another while still maintaining the original meaning as well as you possibly can.


I personally think that this translation fits the context perfectly! Would it be alright if I note this down in my personal document?

Sometimes I take a really long time just trying to come up with the “perfect” translation that contains the same meaning and feel the Chinese sentence/phrase is trying to convey… and end up forgetting how I translated it when I come across it again. :disappointed_relieved: This is especially so for modern dramas, where there are so many Internet slangs and at times, even dialect slangs (“translated” into standard Chinese). I realised too late that I should have noted them down as I translate. :sweat_smile:

Same! I’ve never realised how many polite phrases/sentences there are in Chinese until I started translating, though I believe that this may be the same for many other Asian languages. However, due to the difference in culture, such phrases do not have an equivalent in English.

The most common example would most probably be 辛苦了 (xīn kǔ le). I have seen it being translated as “thank you”, though I like translating it as “you’ve worked hard” to keep the cultural aspect (I suppose it really depends on personal preference). Then again, like you and @pandali_666 have mentioned, the latter really depends on context too. Take for example, “就辛苦你照顾他了 (jiù xīn kǔ nǐ zhào gù tā le)”. I would translate it to “I’ll have to trouble you to take care of him.”

Well said! I really admire those who can master the art of translation. It is truly a skill that is constantly taken for granted; it seems easy from an outsider’s perspective - you just need to be fairly fluent in both languages! True, that’d help a lot, but really, it’s much more than that and takes time and effort to perfect.

I feel that translating has also allowed me to have a newfound interest in my mother tongue. When watching dramas, you can get away with only understanding 70% of what is being said, but when translating, you have to be 101% certain of what’s being said so that you can accurately convey it across in a different language. I have gotten a better understanding of so many idioms and slangs because of this. The only problem I have is the lack of time. I really wish I found this community early (aka, when I was younger and had more time on my hands). :sweat_smile:


That’s a good idea, we also can learn with you!!

Catching the context to know exactly the meaning is the only way!

Can we also translate this sentence like that?

Let’s leave this place. We also won’t have to look at their face again.

How can we know if it’s not them (the ones who are leaving) who “look down on them” or is it the other way?

:fearful: impossible for me to guess that.


Yes! Go for it! If I think of any other or come across any others, I will comment on this thread for you. :wink:

I do that all the time as well! But I am always lazy to make a master list of frequently ambiguous terms. I have thought about doing a master list and if it gets long enough, sharing it with the community. I have not yet found the motivation to start that yet. Haha.

@soyamilkbeancurdpudd translated it really well but if I were translating it, I think I would tweak it a bit.
“After leaving this place, you won’t have to walk on eggshells.” or
“After leaving this place, you won’t have to be mindful of anyone else when doing thing.”
My understanding of 看别人的脸色 is more of wanting to please or just simply wanting to not anger the other people. It definitely has a negative connotation and could totally qualify as judgement but sometimes its a little bit more than that. For example, in a work place, the employees should do things that they think their boss would approve of. If they notice that the boss loves drinking and only gives good opportunities to those who drink with him, then other employees - those who may not drink - may start drinking heavily to gain the boss’s liking. That would be considered 看别人的脸色.

Not necessarily a Chinese phrase, but the most difficult to translate for me is 文言文 - Classical Chinese. It is literary Chinese that Han people used during ancient times. Because they had to write on scroll, which have limited space, they would leave out characters, use one character to represent whole phrase, etc. I have encountered it in some historical C-dramas and they are definitely difficult and time consuming to translate concisely.

  • An example, 桐剪秋风. It means that the autumn winds are like scissors, blowing/cutting the sycamore leaves off the phoenix trees, foreshadowing the arrival of winter and the end of prosperity as well as auspiciousness. 桐 is from 梧桐, the phoenix tree - it is called that because of a legend that says that the tree attracts phoenixes. Phoenixes are auspicious creature in Chinese culture.剪 means to cut. 秋风 is the autumn wind.

Thank you so much!!!

Can I say this sentence to describe sb: 他在看别人的脸色, like “He’s seeking for others’ approval”?
Or is it only in the sense of “be mindful of others”?
Is it mean to describe sb that way, for ex a child looking for his parents’ approval?

In a way, that does work but that translation does not carry the same tone. The phrase carries a more negative connotation and why the first translation is “walking on eggshells.” The phrase also refers to how people’s faces/mood/expectation/desires change (at times, very quickly too) and so you are basically always on their toes, being careful, doing extra work just to be safe.

This phrase is mostly used to describe cut-throat work settings but can be used for a relationship between child and parents. When a parent is strict and temperamental, causing the child to always go the extra mile to satisfy the parent, the child may have an outburst and say "我天天都要看你脸色做事!“

In a way, it is judgement as soyamilkbeancurdpudd translated but at times it could be more implicit than facial expressions that show judgment.

Does that make sense? I hope my explanation makes sense. :sweat_smile:


@pandali_666 explained it really well above, but I thought to give some context: the male lead is known to bring bad luck everywhere he goes, and thus, is not well-liked in his small village.

Hope it helps! :grinning:

Thank you so much! :grin:

Not only are they difficult to translate, but they’re so difficult to read as well! I can’t really recognise traditional Chinese characters, and to make it worse, the calligraphy is always so difficult to decipher at times.

I am always in awe at how Chinese is able to get a long message across in just a few characters. However, this makes translating so much harder - on one hand, I want to keep to the original meaning as much as possible, however, that is sometimes close to impossible because there is only so much one can read in the span of a few seconds.

I was recently stuck at translating these two phrases for a historical drama:

  • 预报佳期 (yù bào jiā qí): It was written in a 婚书 (letter of marriage) to the female lead, and means to “report the date of the wedding”. This is basically an act of 送日子 (literally, “sending the dates”), seeking the female and her family’s formal approval of the wedding date and the wedding. I had originally translated it literally, but kept wondering if it would make sense to English viewers. I ended up changing it simply to “marriage proposal”. For context, the male lead suddenly handed the female lead the letter of marriage after finding out that she was his long-lost fiancé. (Typing this out makes me wonder if I should change it back though. :sweat_smile:)
  • 奠 (diàn): When the male lead’s father passed away, this Chinese character was hung around the manor. It means to “make offerings to the dead”. However, for simplicity sake, I went with “funeral”.

我明白了! 谢谢你们对我的帮助!


I was captioning a C-drama, and came across a reference to a slang that is so subtle that I’m not even sure if it was done on purpose. I thought I’d share it anyway.

The slang that is seemingly referenced is 吃瓜群众 (chī guā qún zhòng), literally, “melon-eating masses”. It is a popular Internet slang, originally used to describe how Internet users would jump on the bandwagon without knowing the truth / full story. In recent years, I have seen it being used to mean “being a spectator”.

In the drama, the female lead is eating watermelon at the dining table while her friends discuss about their failed crushes on the sofa in the living room. When prompted to chip in by her friends, she replied:

  • 我就是个吃瓜的 (wǒ jiù shì gè chī guā de)
    I’m just here to eat watermelon.

With how she’s sitting away from her friends (as though she’s watching a “show”, i.e. her friends’ discussion), and how she’s the only one with a boyfriend, I can’t help be reminded of the slang when she said that. However, this is just my interpretation; perhaps the screenwriter didn’t intend for this at all. The female lead does love eating watermelons a lot too.

For Chinese speakers, I found an interesting article explaining the various uses of this phrase and how to translate them into English. For non-Chinese speakers, here’s an example from (another) variety show. It’s a band competition, and this time, it has English subs! The subs aren’t that great, but you’ll get the gist.


I actually think the writer probably did use it intentionally. It is such a widely used term in China, I’m sure the writer knew what s/he was doing. Since doing translations, I noticed a lot more word play in shows than I did before since I double/triple check my translations at times.

Another reason why I think it is purposeful because the 瓜 in 吃瓜 actually refers to 瓜子 and not 瓜 as in melon. Among Chinese people, eating 瓜子 - seeds - is super popular, especially when watching a show with friends/family or chatting. I think that is where the term originated from, people eating (sunflower) seeds while watching dramas. Thus, those who watch drama unfold in real life are people who 吃瓜子。


Wow, I never knew that! Thank you for sharing that! I had first heard of this slang in variety shows, and have always thought that the 瓜 was referring to melon because of the CGI they use.

@piranna The editors have went in and done their magic, so I thought to share the edited translation of these two lines. pandali_666 did a wonderful job with it above, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have another translation to learn from:

We no longer have to appease anyone.
If your mother were still alive, she wouldn’t want you to be aggrieved, either.


Thanks for the alternate version! I get the meaning.

Has the likai zhe been deleted because it couldn’t be kept?

I’m learning Chinese so I’m all in for learning new things in Chinese! That’s a very nice topic!


I overlooked the 离开这 because it was moved to the previous segment. I went back to check, and it was still kept as “Let’s leave this place”. Sorry about that!

I’m glad you like this topic! :grinning: Feel free to share anything that you have caught your attention too. It’d be fun hearing what non-Chinese think about certain words/phrases. Or if you have anything you’re unsure of while you’re learning, you can post it here too. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely fluent in Chinese, but I’ll do my best to help.


Seems like I’m always here; I do hope that nobody thinks that I’m spamming! :sweat_smile:

I was extremely “lucky” to be able to come across the phrase 热闹 (rè nào) three times while subtitling today. The phrase is usually used to describe a lively atmosphere, for example, 热闹的市场 (a lively / bustling marketplace).

However, I took quite a while to translate this phrase today due to the slight difference in context. Even now, I’m still unsatisfied with my translations. Here they are:

  • The male character was told to not do something dangerous, to which he replied:
    我还不能来凑凑热闹?(wǒ hái bù néng lái còu còu rè nào)
    Can’t I even join in the fun?

  • There is an argument going on in the great hall, and when the female character asks the male character what’s going on, he said:
    你去看看热闹 自然就知道 (nǐ qù kàn kàn rè nào zì rán jiù zhī dào)
    Go watch the the show unfold, and you’ll find out in due time.

  • The longevity fruit caused quite a stir among many in the pugilist world, which promoted the character to ask:
    难道你就不想看看 长生果的热闹?
    (nán dào nǐ jiù bù xiǎng kàn kàn cháng shēng guǒ de rè nào)
    Do you not want to have a look at the spectacle caused by the longevity fruit?

I’m sure there are many here who are more fluent than me in both English and Chinese, and are better in translating than I am, so feel free to correct me if you think I made a mistake / can do better! :grinning:


I personally think that your translations are wonderful!!! :blush::+1::+1::blush:

Just putting my thoughts out there for your consideration…(you are more than welcome to ignore :blush:)

  • I would shorten it to “Go watch the show and you will know.” This is only because I try to keep my translation as concise as possible WITHOUT losing the meaning behind it. I know that some audiences complain at time about long subs.
  • I would translate as “Do you not want to see the excitement surrounding the longevity fruit?”

Sidenote, I love this thread and discussing the translation with equally enthusiastic people. Even though, I have been formally educated in both Chinese and English side-by-side (15+ years), I am still learning everyday. :blush:


I would translate as “Do you not want to see the excitement surrounding the longevity fruit?”

Love how you translate so well from Chinese to English but I was wondering one thing; why in Chinese dramas they always write: Do you not, instead of Don’t you? Every Chinese drama I see all I read time after time; Do you not (this or that) which makes it such a much longer sentence.

I honestly wished they do something to shorten the sentence translated in English (most of the time I’m not finished reading when the next sentence is already going on the third sentence/subtitle). I thought it was a problem with the segments but I have my doubts now. There are Chinese dramas I drop as much as I like them bc they have too many long subs and it drives me up the wall to read such amount of excessive words.

Why in Chinese dramas they never use common contractions in English in the words they can do it?

Wow, thank you so much for giving me these suggestions! They’re so much better than mine! :relaxed:

I always have a problem with having too long sentences; thank you for pointing out how I could shorten it. I’ll try keeping that in mind when I translate. I’m only aware of myself translating too much, since Chinese have a habit of saying a lot in a few characters (I mean, just look at Chinese idioms and proverbs). I always try translating every single detail, but have recently realised that I should learn to “let go” where necessary. I’m still working on that though.

Once again, thank you so much! It is very much appreciated. I’ve learnt so much in that one post! :blush:

I’m no @pandali_666, but I think that one reason for the long sentences might be because of what I mentioned above - Chinese like saying a lot in a few characters. I have seen a sentence with four characters being translated into a long sentence spanning two lines because it’s a Chinese idiom.

I’m so sorry to hear about your bad experiences. I too, sometimes feel the same way when watching other languages’ dramas. I’m sure the editors are aware of this problem, and are trying to find a balance between conveying as much of the original meaning as possible, while keeping the sentences short.

I can’t speak for others, but I personally use contractions only when it makes the sentence more fluent, and/or if the character is speaking informally. Otherwise, I stick to “do not”, etc. Maybe it’s the way I’ve been brought up? I’ll keep your words in mind and pay more attention to it in future.

Then again, it might have also been an overlook on my part - I may have unconsciously translated “你不 (nǐ bù)” to “you not” and thus, did not use contraction.

Perhaps someone else can give you more insight on this. I do think that I’m quite bad at English, so nobody should quote me on this. :sweat_smile: