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Discussing Nationalities and Foreigners in Chinese Posted by on Jul 3, 2017 in Vocabulary

Nationalities in Chinese are pretty easy – it’s the same pattern for every nationality. The pattern is composed of the country one is from + the word for people in Chinese 人 (Rén).  For example, Thailand in Chinese is 泰国 (Tàiguó), so a Thai person will be 泰国 + 人 = 泰国人 (Tàiguó rén). If you are an American, you will be called 美国人 (Měiguó rén) in Chinese. If you are French they will call you 法国人 (Fàguó rén). But sometimes it’s even easier – because before someone in China will ask where are you from, they will already label you as foreigner. Without getting into distinguishing countries, let’s learn the different names for locals and foreigners.

Photo by futureatlas.com on flickr.com

中国人 (Zhōngguó rén)  

The word for Chinese follows the nationality pattern: 中国 means China and together with 人 it means Chinese – 中国人. For example:

在中国饭馆儿吃菜的时候应该跟中国人一样用木制筷子

Zài zhōngguó fànguǎn er chī cài de shíhou yīnggāi gēn zhōngguó rén yīyàng yòng mù zhì kuàizi

When eating in a Chinese restaurant one should use wooden chopsticks like Chinese do.

华人 (Huárén)

华is a formal name for China and the Chinese language. Like 中国, when 华 is attached to 人it means Chinese person or Chinese descent. Sometimes (depends on the context) it bears an additional meaning of a Chinese descent that maybe doesn’t live in China anymore. The Chinese definition for 华人 is:

华人是对原居于东亚中国地区族裔群体及其后代的泛称

Huárén shì duì yuán jūyú dōngyà zhōngguó dìqū zú yì qúntǐ jí qí hòudài de fànchēng

华人 is the general term for ethnic groups and their descents who originally came from China region.

华侨 (Huáqiáo)

侨 means “to reside abroad”, “a person residing abroad”. When following the formal name for China 华 it means Chinese residing abroad or a Chinese expat. It’s the first name in our list for Chinese people who doesn’t include the word 人, but it refers to people nonetheless. For example:

那华侨选择了回到中国作为终身居住地

Nà huáqiáo xuǎnzéle huí dào zhōngguó zuòwéi zhōngshēn jūzhù dì

Those Chinese expats chose to return to China for good.

本地人 (Běndì rén)

本地人is the Chinese word for locals or natives. It doesn’t refer necessarily to Chinese, but to any place’s locals. If, for example, you are visiting 希腊 (Xīlà, Greece) you can say:

我们可以让本地人给我们推荐一家旅馆

Wǒmen kěyǐ ràng běndì rén gěi wǒmen tuījiàn yījiā lǚguǎn

We can ask one of the locals to recommend a hotel.

外国人 (Wàiguó rén)

外 is a short form of 外边 (Wàibian) or 外面(Wàimiàn) and means foreign or external. 国 is a short of 国家 (Guójiā) and means nation, state. Together 外国means foreign country, and with 人means foreign people. If you have ever visited China you probably heard that phrase a lot, this is the common word in Chinese for foreigners. So before you are 美国人, 泰国人, 法国人etc, in Chinese you are first 外国人. For example:

有的外国人不习惯用筷子吃饭

Yǒu de wàiguó rén bù xíguàn yòng kuàizi chīfàn

Some foreigners are not accustomed to eating with chopsticks.

老外 (Lǎowài)

老is an affectionate term used when addressing acquaintances or friends to indicate intimacy or informality. Together with 外it became such a common name for foreigners, and refers to any foreigner, strange or familiar. Though 老外still bears more friendly intention than 外国人.

For example:

有的老外不习惯吃辣的。

Yǒu de lǎowài bù xíguàn chī là de.

Some foreigners are not used to eating spicy food.

外国朋友 (Wàiguó péngyǒu)

Another phrase you may hear in China that refers to foreigners is 外国朋友 (Wàiguó péngyǒu) = foreign friend. Your Chinese friends may introduce you like this:

这是我的外国朋友,他是从英国来的

Zhè shì wǒ de wàiguó péngyǒu, tā shì cóng yīngguó lái de

This is my foreign friend, he is from England.

 

Text vocabulary

中国人 Zhōngguó rén = Chinese person, Chinese people

泰国人 Tàiguó rén = Thai person, Thai people

美国人 Měiguó rén = American

法国人 Fàguó rén = French

华人 Huárén = Chinese person, Chinese people

华侨 Huáqiáo = overseas Chinese

本地人 Běndì rén = local person, locals

希腊 Xīlà = Greece

外国人 Wàiguó rén = foreigner

老外 Lǎowài = foreigner

外国朋友 Wàiguó péngyǒu = foreign friend

英国Yīngguó = England

For more reading about nationalities check out this post.

 

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Comments:

  1. Peter Simon:

    Sorry, I have to beg to differ on the use of 老外 (Lǎowài): I don’t know if people’s general view to foreigners have changed so dramatically for the last 12 years but when I lived there for 3 years, independent of the place (except for Beijing and Shanghai of course), a foreigner was called, even shouted at, as 老外 everywhere, and often not in a tone that suggested friendliness at all. Naturally, I had next to nobody as a friend in the streets or on mountain paths, so it was hardly used to me as a friend. My friend here who has visited China regularly during the last 5 years in the summer with her Chinese wife has the same experience. Your explanation is misleading and exaggeratingly friendly towards local 中国人 I’m afraid.

  2. JC:

    I have lived in China off and on since 1999 and, unlike Peter Simon, I learned to read and speak Chinese. The article is correct: 老外 is a friendly expression. Most expats living and working in China know this. However, there is an intensely opinionated, hypersensitive, often raging minority that see it as a rude phrase. Needless to say, they don’t last very long!

    • Peter Simon:

      @JC Oh dear, from where do you deduce that I can’t read or speak Chinese? As I’ve said, I lived and worked with several others in China for years, and none of us felt 老外 to be friendly, neither has my friend felt so either or his 5 stays (for months) in China either. If some of you have got so used to totals strangers shouting 老外 at you at every nook and cranny, so be it. I just wanted to warn the non-initiated that not everything is as sunny as the picture painted in the post.

  3. Peter Simon:

    @JC Oh dear, from where do you deduce that I can’t read or speak Chinese? As I’ve said, I lived and worked with several others in China for years, and none of us felt 老外 to be friendly, neither has my friend felt so either for his 5 stays (for months) in China either. If some of you have got so used to totals strangers shouting 老外 at you at every nook and cranny, so be it. I just wanted to warn the non-initiated that not everything is as sunny as the picture painted in the post.


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