Chinese culture is remarkably different from the Western world - the food you taste there is nothing like an American Chinese bistro, the movies and shows might take a bit longer to get used to and the rules of the culture are different, too.
It’s no surprise that expressing love, dating and asking a Chinese person to marry you are nothing like what an American person is familiar with.
Chinese teenagers usually don’t date in school, they don’t date without the purpose of marrying, and parents are almost always involved in their children’s relationships. The signs of love and affection between family members and friends are most of the times different from the ones the Western world knows, too.
The Chinese Word for Love
Before getting any deeper into expressing love, let’s have a look at the Chinese character/word for love:
爱/愛 (ài) - means love, but it can be translated as “like”, as well. Most likely, if you use 爱, you truly do love them.
Let’s have a look at other words and phrases Chinese express their love:
I. Show Your Friend Some Love
1) I like you
Simplified Chinese: 我喜欢你 (wǒ xǐhuān nǐ)
Traditional Chinese: 我喜歡你 (wǒ xǐhuān nǐ)
This is the most common way of telling someone you like them. It can mean you like them as a friend, but it can also mean you’re starting to have feelings for someone you’re dating and would like to spend more time with them.
喜欢 / 喜歡 is commonly used to express you like sports, books or a certain dish. So, as in English, it’s not as strong as “love”.
2) You’re my best friend!
Simplified Chinese: 你是我最好的朋友！(nǐ shì wǒ zuì hǎo de péngyǒu!)
Traditional Chinese: 你是我最好的朋友！(nǐ shì wǒ zuì hǎo de péngyǒu!)
How sweet is it to tell someone they’re your bestie?
Even though Chinese people are generally not too affectionate and you’ll rarely see kisses and hugs in public, they’re not afraid to express love for their friends. If you really become friends with a Chinese person, they will often give you presents, joke around and make fun of you (all out of love) and you might even attend their family gatherings.
叔叔 (shūshu), 阿姨 (āyí) - Calling someone 叔叔 (literally “uncle”) or 阿姨 (literally “aunt”) among your friends means you are really good friends. At the end of the day, you are a part of the family now, aren’t you?
Notice how 叔叔 is officially marked as 1st tone followed by neutral tone. When referring to someone in an endearing way, your tones should change to reflect this special relationship to 3rd tone followed by 2nd tone (also considered a kind of neutral tone): shǔshú. This same tone pattern is also used with other family members such as bǎbá, etc. This is only used in a "vocative" sense only when speaking to the person directly or with family members who share the same relation, and not when speaking about the person to somebody outside your family. For example:
Talking to your friend: wǒ bà shuō 我爸說...
Talking to your sibling: bǎbá shuō 爸爸說...
II. Tell them you like them
1) You’re beautiful.
Simplified Chinese: 你真漂亮！ (nǐ zhēn piàoliàng!)
Traditional Chinese: 你真漂亮！ (nǐ zhēn piàoliàng!)
The Chinese word for pretty and the word for beautiful are, similarly to English, used a bit differently.
While 漂亮 (piào liàng) - pretty, can be used to tell your mom, female friend or sister they look nice, 美丽 / 美麗 (měi lì) is stronger; it means beautiful.
漂亮 is also more common in a conversation, while 美丽 / 美麗 is more likely to be found in written text or even in a more formal conversation.
So how do you tell her “You are pretty?”
Simplified Chinese: 你好漂亮！ (nǐ hǎo piàoliàng!)
Traditional Chinese: 你好漂亮！ (nǐ hǎo piàoliàng!)
In a sentence, 好 is usually used as “very” or “so” to add emphasis.
2) I love spending time with you.
Simplified Chinese: 我喜欢和你在一起 (wǒ xǐhuān hé nǐ zài yìqǐ)
Traditional Chinese: 我喜歡跟你在一起 (wǒ xǐhuān gēn nǐ zài yìqǐ)
As you’re getting closer to them, you might want to tell them how much you appreciate the time with them. It’s easy to let your partner know how much you enjoy spending time with them without getting into the words of love yet.
It literally means “I like with you together”. A simple way to say you like to spend time with them/be with them (I like to spend time with you).
3) “I love to spend all the time with you.”
Simplified Chinese: 我喜欢跟你在一起每一秒、每一刻
(wǒ xǐhuān gēn nǐ zài yìqǐ měi yì miǎo, měi yí kè)
Traditional Chinese: 我喜歡跟你在一起每一秒、每一刻
(wǒ xǐhuān gēn nǐ zài yìqǐ měi yì miǎo, měi yí kè)
Do you want to be a bit more intense? More romantic? This phrase hints love; it literally means “I love with you all the time” and would be used to say “I love to spend all the time with you”. Compared to the previous phrase, you might really want to use this one, when you want to let them know, you’re ready to give them all your free time, because that’s how much you like them.
III. Chinese Flirting Lines
Chinese pick up lines don’t really exist. If you want to flirt with a pretty Chinese woman or a man, you might have a bigger chance with them having a normal conversation than try using a pick up line or flirt too obviously.
1) “You are very cute.”
Simplified Chinese: 你非常可爱 (nǐ fēicháng kěài)
Traditional Chinese: 你非常可愛 (nǐ fēicháng kěài)
This is something you can say if you don’t want to be too straight-forward just yet.
2) “The weather today is really nice.”
Simplified Chinese: 今天天气非常好 (jīntiān tiānqì fēicháng hǎo)
Traditional Chinese: 今天天氣非常好 (jīntiān tiānqì fēicháng hǎo)
Yes, even talking about weather can break the ice. Again, don’t be too straight-forward and try to have a simple conversation first, instead.
3) “Can I buy you a drink?”
Simplified Chinese: 我能请你喝一杯吗？ (wǒ néng qǐng nǐ hē yī bēi ma?)
Traditional Chinese: 我能請你喝一杯嗎？(wǒ néng qǐng nǐ hē yī bēi ma?)
Literally: Can I invite you to drink one glass? Even though Chinese culture is usually not too strong on meeting in bars and having cocktails, nowadays more and more young people are getting interested in the Western style of spending free time. Besides, you can always replace “drink” with “meal” (吃饭 / 吃飯 (chīfàn) - to eat).
4) “Would you like to go for a walk?”
Simplified Chinese: 你想出去散散步吗？ (nǐ xiǎng chūqù sàn sànbù ma?)
Traditional Chinese: 你想出去散散步嗎？(nǐ xiǎng chūqù sàn sànbù ma?)
5) “I love you.”
Simplified Chinese: 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ)
Traditional Chinese: 我愛你 (wǒ ài nǐ)
This is the Chinese word/phrase for I love you. The same as in English, you only say this when you are in a serious relationship and in love. You can hear it from family and friends, but it’s more likely Chinese will use other phrases to let you know you mean a lot to them.
It’s good to realize how Chinese people express love, though. Chinese families and friends usually don’t say 我爱你 / 我愛你 to each other, but they sure do express love and affection in their own way.
Jokes and gifts are one of the ways. While Chinese are more likely to joke around with friends and gift girlfriends/boyfriends, it’s not unlikely they’ll do it the other way around or do both.
There are also ways to say those three words that might be even more common in a relationship with a Chinese significant other/loved one, for example:
- 我想你 (wǒ xiǎng nǐ) - depending on the context, it either means “I miss you” or “I’m thinking of you”.
- 多吃点 (duō chī diǎn) - Eat some more! You’ll hear this especially from Chinese parents, older ones. Food is big in Chinese culture and if somebody asks you to eat some more, it means they care about you.
IV. How to Pop the Question
求婚 (qiúhūn) - marriage proposal in China used to be very formal, big and with both of the love birds’ families.
Nowadays, the tradition and the approval is still very important, thanks to adapting the Western culture more and more, you don’t need to worry about the formal stuff too much anymore. Here are a couple of phrases you might find handy when putting the ring on:
1) I want to marry you.
Simplified Chinese: 我想和你结婚 (wǒ xiǎng hé nǐ jiéhūn)
Traditional Chinese: 我想跟你結婚 (wǒ xiǎng gēn nǐ jiéhūn)
2) Will you marry me? (man to woman)
Simplified Chinese: 嫁给我吧。 (jià gěi wǒ ba)
Traditional Chinese: 嫁給我吧。 (jià gěi wǒ ba)
A woman would say: 娶我 (qǔ wǒ) instead.
3) Are you willing to be with me forever?
Simplified Chinese: 你愿意永远跟我在一起吗？
(nǐ yuànyì yǒngyuǎn gēn wǒ zài yīqǐ ma?)
Traditional Chinese: 你願意永遠跟我在一起嗎？
(nǐ yuànyì yǒngyuǎn gēn wǒ zài yīqǐ ma?)
4) Yes, I do (willing)
Simplified Chinese: 我愿意 (wǒ yuànyì)
Traditional Chinese: 我願意 (wǒ yuànyì)
Speaking fluent Chinese means a lot, too!
Even though Chinese love traditions and the way to express affection are different, there are still similarities. It’s important to show your loved ones how you feel about them, but don’t be surprised to see a bit of confusion when you say “I love you”, try to kiss or touch them; especially the older generation. And an important thing - when you fall in love with a Chinese girl/boy - make her/his family fall in love with you and speaking fluent Chinese definitely helps!
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