Slang in China: Words the Chinese textbook will not teach you

There are different ways of communicating in the Chinese language, including slang used among friends. Slang is a part of Chinese culture and is also something that Chinese learners should focus on to improve their language skills and communicate better with Chinese people.

As Chinese slang is a great way to learn new words, we have added a list of phrases you’ll hear on the street in China with Chinese characters and Chinese pinyin. The mandarin slang that we explain here, you will not necessarily find in your Chinese textbooks. However, these expressions are common in China and are expressions that are important also for basic learners, intermediate learners or advanced learners of Chinese.

1 shá 啥 – what

In Chinese slang, you will often hear the shortening of regular words. This is something that you will often hear when you are speaking Chinese with your Chinese friends. For example, can you hear the word shá 啥 that is a shortening for shénme 什么, that means “what?”

2 lèi sĭ le 累死了 – extremely tired

Chinese speakers use many variants of an adjective plus sĭ le 死了 “dead”. It means “extremely” + adjective. If you add it to lèi 累 “tired”, lèi sĭ le 累死了 “extremely tired”.

3 è sĭ le 饿死了 – extremely hungry

In the same slang phrase, you find the expression è sĭ le 饿死了 means “extremely hungry”. However, it can also mean to literally die from starvation.

4 gǔshén 股神 – someone who has extremely good at investing in stocks “a god in investing in stocks”

The word shén 神 can be translated into “spirit” or “god,” and is a common slang word used to compliment someone on their excellent skills in anything. Examples are gǔ shén 股神 which literally means “a god in investing in stocks” or someone who is really good at investing in stocks.

iStock 137859472 1

5 chīcù 吃醋 – to be jealous

The expression chī cù 吃醋 can literally be translated as ‘eat vinegar’, and means “jealousy” of lovers. If you say Nǐ wèi shén me chī cù 你为什么吃醋, it then means “Why are you jealous?” Some people also say chī fēi cù 吃飞醋, which means to be jealous without any reason.

6 wŭ èr líng 五二零 520 – I love you

In Chinese, slang is also expressed through numbers. In fact, some of the most inventive and interesting slang words in Chinese are numbers. ‘520’ in Chinese means “I love you’. What is the reason for this? It’s because, in Chinese, the numbers 5, 2, 0 are pronounced wŭ 五 5, èr 二 2, líng 零 0, which sounds similar to Wǒ ài nǐ 我爱你 I love you.

7 èr bǎi wǔ 二百五 250 – idiot

Certain numbers and slang expressions in Chinese, such as the fairly common insult “250,” have been given significance by myths from Chinese history.

In ancient China, coins were strung together in stacks of 1000. Scholars used to refer to themselves as “half a stack”—in other words, wǔ bǎi 五百 500. It was considered modest and politely self-deprecating.

The number èr bǎi wǔ 二百五 250 is, of course, half of 500. The slang term èr bǎi wǔ 二百五 has become a term for someone who is so stupid that they aren’t even half a stack!

8 yī sān yī sì 一三一四 – forever

When you read the number 1314 in Chinese, yī sān yī sì 一三一四 , it sounds similar to another Chinese expression yī shēng yī shì 一生一世. The literal meaning of this expression is “one life, one world”, meaning “for the rest of my life” or “forever.”

If you put these two sayings together you end with the number 520 1314 or wǒ ài nǐ yī shēng yī shì 我爱你一生一世 I love you forever!

Let us finish on a note of love! Chinese slang words are many and evolving continuously in China. Slang changes! This is especially true for Chinese internet slang, as people are spending more time communicating on Chinese social media. Different people use different expressions, so by learning an interesting expression or two, you will be able to communicate better in everyday conversations in China.

The examples that we have shown here are just some of many. In addition to textbook words, learning slang and the real/world language in Mainland China is also a practical way to learn Chinese and try to speak like the locals.


If you want to learn Mandarin Chinese, feel free to REGISTER FOR A FREE TRIAL CLASS HERE or send me an email (Chen Huimin):

We offer private lessons and group classes at all levels, HSK 1-6, children, adults, business. All Mandarin Chinese classes are offered in classrooms or online.

Do you know anyone who wants to learn Chinese? We will give you 500 US dollars as a bonus as a part of our program “Refer a friend – get $ 500” if your friend or others you introduce to us start taking Chinese classes at our school. Register here if this is interesting for you!

WeChat Image 20210427081950 3

Sign up for a free trial class here.

Sign up for classes here.

Learn more about our Chinese Summer Camp for Children here.

Learn about our Internship Program in China.

Get free Chinese learning resources.

Learn about China’s 2024 Offical Holiday Schedule

Ønsker du en gratis prøveklasse? Registrer deg!

Bli med på en gratis prøveklasse i kinesisk!

Do you want a Free Trial Chinese Class? Register now!

Join a Free Trial Chinese Class!