A grim but interesting topic! We make this list of various Chinese words for death organised into different categories and translate it here with a few additions.
Note that a lot of the terms here are very formal, archaic or otherwise inappropriate. This is not a list of appropriate words to use in real-life situations!
Status / rank
This is an archaic hierarchy of words for death based on the rank or status of the person who died. Modern Chinese hasn't kept these distinctions.
驾崩 (jiàbēng) – death of a king or emperor
薨 (hōng) – death of a prince
卒 (zú) – death of a scholar official
逝 (shì) – death of a normal official
不禄 (búlù) – death of a member of the ministerial / scholarly class
死 (sǐ) – death of a commoner
夭折 (yāozhé) – death in childhood
殇 (shāng) – death before age twenty and before being married:
下殇 (xiàshāng) – death aged eight to eleven
中殇 (zhōngshāng) – death aged twelve to fifteen
上殇 (shàngshāng) – death aged sixteen to nineteen
– 夭亡 (yāowáng) – death in the prime of one's life – 英年早逝 (yīngnián zǎoshì) – death in middle age – 寿终 (shòuzhōng) – death in old age
Another two words that generally refer to death in old age:
Special reasons or circumstances
殉 (xùn) – to die for a cause / be martyred
殉职 (xùnzhí) – to die in the line of duty
殉国 (xùnguó) – to die for one's country
殉情 (xùnqíng) – to die for love
殉道 (xùndào) – to die for one's beliefs
殉节 (xùnjié) – to die for one's moral integrity
殉难 (xùnnán) – to sacrifice oneself in disaster
– 献身 (xiànshēn) – to lay down one's life / sacrifice oneself – 客死 (kèsǐ) – to die abroad or away from one's home – 凶死 (xiōngsǐ) – to die in violence – 病故 (bìnggù) – to die from illness
圆寂 (yuánjì) – death of a Buddhist monk or nun
涅槃 (nièpán) – nirvana
坐化 (zuòhuà) – to die whilst sitting cross-legged (Buddhism term)
灭度 (mièdù) – "to extinguish worries" – another term for nirvana
Daoist terms for death of a Daoist:
仙游 (xiānyóu) – "immortal roaming"
登山 (dēngshān) – "to climb the mountain"
骑鹤 (qíhè) – "to ride a crane"
归西 (guīxī) – "to return west" (can be combined into 骑鹤归西 )
Literary terms and euphemisms
自尽 (zìjìn) – "to end oneself"
投井 (tóujǐng) – "to throw oneself in a well" (may be literal or metaphoric)
寻短见 (xúnduǎnjiàn) – "to seek suicide"
命绝 (mìngjué) – "life is cut off"
升天 (shēngtiān) – "to ascend to heaven"
断气 (duànqì) – "to sever qi"
命归黄泉 (mìng guī huáng quán) – "one's life returns to the Yellow Springs"
归山道 (guī shāndào) – "to return to the mountain path"
上天 (shàngtiān) – "to ascend to Heaven" – religious euphemism for death
归天 (guītiān) – "to return to Heaven" – as above
见上帝 (jiàn Shàngdì) – "to see God" – another religious one
见马克思 (jiàn Mǎkèsī) – "to see Marx" – socialist euphemism for death! (but actually just a joke)
离开我们 (líkāi wǒmen) – "to leave us" – general euphemism
走了 (zǒu le) – "to leave" – informal general euphemism
入冥室 (rù míngshì) – "to enter the dark room"
牺牲 (xīshēng) – to sacrifice oneself
就义 (jiùyì) – to die a righteous death
见阎王 (jiàn Yán Wáng) – "to see the King of Hell"
下地狱 (xià Dìyù) – "to descend to Hell"
得到应得的下场 (dédào yīngdé de xiàchǎng) – "to get one's just deserts"
完蛋 (wándàn) – "to be finished"
Irreverent / humorous:
蹬腿 (dēngtuǐ) – "to stretch out one's legs"
一命呜呼 (yímìngwūhū) – "one's life in a word"
见鬼去 (jiànguǐ qù) – "to go see a ghost" (similar to "go to hell", often just an insult)
翘辫子 (qiào biànzi) – "to have one's queue raised" (i.e. by an executioner – similar to "kick the bucket")