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How to use Chinese position words

As we all know, language is a bridge to help us to communicate and understand other cultures. One of the most interesting things when studying a language is to learn about different mindsets which help us to change the ways in which we see the world.


Positions in Chinese 



Up and Down



时间 – Time



In Chinese time runs down like a waterfall, rushing down and submerging us in the world.


The period from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. is like a boulder at the halfway point, which is called 午.


A river runs from above to below, so we call the former upstream, and the latter downstream. This is the same as in English.


上车 / 下车 – Getting In and Out of Vehicles


Although in English you say you “get in” or “get out” of a car, in Chinese, the words are 上 shàng (on) and 下 xià (off) respectively.

上 – get on/in

下 – get off/out

车 – car

公交车 – bus

地铁 – subway



请在第一站 (上车) , 在第七站 (下车)。Please get on at the first stop, and get off at the seventh stop.


Getting on/off a Boat, Ship, or Vessel

船 – boat, ship, or vessel

上船 – to go on board, embark

下船 – disembark




It's time to go on board.


Going to Class, Work, and Other Daily Routines

课 – a class or lesson

上课 – to begin or to have class

下课 – to finish or get out of class

上学 – to go to school

放学 – to get out of school; school is out

上班 – to go on duty or get to work

下班 – to get off duty or get off work




We get off work at 6:00 p.m.


My son has piano class from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. every Wednesday.


I will go to the library after class.

早上7:00, 儿子上学,我太太上班。

At 7:00 a.m., my son goes to school and my wife goes to work.


Surfing the Internet

上网 – to go online




You can use wifi to surf the internet at the airport.

Dinner Time

上菜 – to serve the food (dish up)

撤下(不常用) – to clear the table (not often used)



客人都到了, 该上菜了。

All the guests have arrived, so it's time to serve dinner.

Now Mandarin Chinese is not as difficult as you assumed, is it? Once you have mastered the Mandarin Chinese mindset, learning will become more simple and fun!

汉语并非你以为那样难,对吧? 只要掌握了汉语的思维方式, 学习会变得简单而有趣!

Front and Back


If we consider time as a river, the Chinese stand facing the direction of the river's flow; in other words, they stand facing the direction of history with the intention of respecting traditions. In the eyes of the Chinese, it seems that the days stand in line, with the earliest days at the front and later days toward the back of the line, passing one by one.

如果时间是一条河,中国人是面对着河流的出现的方向的。换句话说,中国人是面对着历史, 并且尊重传统的。在中国人的眼里,日子好像排着队,先来在前,后来在后,一天一天地流逝。

前天 – the day before yesterday

后天 – the day after tomorrow

前年 – the year before last year

后年 – the year after next year

前人 – predecessors

后人 – descendants, offspring



昨天的昨天是前天, 明天的明天是后天。

Yesterday's yesterday is the day before yesterday, and tomorrow's tomorrow is the day after tomorrow.


My girlfriend and I traveled to Canada the year before last, and plan to go to Africa the year after next year.


Predecessors sow the seed [of trees], and the descendants receive the shade. In English, a similar saying is "Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs."


Chinese people are the offspring of the Dragon.


Left and Right


According to the traditional rules of Chinese writing, writing should proceed from up to down and from right to left.



The Position Mindset

According to a traditional Chinese geographical mindset, east is left and west is right. So, Chinese people always consider themselves to be facing south when they talk about geography.



Left of the river = East of the river

江左 = 江东


The Power Position Mindset


In traditional Chinese culture, left means breaking the rule or being different with the standard, so right is always more respected than left. The Right Prime Minister's position is higher than the Left Prime Minister's, so "going right" 右迁 means promotion. However, this difference is becoming less important in modern times.

在传统中国文化中,“左”指违反标准,因此“右”往往比“左”更尊贵。“右丞相”比“左丞相”地位要高, 所以“右迁”为提升。不过,在现代社会这种差异越来越被淡化。


从方位到区间 – From Position to Range

When you combine 上 and 下, 前 and 后, or 左 and 右 together, used behind a number, this shows that the number is not exact.

当 “上” 和 “下”,“前” 和 “后”,“左”和 “右”合在一起,用在数字后表示数字不确切。


上下 – About

上下 is often used after stating an age to show this age is not exact.



Her daughter is about 10 years old.


前后 – Around/about


前后 is often used after a period in time to show this time is not exact.




We like to eat rice dumplings around the time of the Spring Festival.

Remark: 春节, the Spring Festival, is the most important traditional festival in Chinese culture.



He got married around 2012.


左右 – Around/about


This is often be used behind any number to show this number is not exact.




Lunch time is around 12:00.


That man is about 40 years old.


I moved to the city of Shanghai around 2011.


My brother is about 1.65m tall.


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