Addressing people in Chinese is something that isn't really taught properly in textbooks.
Whether you're travelling in China or you're doing business in a Chinese speaking region, it's important to know how to address people in the correct way, to avoid any embarrassing mistakes and to make sure you are treating people with the correct respect.
This post will outline the common forms of address for different people in Chinese.
Addressing Chinese people in formal situations
Let's take the surname 张 (zhāng) for these examples.
张先生 (zhāng xiānsheng) is Mr. Zhang. 张女士 (zhāng nǚshì) is Mrs/Ms. Zhang, and it can refer to either a married or unmarried woman.
"张先生"就是"Mr. Zhang"，"张女士"是"Mrs/Ms. Zhang"，它可以指代已婚或未婚的女士。
How to find out somebody's title
One good way to find out the correct title to use to address somebody is to look at somebody's business card.
If you look on the Chinese part of the card, it will normally tell you the person's titles, and you can use those to address them. If you are not able to read the Chinese characters, then it is perfectly polite to ask the person the correct way to address them. You can say 您怎么称呼？(nín zěn me chēng hu?) How should I address you?
Forms of address in business
张总 (zhāng zǒng) – President Zhang
张主任 (zhāng zhǔrèn) – Director Zhang
张经理 (zhāng jīnglǐ) – Manager Zhang
张部长 (zhāng bùzhǎng) – Minister/Director Zhang
Addressing people in an academic situation
张老师 (zhāng lǎoshī) – Teacher Zhang
张教授 (zhāng jiàoshòu) – Professor Zhang
张博士 (zhāng bóshì) – Dr. Zhang
张大夫/医生 (zhāng dàifu / zhāng yīshēng) –Doctor Zhang
Informal forms of address for strangers
Chinese has special polite ways of addressing people who you don't know, for example somebody that you might start a conversation with on the street.
叔叔 shūshu (for an older man)
阿姨 āyí (for an older woman)
If you are meeting the parents of your girlfriend / boyfriend for the first time you should also call them shūshu and āyí.
爷爷 yéye (for an elderly man)
奶奶 nǎinai (for an elderly woman)
哥哥 gēge (for an older boy)
姐姐 jiějie (for an older girl)
The special way to address taxi drivers/craftspeople
There is a special form of address in Chinese that you use for taxi drivers, craftspeople, builders, plumbers etc and also for kung fu masters.
For somebody with the surname 张 (zhāng), you would call them:
张师傅 (zhāng shīfu) – Master Zhang
Addressing people in informal situations
If you are talking to somebody of a similar age to you who you are on close terms with, you can just call them their given name, without any of the forms of address.
For example, if you have a friend called 王少华 (Wáng Shàohuá), then you could simply call them Shàohuá 少华.
Translated from: fluentinmandarin
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