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Vocab: Blood Relatives: Update

Don't let the Chinese kinship terms drive you crazy


In Chinese culture, a lot of emphasis is put on kinship blood relatives. There is distinct hierarchy in the traditional Chinese family structure, and one’s chronological generation is often more significant than one’s actual age. Family members on the mother’s side and those on the father’s side do not share the same kinship terms, and these terms are baffling even for native Chinese speakers. Here is an infographic from Ninchanese to alleviate the pain:

family tree


This is only a kinship terms for beginners. Family structures in China has changed over the last few decades. In urban cities, most Chinese have adopted the structure of the small Western-style nuclear family, rather than the traditional. Many young people already place less emphasis on lineage and family relatives. However, when they are forced to get together with their families (sometimes even extended families) during the Chinese New Year’s, calling their relatives by the correct term becomes nerve-racking.

Here are a couple more:

Uncle’s Wife: 舅妈 (jiùmā)

Mother’s and Father’s nephews: 表哥 (biǎogē),表弟 (biǎodì)

Mother’s and Father’s nieces: 表姐 (biǎojiě),表妹 (biǎomèi)

Older sister’s husband: 姐夫 (jiěfu)

Younger sister’s husband: 妹夫 (mèifu)

Older brother’s wife: 嫂嫂 (sǎosǎo)

Younger brother’s wife: 弟媳 (dìxí)

UPDATE: There is a hilarious YouTube video from the folks at Off the Great Wall that goes into much greater detail about all the intricacies of the Mandarin terminology for the extended Chinese family.

Here is the YouKu version if you’re not able to view the YouTube version:

Image courtesy of Ninchanese.com.

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