Be Careful When Using “西天 (xītiān),” a Common Chinese Joke


In Buddhist funerals, the idea of a place called Sukhavati, or “Western Paradise,” is considered the favorable destination for a soul that is departing Earth. Different languages have various names for this “heaven” that we hope to go to. In Chinese, we call this place “西天 (xītiān).” Buddhism is China’s oldest foreign religion, dating back to 300 B.C. in China. Buddhism has an up and down history, but a strong form has sustained, with over 244 million practicing Buddhists now living in China, especially in the common in the southern provinces.
Just as with the English word for “hell,” “西天 (xītiān) Western Paradise,” can be used playfully with close friends, but may offend some strangers if you are not using it correctly.

How to use “西天 (xītiān)”:

There is a fixed structure in Chinese on how to use “西天 (xītiān).” Nowadays, friends use it to tease each other. An example on how to use it is the phrase “send somebody to heaven,” or as we say in English “meet your maker”:
“送 + somebody +上西天 (sòng sb shàng xītiān)” means to “send somebody to heaven (Western Paradise).

An example of “西天 (xītiān))” used in a sentence:

Duìyú zhàyào, rúguǒ nǐ bù xiǎoxīn de huà, nà tā kě huì sòng nǐ shàng xītiān de.
对于     炸药,  如果  你  不 小心    的  话,那 它 可 会   送  你   上     西天  的.
If you’re careless with explosives they can blow you into the next world.

But, there’s more!
Often, you can use another structure: 归 (guī) + 西天, means “pass away,” or die.
Sometimes, this is abbreviated to “归西 (guīxī).”
However, this word should be used carefully. Do not use “归西 (guīxī)” if you want to console the family or friends of someone who has recently passed away. It is considered very impolite, perhaps similar with the English “dropped dead” or “kicked the bucket.” With friends, we generally use “归西 (guīxī)” only in jokes or when we meet some unlikable characters.

Examples of “归西 (guīxī)” used in a sentence:

Nà gè quēdé de nǚrén guīxī le, tīng dào zhè gè xiāoxī dàjiā dōu hěn gāoxìng.
那  个  缺德   的  女人  归西 了, 听    到    这  个 消息  大家  都    很   高兴。
Everybody was very happy to hear that the wicked woman dropped dead.

Kělián de yuēhàn zài zhè cì bàozhà zhōng yímìngguīxī le.
可怜   的    约翰   在  这  次   爆炸    中     一命归西   了。
Poor John went west in the explosion.

So, before you start talking about “Western Paradise” be sure that you’ve done your homework first. Remember, a foreigner is often easily forgiven for making one of the many Chinese language or cultural taboos, but it doesn’t hurt to always be as respectful as possible when speaking Chinese!

HSK 3 quiz

1. What the implied meaning of “西天” in the phrase “送你上西天”?
A. West
B. Western Paradise
C. Die
D. Hurt

Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff) 
Chinese Culture
General Chinese (Beginner Level)
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