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Chinese Wisdom: Close to “大人(dàrén),” Away from “小人(xiăorén)!”

Sep. 11, 2014

After sharing an image of his adorable 3-year-old daughter online for the first time, Chinese writer 韩寒(hánhán) earned the name “国民岳父(guómín yuèfù) Father-in-law of the Nation” or “岳父大人(yuèfùdàrén).” It is a humorous title bestowed on him by netizens who jokingly proclaimed their desire to marry his beautiful daughter. You may wonder what the phrase means and how the term “大人(dàrén)” factors in.

Let’s get started with a closer look at the term “大人(dàrén),” which means adult.


Nǐ shì yíge dàrén le, búyào xiàng ge xiǎo háizi yíyàng!
你 是  一个 大人  了,不要   像     个  小   孩子  一样!
You are an adult, so stop acting like a kid!


In ancient times, “大人(dàrén)” was used to address aristocrats or government officials. It is also an honorific title for elders, such as “父亲大人(fùqīn dàrén) father” or “母亲大人(mŭqīn dàrén) mother,” as well as “岳父大人(yuèfù dàrén) father-in-law,” and so on.


Míngtiān yào qù jiàn yuèfù dàrén, wǒ yǒudiǎnr jǐnzhāng.
明天        要   去  见   岳父   大人,我    有点儿    紧张。
I’m a bit nervous, because I’m going to meet my father-in-law tomorrow.


There is one more way of addressing a person using “大人(dàrén)” that ought to be pointed out: “老婆大人(lăopó dàrén).” This term is used towards one’s wife. It is a phrase that conveys not only respect, but also intimacy and humor between a couple.


Lǎopó dàrén, zhè gè yuè línghuāqián kĕyĭ duō gĕi diǎn ma?
老婆      大人,这 个  月      零花钱      可以  多  给    点   吗?
Darling, can you spare a little extra pocket money this month?


Now that we have gone over the usage of “大人(dàrén),” let’s move onto what would appear to be its opposite-“小人(xiăorén).” Don’t be tricked though, its meaning may not be what you would expect.

In the past, “小人(xiăorén)” was a self-humbling word. When common people met officials or when slaves met their masters, they often referred to themselves as “小人(xiăorén)” to express their modesty and lower status.

Nowadays, “小人(xiăorén)” is a derogatory term which is used to describe people who lack morals, are selfish, or seek to gain from others’ misfortunes. These people often cause trouble or kick you when you're down. The phrase “小人(xiăorén)” can actually be used as the opposite of the word "君子(jūnzǐ) gentleman."


Kěshì nǐ  dāyìng guò yào bāng wǒ de máng, nǐ zhège xiǎorén!
可是    你  答应    过   要    帮     我 的    忙, 你  这个  小人!
But you promised to help me, you rat!



1. What doesn’t “老婆大人(lǎopó dàrén)” indicate?

A. contempt

B. intimacy

C. esteem

2. If somebody is very mean and always does bad things to other people, what can we call him?

A. 大人(dàrén)

B. 小人(xiăorén)

C. 君子(jūnzǐ)

See Answers


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