Disagree? Join the Debate and Learn “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)”!

Chinese General disagree

One of my favorite Mandarin Chinese conversation classes to teach is debate. When my classes have friendly debates about social issues or cultural differences, it gives Chinese learners a chance to think critically and also learn and apply some important, everyday Mandarin expressions to the discussion. Today, I will teach you one of these important sayings: “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)”.
People use this phrase to show that they have a differing opinion about a topic or issue, or when they deliberately act contrary to someone else’s behavior. It’s a Chinese equivalent of the English “sing a tune opposite to that of” or express an opposing opinion. In fact, the literal translation is exactly that!

Let’s break it down:

唱 (chàng) = a verb, meaning “to sing”;

反调 (fǎndiào) = a noun, meaning a contradictory opinion;

唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào) = sing a tune opposite to that of; deliberately speak or act contrary to.

The common structure for using “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)” :

Subject 1 + 跟/和 + Subject 2 + 唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào).

How you can use “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)” in a conversation:

Tā lǎo shì gēn tā fùqīn chàng fǎndiào.
他  老 是  跟   他 父亲    唱     反调。
He is always opposing his father.

Jack zǒng shì hé lǎobǎn chàng fǎndiào.
Jack  总    是  和  老板      唱    反调.
Jack is always disagreeing with his boss.

A common place that you will find “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)” is in the daily headline news.
Examples of such headlines could be:
Rìběn yǔ měiguó chàng fǎndiào.
日本   与   美国     唱      反调。
Japan Speaks Out Against U.S.

Měiguó cáizhǎng zǒng shì hé tèlǎngpǔ chàng fǎndiào.
美国      财长       总     是  和  特朗普      唱    反调。
US Treasury Secretary Consistently Disagreeing with Trump.

In formats such as debate, politics and newsprint, you will commonly find the phrase “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)” in conversation and print. Remember, disagreements are part of life and we often “lock horns”, sometimes in a friendly way and sometimes in a not-so-friendly way!

HSK 3 quiz

1. In which situation could you not use “唱反调 (chàng fǎndiào)”?
A. Everyone wants to sleep now, but you are playing pop music loudly.
B. Your parents hope the all of their children can get married soon, but you say that you wish to remain single.
C. The USA and China sign a new trade agreement.
D. You decide to not wear the school uniform and dress with your own style.

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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