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How Do You Address All Sorts of Leaders in Chinese? (Elementary)

Nov. 15, 2012

On November 7, 2012, Barack Obama won a second term as President (总统, zǒngtǒng) of the United States.

You know some countries have a president, or a prime minister, or even a chancellor. And some countries, such as China, have a premier as well as a president.

Following are a few of the most common civic titles. We will teach you how to say them in Chinese.

总统 (zǒngtǒng): president


主席 (zhǔxí): president or chairman


首相 (shǒuxiàng): prime minister


Heads of State (国家首脑, guójiā shǒunǎo) are called Presidents. The United States only has one civic leader, the President, and he is both head of State and head of government. Countries like Japan and Great Britain use another word for their heads of government, Prime Minister (首相, shǒuxiàng).

You may be asking yourself why the Chinese title 主席 (zhǔxí) is translated into English as president. This is indeed very confusing! 主席 (zhǔxí) is an old Chinese word that is used for the leader of a governing board, institution, or organization. For historical reasons, the Chinese President is still called 主席 (zhǔxí) in Chinese.

Although, 主席 (zhǔxí) and 总统 (zǒngtǒng) both mean leader, in Chinese, 总统 (zǒngtǒng) can only be used for the leader or head of State. However, 主席 (zhǔxí) can also be used as a title for the leader of a union or organization. Thus, you can call the leader of the student union 主席 (zhǔxí), but you can never say 总统 (zǒngtǒng), even though in English both words would translates into president of the student union.

总统 (zǒngtǒng): When used as a noun, 总统 (zǒngtǒng) can only be used for the leader or head of State.


Fǎguó de zǒngtǒng shì Àolǎngdé.
法国    的     总统      是  奥朗德。


The president of France is Hollande.

主席 (zhǔxí): It can be used for the leader or head of State, it also can be used as a title for the leader of a union or organization.


    Guójiā fù zhǔxí xià gè yuè jiāngyào fǎngwèn ōuzhōu.
1. 国家    副  主席 下 个   月     将要      访问        欧洲。


    The vice president will pay a visit to European countries next month.

    Tā shì xuéshēnghuì zhǔxí.
2. 他  是      学生会       主席。


    He is the president of the Student Union.

The etymon of the word 首相 (shǒuxiàng):

In Chinese, the word 首 (shǒu) originally meant head and gradually gained the meaning, first or the highest in rank. 相 (xiàng) is an official title from ancient Chinese governments. The person who is in the position of 相 (xiàng) usually has a lot of power and gives advice to the emperor and helps him govern the country. Now, in Chinese, 首相 (shǒuxiàng) only refers to the leader of the countries which have the similar national system with Japan and Britain.


Kǎméilún shì Yīngguó shǒuxiàng.
卡梅伦     是      英国       首相。


Mr. Cameron is the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Hopefully, at this point you are clear about the different titles being used around the world.

Drill your understanding:

1. What do you call the Japanese Head of Government in Chinese?     
A. 总统 (zǒngtǒng)                                                        B. 总理 (zǒnglǐ)
C. 首相 (shǒuxiàng)                                                      D. 主席 (zhǔxí)

2. In Chinese, we call the person who is the leader of an organization the ______.
A. 首相 (shǒuxiàng)                                                        B. 总理 (zǒnglǐ)
C. 总统 (zǒngtǒng)                                                         D. 主席 (zhǔxí)

Answers: 1.C  2.D


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