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Understand 人情 (rénqíng)? Prepare for an Easy Life in China

Mar. 15, 2017

Chinese General renqing

Something students learning Chinese should know is that learning just the language isn’t enough—one must also study Chinese culture. Every culture has its own morals and societal frameworks that the citizens find very important to uphold. If a Chinese student misses these, then living in China—even knowing Chinese—can present some problems. A place to start this cultural journey is by understanding 人情 (rénqíng), which can help students understand and be a part of life in China. So what is 人情 (rénqíng)?

In my personal experience living in China, I always noticed these little niceties my coworkers and friends would do in Chinese. Bringing fruit to the office and giving everyone a piece, or the way they would introduce a person. Yet, I never fully understood why they were doing it or how I was supposed to participate. This is where 人情 (rénqíng) comes in.

人情 (rénqíng) – human feelings; human relationship; favor; gift.

This concept plays an important part in Chinese society. It points to displays of affection and emotion, people’s sense, worldly affairs, friendly sentiments and sensitivity to other’s feelings. In a more practical usage, it points to the benefits and connections that come from person-to-person interaction.

So how do Chinese people display 人情 (rénqíng)? It is in simple gestures, such as giving a coworker a special local product from one’s hometown after a trip there, giving a red envelope to a classmate who just got married, or even complimenting your friend at a social event.

To put it simply, 人情 (rénqíng) is how people who know each other help each other and their mutual benefit. For example, you help me once, and the next time you need help I help you. This reflects how China is a collectivist society, where you come together with people you know well to solve problems and each person extends a favor to the other. This is a continuous cycle that is seen as a shortcut to fixing problems.

What this means for you as a Chinese learner, is to remember that you should always repay 人情 (rénqíng). It is never a good thing to just receive it and do nothing for the person in return. You could easily lose friends this way.

Examples:
Zài zhè jiàn shìqíng shàng, tā zuò dé yǒudiǎnér bújìnrénqíng.
在   这  件    事情     上,   他 做  得   有点儿     不近人情。
Concerning this matter, what he did is somewhat unreasonable.

Tā shì gēn wǒ gōngzuò de rén zhōng zuì yǒu rénqíngwèi de yī gè.
他  是  跟  我     工作     的 人     中     最  有      人情味    的 一 个。
He is the most humane person I have ever worked with.

Quiz:

Which is not a meaning of 人情 (rénqíng)?

A. Human feelings
B. People
C. Gift
D. Human relationship
See Answer

Learn more about Chinese culture:
Key Business Etiquette You Can Put to Use in China
WeChat: A Gateway into Chinese Language and Culture
“Going Dutch”: Learn AA制 and When To Do It

—Written by Elizabeth Brown—
Elizabeth works in China and has studied Chinese for 4 years. She has been a student at eChineseLearning for 2 years and is preparing to take the HSK 5. A special thanks to her teacher Jennifer Zhu for teaching her this word and how to use it.

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