Which Will You Choose: 水货 (shuǐhuò) VS. 行货 (hánghuò)

Chinese General buying

Some students living in China may face a major decision. If their cellphone breaks or gets stolen, where will they go to buy a new one? In China, most people would go to a cellphone brand’s official store, or to an underground cellphone market for the cheap prices. If you know about these two different situations, you may have heard two common expressions “水货 (shuǐhuò)” and “行货 (hánghuò).” Although they have opposite meanings, they come in handy in the buying and selling of everyday goods.
Let’s take a closer look:
水货 (shuǐhuò) smuggled good; unauthorized goods.

水 (shuǐ): water, river.

货 (huò): goods, commodity.

In Chinese, 水货 (shuǐhuò) refers to smuggled goods. Although, it uses the character 水(shuǐ) it has nothing to do with water. The colloquial meaning of 水(shuǐ) can be that a thing is unrealistic/impure. For example, “这个东西很水” instead of literally meaning “this thing is very water” it means “this thing is a fake.”
Note: Be careful not to get “水货 (shuǐhuò)” confused with “假货 (jiǎhuò) counterfeit.” The word 水货 (shuǐhuò) arose from early smugglers who, in order to avoid paying taxes, would hide products in plastic bags and send them on other routes to the country being sold to. Therefore, it is ordinarily used to refer to smuggled goods and contraband. Now, it can be used to mean a person whose name falls short of reality.


Wǒmen bié qù mǎi shuǐhuò.
我们       别    去  买    水货。
We shouldn’t go buy smuggled goods.

Zhè jǐ nián de shuǐhuò chǎnpǐn hěn duō.
这   几   年   的   水货    产品       很  多。
There are a lot of unauthorized goods these past few years.

行货 (hánghuò) – licensed goods; genuine goods; authorized goods;
This word is the exact opposite of 水货 (shuǐhuò). It refers to foreign products which have legally passed through customs and other regulations to enter the country. These products can enjoy services and quality guarantees in the domestic market.


Wǒ yào mǎi yí gè hánghuò shǒujī.
我   要   买    一个      行货    手机。
I want to buy an authorized cellphone.

My friend Annie decided to buy her cellphone from the underground cellphone market. At first it seemed great, a nearly new Apple phone for much cheaper. But then her cellphone started having some problems. The problems got worse so she had to pay a bunch of money to fix it. Since she bought pirated goods, she couldn’t go to the store and get it fixed for free or return it…
In the end, its up to you whether you want to buy 水货 (shuǐhuò) or 行货 (hánghuò), just remember to be careful when buying pirated goods!

HSK 3 quiz

Which product below is a “水货 (shuǐhuò)?”
A. A fake Armani suit bought at the Beijing market.
B. An item that legally passed through customs.
C. A good that hasn’t been taxed.
D. A good that is composed of water.

Learn more fun Chinese buzzwords:

辣眼睛 (làyǎnjīng) Spicy Eyes—Hilarious Internet Slang
Screwed Over? In a “坑 (kēng)”? This Lesson May Help!
Show humility and learn “自黑 (zìhēi)” for “self-mockery”

—Written by Elizabeth Brown—

Elizabeth Brown 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.
Chinese Popular Words
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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