In Chinese culture, some of the terms of address for family members (“brother/sister”, “uncle/aunt”, etc…) can also be used for friends, neighbors, and even strangers.
Naturally, these terms appear very frequently in Wuxia, Xianxia & Xuanhuan novels, and it can be confusing for new readers to see the characters refer to anyone and everyone using these kinship terms.
The important thing to remember is that just because a character calls someone else their “brother”, “aunt”, etc… it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re blood-related. It’s possible that the speaker is just being polite or affectionate by using these terms.
The following table is not a comprehensive list of the kinship terms.
|Dage||大哥||Big Brother||Boss, Eldest Brother, Big Bro|
|Ge / Gege / Xiong||哥 / 哥哥 / 兄||Elder Brother||Older Brother, Big Brother, Big Bro|
|Di / Didi||弟 / 弟弟||Younger Brother||Little Brother|
|Dajie||大姐||Big Sister||Eldest Sister, Big Sis|
|Jie / Jiejie||姐 / 姐姐||Elder Sister||Older Sister, Big Sister, Big Sis|
|Mei / Meimei||妹 / 妹妹||Younger Sister||Little Sister|
|Shushu 叔叔 (Uncle) – literally translates as “father’s younger brother”. Used to politely address men much older than the speaker.|
|Ayi 阿姨 (Aunt) – literally translates as “mother’s sister”. Used to politely address women much older than the speaker.|
|Xiongdi 兄弟 (Brother) – Men commonly call their male comrades / close friends their “Brothers”.|
|Dage 大哥 (Big Brother) – used to politely address men around the same age or older than the speaker (but not old enough to be considered an “Uncle”). Translated as “Boss” when referring to a leader, especially a leader of a group of male friends or of a criminal organization. Used alternatively with Laoda (老大) in this context.|
|Dajie 大姐 (Big Sister) – used to politely address women around the same age or older than the speaker (but not old enough to be considered an “Aunt”).|
|Xiaojie 小姐 (Miss) – literally translates as “little elder sister”. A somewhat antiquated term of address for young ladies.|
To give some examples of how these are used:
- Two male neighbors named Tang Ping 唐平 (age 32) and Shen Hu 沈虎 (age 36) could call each other Brother Tang 唐兄弟 and Elder Brother Shen 沈兄.
- Two close friends (or a romantic couple) named Ren Hui 任辉 (male, age 19) and Li Lan 黎兰 (female, age 17) could call each other Big Brother Hui 辉哥哥 and Little Sister Lan 兰妹妹.
- A traveler (age 25) asking a random middle-aged woman for directions could address her as Auntie 阿姨. But if he wanted to flatter her or be especially polite, he might instead address her as Big Sister 大姐.
In groups of people (and especially in families), the members are sometimes distinguished and addressed according to age/rank, rather than by name.
- In a group of male friends, they can call each other Boss / Big Bro 大哥, Second Bro 二哥, Third Bro 三哥, Fourth Bro 四哥, Fifth Bro 五哥, etc etc… This could be according to birth order or their social ranking within the group.
- If someone has several uncles, they can simply be referred to as First Uncle 大舅, Second Uncle 二舅, Third Uncle 三舅, etc etc… This is according to their birth order.
- If someone has five daughters, they can be referred to as Eldest Daughter 大女儿, Second Daughter 二女儿, Third Daughter 三女儿, Fourth Daughter 四女儿, and Youngest Daughter 小女儿. This is also according to their birth order.
In martial sects and similar organizations, younger disciples often directly apprentice themselves to an elder. The relationship between Master and Apprentice is deep, akin to Parent-and-Child… and the terms of address within a sect reflect this.
Note: Even disciples without masters still use the following terms.
|Shigong / Shiye||师公 / 师爷||Grandmaster||Martial Grandfather||lit. “teacher grandfather”|
|Shifu||师父 / 师傅||Master||–||lit. “teacher father”|
|Shibo / Shishu||师伯 / 师叔||Martial Uncle||Uncle-Master||lit. “teacher father’s elder brother” / “teacher father’s younger brother”|
|Shigu||师姑||Martial Aunt||Aunt-Master||lit. “teacher father’s sister”|
|Shizhi||师侄||Martial Nephew / Martial Niece||Apprentice-Nephew / Apprentice-Niece||lit. “teacher nephew”|
|Shixiong / Shige||师兄 / 师哥||Senior Brother||Senior Martial Brother, Senior Apprentice-Brother||lit. “teacher elder brother”|
|Shidi||师弟||Junior Brother||Junior Martial Brother, Junior Apprentice-Brother||lit. “teacher younger brother”|
|Shijie||师姐||Senior Sister||Senior Martial Sister, Senior Apprentice-Sister||lit. “teacher elder sister”|
|Shimei||师妹||Junior Sister||Junior Martial Sister, Junior Apprentice-Sister||lit. “teacher younger sister”|
|Shishu 师叔 (Martial Uncle) – Despite the literal translation, this term is also commonly used to refer to Martial Aunts.|
|Shizhi 师侄 (Martial Nephew) – Despite the literal translation, this single term is used for both Martial Nephews & Martial Nieces|
In other words:
- Your master is your “father”. Expanding from there, your master’s master is your “grandfather”. Your peers in the sect are your “brothers” and “sisters”. Your master’s peers are his siblings, making them your “aunts” and “uncles”. And when your peers (brothers/sisters) one day take on apprentices of their own, those apprentices will be your “nieces” and “nephews”.
Senior (前辈 qiánbèi) – a term of address for members of an elder generation.
Junior (晚辈 wǎnbèi) – a term of address for members of a younger generation.
- These two terms are relative. A person’s “seniority” in comparison to someone else is often determined by age, but social status, expertise, and other factors also play a role. For example, an expert in a field of study would likely be addressed as “Senior” by a novice in the field, even if the novice is older than the expert. And in a company or organization, higher-ranking members/employees are typically Seniors while those beneath them are Juniors.
Lao (老) – means “old/venerable”. Translated as Elder. Appended to a person’s surname to show respect.
- Example: Someone named Zhao Wei 赵伟 could be called Elder Zhao 赵老.
Xiao (小) – means “small/young”. Translated as Little. Appended to a person’s given name to show familiarity & affection.
- Example: Someone named Yao Fang 姚芳 could be called Little Fang 小芳.
Er (儿) – a diminutive suffix. Sometimes appended to the given names of children or close friends. Considered cute/endearing.
- Example: Someone named Liu Yan 刘艳 could be called Yan’er 艳儿.
Fatty (胖子 pàngzi) – literally “fat person”. Appended to an obese person’s name as an epithet, usually by friends. At least in ancient China, this wasn’t necessarily an insult. Fatness symbolized wealth, prosperity, happiness, and strength. (Since someone who was fat probably wasn’t an impoverished and starving peasant…)
- Example: Someone named Song Xiang 宋翔 could be called Fatty Song 宋胖子.
This is just scratching the surface when it comes to discussing Chinese titles / honorifics / terms of address. The following links have more information: