Whether you are invited to propose a toast at a wedding, or simply need to write a greeting card for a friend's birthday, knowing how to wish people well the right way is an important skill you need in everyday life.
In Mandarin, this is traditionally done through sets of four-character idioms called "祝福语 (zhù fú yǔ)" - the "language of well-wishing." Like knowing the proper way to address others, expressing good wishes for someone is a key part of mastering Chinese etiquette.
There are specific 祝福语 (zhù fú yǔ) for different occasions and for different people. You wouldn't want to say, "study well and get good grades" to an adult, nor do you want to say, "have many children and grandchildren" to a person who is single.
To help you handle important social situations in Mandarin, in this post we’ll go through the most popular well-wishing phrases for different occasions, explaining what they mean, and how best to use them.
To say to younger people:
"好好学习 (hǎo hào xué xí)" - "study hard and do well."
Doing well in school and getting into a good university is the dream -- and the most important responsibility -- for most Chinese students. As a result, "好好学习 (hǎo hào xué xí)" is one of the most popular phrases used on young people.
"天天向上 (tiān tiān xiàng shàng)" - "improve everyday"
Often used together with "好好学习,""天天向上 (tiān tiān xiàng shàng)" means to improve a little bit every day. Recently, a hilariously literal translation of the phrase -- "Good good study, day day up!" -- has become a popular internet meme.
"永远童真 (yǒng yuǎn tóng zhēn)" - "forever young"
With this phrase, you are wishing someone will always maintain the innocence and liveliness of childhood.
To say to elders:
"福如东海 (fú rú dōng hǎi)"- "bountiful good fortune."
Literally translated, this phrase means "福(fú)" - "good fortune," is "如 (rú)"- "similar," to "东海 (dōng hǎi)" - the" east sea." The good fortune is as vast as the ocean.
"寿比南山 (shòu bǐ nán shān)" - "longevity like the south mountain."
As you might have guessed, this phrase is usually used together with "福如东海 (fú rú dōng hǎi)" to wish one’s elders a long, happy life.
"金玉满堂 (jīn yù mǎn táng)" - "plentiful wealth."
This phrase literally means, "may gold and jade fill your house," but it can also have a secondary meaning describing someone with a wealth of knowledge. Of course if you’re thinking about giving your Chinese friend a gift of gold and jade, you may want to first brush up on the whole Chinese gift-giving etiquette.
To say to newlyweds:
"新婚愉快 (xīn hūn yú kuài)" - "have a pleasant beginning to your marriage."
"幸福美满 (xìng fú měi mǎn)" - "happiness and bliss."
These are two generic wedding greetings. If you don't know the couple well, it's best to play it safe with these.
"激情永在 (jī qíng yǒng zài)" - "passion lasting forever."
Chinese culture is still relatively subdued when it comes to concepts like “love” or “passion.” Make sure you know the couple well if you want to use this phrase!
"白头偕老 (bái tóu xié lǎo)"- "grow old together."
This phrase literally means, "to live together and have your hair turn white together." As much as you may not want to think about your hair turning white, this greeting is actually one of the most traditional and popular ones in China.
"多子多孙 (duō zi duō sūn)" - "many children and grandchildren."
No hidden meaning here: you are literally wishing the two to have many offspring.
Before you head off to that wedding, you may want to check out our blog post about “Wedding Guest Etiquette” and really get ready to impress.
To say to everyone:
Lastly, here are a few versatile greetings that can be used in many occasions.
- "身体健康 (shēn tǐ jiàn kāng)" - "healthy body."
- "恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái)" - "may you be wealthy and prosperous."
This greeting can be used at any time, but is most popular during Chinese New Year to wish people prosperity for the whole year ahead.
- "心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng)" - "all your wishes will come true."
- "万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì)" - "everything going in your favor."
These two phrases are often used together to wish someone good luck.
- "笑口常开 (xiào kǒu cháng kāi) - "smile and laugh often."
This greeting literally means “笑(xiào)” - "laughter," "口(kǒu)” - "mouth," “常(cháng)” - "often," “开(kāi)” - "open." “May your mouth open often in laughter” - pretty vivid imagery, right?
- "节日快乐 (jié rì kuài lè)" - "happy holiday"
You can feel free to substitute "节日 (jié rì)" - "holiday" with any specific holiday such as "母亲节 (mǔ qīn jié)" - "Mother's Day," or 生日 (shēng rì) - "birthday."
One last Note
You might have noticed that many of these well-wishing phrases are just...nouns! Therefore, before you use any of these phrases, you should begin with, "祝你... (zhù nǐ)" - "I wish you..." or the formal form "祝您...(zhù nín)."
I wish you "好好学习, 天天向上 (hǎo hào xué xí, tiān tiān xiàng shàng)" as you continue to learn Chinese!