While a good chunk of our daily communication is through speaking (face to face, on the phone, through video, etc.), there is a time and a place when we need to rely on a different communication method - writing.
Maybe you would like to text a Chinese friend, write a letter to your Chinese landlord, or reply to an email that your Chinese client sent to you.
Texting in Chinese is quite similar to conversational Chinese in many respects, as it’s done more casually, but the idea of writing a formal letter - 信 (xìn) - or email - 电子邮件 (diàn zǐ yóu jiàn) - to someone important can be daunting enough in your own native language, nevermind a foreign language like Chinese!
Well, we’ve got you covered! Due to popular request, in this TWO-part series, we’ll be sharing with you tips and tricks for writing emails and letters in Chinese, complete with some examples and useful key words, phrases and sentences to include.
The biggest take away from writing email and letters in Chinese, is that UNLESS you’re addressing someone you’re very friendly with (a close friend, coworker at the same level, penpal, etc.), it’s best to go with the most “formal” and “respectful” wording possible. Emails and letters in Chinese really tend to be a lot more formal than in English!
Also, make sure when you write, you use Chinese characters (not pinyin) and the correct Chinese punctuation marks, like “。” for a period, “，” for a comma, “？” for questions, “！” for exclamations, and “、” as a comma when listing nouns.
In this post, we’ll be focusing on writing a letter in Chinese. Stay posted for the post on writing emails!
Title / Greeting
Option 1: Specific, Formal
So what about the name? It’s usually best to add the person’s surname, followed by the words for “Ms.”, which is 女士 (nǚ shì) - more formal and polite than 小姐 (xiǎo jiě), or “Mr.”, which is 先生 (xiān sheng). Please note, there is no equivalent of “Ms.” in Chinese.
An example would be: 尊敬的王女士 (zūn jìng de wáng nǚ shì) - Dear Ms. Wang.
Option 2: Specific, Informal
亲爱的 (qīn ài de) literally means “Dear…”, but it’s only appropriate for someone you know well and are really friendly with - NOT for your teachers, clients, boss, superiors, elders etc. It’s also worth noting that this is normally only used between females.
After 亲爱的 (qīn ài de), just add the person’s first name (since it’s informal).
If you’re writing to your friend Lili, you can write 亲爱的莉莉 (qīn ài de lì lì) - Dear Lili. This “Dear” is MUCH less formal than the “Dear” within 尊敬的 (zūn jìng de).
Option 3: Generic, Formal
It’s just a bit more straightforward than the above ways. This is also good to use if you’re not who specifically to address the letter to.
Let’s say you’re writing to a school in China - you could write 致: 浙江大学国际教育学院 (zhì zhè jiāng dà xué guó jì jiào yù xué yuàn) - To: Zhejiang University International College).
Option 4: Generic, Formal
Option 5: Other Specific Titles, Formal/Informal
- 总经理 (zǒng jīng lǐ) or just 总 (zǒng) - President or Manager
- 经理 (jīng lǐ) - Manager, not as high ranking as 总经理 (zǒng jīng lǐ)
- 老师 (lǎo shī) - Teacher, a term also used for professors
So, you could write to 陈总 (chén zǒng) - President Chen, 李经理 (lǐ jīng lǐ) - Manager Li, or perhaps 胡老师 (hú lǎo shī) - Teacher Hu.
If you’re writing informally, like a close friend, classmate, or coworker that is around your level, you can just refer to them by their names, such as 俐霞 (lì xiá) - Lixia, 陈伟 (chén wěi) - Chen Wei, or 小红 (xiǎo hóng) - Xiao Hong.
Though some of the above ways of addressing people seem a bit strange in English, they’re really quite common in Chinese!
Adding the Greeting
In MOST cases, you should also add a greeting after the person’s name/title, which is normally one of the following:
- 您好 (nín hǎo) - Hello (polite/formal)
- 你好 (nǐ hǎo) - Hello (informal)
If your letter is addressed formally, go with 您好 (nín hǎo), which is a more polite form of “hello”. If the letter is informal, you can use 你好 (nǐ hǎo), the more informal version of “hello”.
Here are a few examples of this:
- 尊敬的陈总，您好！(zūn jìng de chén zǒng nín hǎo)
- 尊敬的胡老师，您好！(zūn jìng de hú lǎo shī nín hǎo)
- 尊敬的王先生，您好！(zūn jìng de wáng xiān sheng nín hǎo)
- 亲爱的俐霞，你好！(qīn ài de lì xiá nǐ hǎo)
- 绿地集团的相关负责人，您好！(lǜ dì jí tuán de xiāng guān fù zé rén nín hǎo)
*Check out this FREE lesson from our Intermediate Conversational Course, to help you address people formally in Chinese.*
Writing the Body
Example 1 - Thank You Letter for Business:
(xiè xie guì gōng sī sòng de yuè bǐng, wǒ men jīn tiān shōu dào le! wǒ men hěn qī dài xià ge yuè de huì yì, dào shí hou wǒ men qǐng kè)
Thank you for the mooncakes you sent, we received them today! We’re really looking forward to our meeting next month, we’ll take you out to eat then!
Example 2 - Outreach Letter for Business:
如果您对合作机会感兴趣，请随时联系我。我的电话号码是 +1 (123) 456-7890，邮箱是 ailili@LAREC.com。
(nín hǎo, wǒ men gōng sī shì zuò měi guó fáng chǎn shēng yì de, zài wǎng shàng zhǎo dào le guì gōng sī de xiàng mù! wǒ men duì guì gōng sī de luò shān jī xiàng mù fēi cháng gǎn xìng qù, shǒu shàng yǒu jǐ wèi kè rén gāng hǎo xiǎng mǎi fáng zuò wéi tóu zī, gǎn jué nǐ men xiàng mù hěn shì hé zhè xiē kè rén. wǒ men zhè jǐ wèi kè rén dōu xiǎng mǎi wǔ shí wàn yǐ shàng de fáng zi, ér qiě yì xiàng hěn qiáng.
rú guǒ nín duì hé zuò jī huì gǎn xìng qù, qǐng suí shí lián xì wǒ. wǒ de diàn huà hào mǎ shì +1 (123) 456-7890, yóu xiāng shì ailili@LAREC.com.)
Hello, our company is in the US real estate business, and found your company’s project online! We’re really interested in your project in Los Angeles, we have several clients on-hand that happen to be looking to buy homes as an investment. We feel that your project would be a great fit for these clients. Our clients are looking to buy homes that are over $500k, and they have a strong intent to buy.
If you are interested in this opportunity to work together, please contact me anytime. My phone number is +1 (123) 456-7890, and my email is ailili@LAREC.com.
Example 3 - Letter to a Chinese Friend:
(hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn! wǒ shàng zhōu mò gāng huí dào yīng guó, yí qiè dōu hěn shùn lì! nǐ nà bian zěn me yàng? shàng hǎi de tiān qì hěn rè ba?)
(xī wàng yí qiè dōu hěn hǎo! nǐ xià cì lái yīng guó, wǒ men yì qǐ chū qu wánr ba!)
Long time no see! I just got back to the UK last weekend, everything went smoothly! How are you doing over there? The weather is hot in Shanghai, right?
I hope all is good with you! Next time you come to the UK, let’s hang out!
Other Useful Sentences for the Body
- 感谢您的来信！(gǎn xiè nín de lái xìn) - Thank you for your letter!
- 谢谢您的回复！(xiè xie nín de huí fù) - Thank you for your reply!
- 感谢对我们公司的关注！(gǎn xiè duì wǒ men gōng sī de guān zhù) - Thank you for your interest in our company!
- 很高兴收到您的来信！(hěn gāo xìng shōu dào nín de lái xìn) - It’s nice to see your letter!
- 如有不便之处，敬请见谅。(rú yǒu bú biàn zhī chù, jìng qǐng jiàn liàng) - We apologize for any inconvenience.
- ____把您的信息转给我了。(bǎ nín de xìn xī zhuǎn gěi wǒ le) - __person’s name__ passed on your information to me.
- 我们的团队很期待跟您见面！(wǒ men de tuán duì hěn qī dài gēn nín jiàn miàn) - Our team is looking forward to meeting with you!
- 我们很期待跟贵公司一起合作！(wǒ men hěn qī dài gēn guì gōng sī yì qǐ hé zuò) - We’re looking forward to working with your company!
- 到时候，我们请你吃饭吧！(dào shí hou, wǒ men qǐng nǐ chī fàn ba) - We’ll take you out to eat then (referring to some future scheduled meeting)!
- 我们保持联系！(wǒ men bǎo chí lián xì) - Let’s keep in touch!
It should be written on two separate lines, as below:
We’ll talk more about the formatting here in the next section.
While you could also use the line 敬上 (jìng shàng), “Respectfully yours…”, after your name, it is mainly used when writing to teachers, parents or elderly people, and it is not very common nowadays. For that reason, we really recommend you stick to 此致敬礼 (cǐ zhì jìng lǐ), as that is basically the go-to respectful way to end a letter.
Formatting Your Letter
The basic format of letters is to start off with your “To:” line aligned to the left (if there is one), and then your salutation underneath.
All new paragraphs should be indented two Chinese character spaces (or about 8 regular English spaces) - you’ll see the greeting and paragraphs of the body all indented this way in the example below.
You’ll also see 此致 (cǐ zhì) aligned this way, as it is considered to be a new paragraph.
Then, the closing word 敬礼 (jìng lǐ) should appear below it, but not indented - just like the opening lines were.
Finally, your name or signature, and then the date are usually aligned to the right.
Please note, the date should be written according to the Chinese format of “biggest to smallest”: Year/Month/Day.
Here is an example of a completed letter:
That wraps up this guide to writing letters in Chinese! When in doubt, it’s always good to have a close Chinese friend take a look at any important letter you’ve written, before sending it out!
If you want to learn more about expressing specific dates in Chinese, check out this lesson from our Beginner Conversational Course.