The Chinese Dictionary I wish I had

Just like Silicon Valley jargon can be incomprehensible the layperson, I’ve noticed that the words used in China’s tech circles are quite particular to the industry there. Many terms can’t be found in the dictionary (let alone Pleco) and won’t usually be known to your Chinese teacher. While Baidu Baike (Baidu’s Wikipedia) does a good job at capturing the meanings of these terms in Chinese, the entries aren’t readily translated to English.

I host a list of terms I have come across in China with my best-effort explanations in English. I explain these words to the extent they are used and understood in Chinese, regardless of how the words are used in the US. I grouped words by category, starting with more accessible English expressions first and following up with some unique Chinese terms below.

I am making the list below to scratch my own itch and hopefully leave something behind that helpful to others. Note this page is a living document and may change over time.

English Acronyms

Acronyms are popular in China because pronouncing English words can add significant cognitive load to a native Chinese speaker. A one-syllable English word like “Jobs” explodes into a three-character, three-syllable word. Acronyms don’t have this issue and therefore are easier to remember. They also don’t require knowing any Chinese. I start with acronyms because I find it really interesting to see how these English terms can translated and re-purposed in China.

2B, To B, TOB
B2B, but the first B is omitted. Business that serve businesses. 美国2B行业很成熟。 2 is pronounced as the English word “to.”
2C, To C, TOC
B2C, but the first B is omitted. Business that serve consumers. 这是一个2C产品。See 2B for pronunciation.
Computers, communications (通信 aka phones) and consumer electronics. is well-known for becoming one of China’s biggest retailers by starting with these categories. 3 is pronounced in Chinese here as san1.
Online to offline. Refers to the trench in the early 2010s of startups offering on demand services like food delivery, massages, manicures, laundry and more from your smartphone. The most well-known company in this category is 美团点评 (Meituan Dianping).
User generated content. Draws parallels to the Web 2.0 trend where sites shifted from hosting their own content to being platforms for sharing their users’ content.
Professionally generated/developed content. Professional artists and traditional studios like record labels, Hollywood, cable TV and AAA gaming studios.
Professional user generated content. In between UGC and PGC. Agencies that recruit and groom individuals into internet celebrities. A practice popularized by ByteDance’s 抖音 (Douyin) and TikTok.
Multi-Channel Network. Agencies that produce PUGC.
Key Opinion Leader. Refers to individual influencers with large social media followings. Also refers to this marketing channel in general. Note that KOLs as a marketing channel is much more developed in China so the term carries different weight.
The Tech industry, including programmers and PM, not just IT help desk workers. This term in China has a broader meaning than in the States.
Tech, media and telecom. While this term is common in the finance industry, it is rarely used in tech. This is a common acronym in the Chinese internet industry.
Non-player character. Comes from RPG-genre video games. In China, it can also refer to employees workers in situations like escape the room.
Page view or page hit. The number of times a piece of content, a website, or app was viewed.
Unique visitors. The number of people that visited or used your site, app or service. Not ultraviolet.
HTML5. Refers to the mobile web platforms and web apps that don’t require installations. H5 does not apply to desktop web. Mobile PWAs (Progressive web app, not a Chinese term) would fall in this category.
A term that came from the Bulletin Board Systems of the pre-world wide web days. While today BBS’s are extinct in both China and the US, the term has come to mean any kind of online forum such as those run on phpBB, or Discourse.
Electronic Direct Marketing, not the music genre. Refers to direct-to-consumer marketing channels through online mediums. Email marketing would fall into this category, though WeChat public and service accounts are more widely used in mainland.
Job description, as in the published requirements and qualifications for an open role. Not to be confused with the Chinese online retailer, referred to in Chinese as 京东。
Adobe PhotoShop. Most of Adobe’s creative suite tools are referred to in China by their abbreviation.
Adobe Illustrator
Refers to Microsoft PowerPoint, or a slideshow file.
South-east Asia, not Seattle, WA. This words comes up a lot in 2019 because of the 出海 trend.
Not an actual English abbreviation. It’s actually the pinyin for he/she/it. 他,她,or 它. All pronounced ta1.
A unit representing ten thousand. Pronounced as 万,(wan4). Used in apps to especially when dealing with likes or followers. Ex: “17.3w” would mean 173,000.
Comes from online gaming. Represents the finality of something. Can be used to indicate a server or website is down. Ex: The server and the (desktop) website are down. 服务器GG.
It’s not an acronym that stands for anything. It is to the other messenger made by Tencent in addition to WeChat.
Government Relations. A role or department of a company, like PR or Public Relations.
Businesses that sell to businesses that to consumers.
Stock Keeping Unit. An acronym more widely in China than in the States.
Location Based services. Apps and digital services that use GPS, cell towers, and/or WiFi (basically the location services on your device) to provide custom services. Pokemon Go and YikYak would be examples of LBS.
General Manager. The person in charge of the China office for a transnational company.
Team building. See 团建

English words

The Chinese tech industry also uses plenty of English words, but they can take on their own meanings and connotations.

Offline store
Traditional retail stores. Any retail store that is not online.
App, APP
An installable mobile app. Spelled out as A. P. P., or pronounced a1pu3.
Abbreviation for out of date. You’re so out of date! 你太out了!
To get, as in to understand. Did you get it? 你get到这点了吗?
(code) review
Chinese people use the English word for code review. The dictionary translation of code review is 代码评审 but nobody says it, especially not over chat or in person. The Chinese version sounds way to formal and makes the code review awkwardly official. Common phrases range from 辛苦你review下 to 能帮我review一下吗?

Chinese words

Aside from the English buzzwords, there are plenty of terms that get thrown around in Chinese tech that can’t be found in a dictionary. I try to highlight these words and definitions below.

Business-facing side of a business
Consumer-facing side of a business
(verb) to photoshop an image. The P is short for (Adobe) PhotoShop.
A male working in tech. Most of the connotations of tech nerds and tech geeks translate into Chinese.
To be someone’s fan, or to lend someone all your support. 我为他疯狂打call。
to go out to sea. Refers to Chinese companies expanding the international markets like.
dian3er. The dot character, used in domain names.
jing3. The hash character, used in hashtags.
gang4. The slash character, used in URLs.
To diversity a business’ income streams. For example, Alibaba going from e-retail into fintech, healthcare, and logistics.
Unicorn. A tech term for private companies valued at over 1 billion (US Dollars).
To deploy (a feature, a new version, a new build) to production. “This feature hasn’t hit prod yet.” 这个功能还没上线。
Literally translates to “pull down”. 下拉 can refers to dropdown controls, and/or the wipe to refresh UI on phones.
Ecosystem. Refers to a group of products or services made by a company or a group of companies that work together. Also written as 生态系统.
An API endpoint, a server network port (in TCP/UDP), or any other kind of technical interface.
卡, 卡顿
To freeze up, lock up, or hit a snag. 我的APP卡了。
To crash. This implies the program got to a unrecoverable error state.
The term used for spam.
Team building. I don’t know why I couldn’t find this in my English-Chinese dictionaries.
Load balancer, such as AWS’s ELB, Elastic Load Balancer. It’s a crucial piece of cloud infrastructure that let’s you manage user traffic to scale up to more users, makes your web service more reliable, and defends your network from attackers.
To overwrite a file. This verb means to cover but it can be used to describe overwriting data in a file, database or similar computer storage.
Reporting line. Your manager, their manager and so-on.
A broad terms to discuss traffic to a website of an app. In Silicon Valley, we might say traffic, eyeballs, or users depending on context.
LCD, the kind of screen. A liquid crystal display.
Medium, or channel of interaction (UI).
Localization or internationalization (i18n in tech speak). The process of translating an app or software service for a foreign market.
A common stereotype for men in the Chinese tech industry. The term can be used in many ways. One a literal level it refers to men with low EQ, or emotional awareness for others and overly rational/straightforward of mindset. Ex: 你这种直男的想法 means you don’t understand girls. The term isn’t necessarily demeaning–it caries a tone of “boys will be boys.”
Literally compass, but the term also means “guide” or “manual” (for an app or website). Ex: 新人开发指南 or the “Newcomer’s development guide”. Be sure to distinguish your tones from 直男.
The unit for megabyte, MB.
Social media including 微博 and 微信公众号. Sometimes translated as self-media.
Someone who uses their WeChat Moments (朋友圈) to sell goods.
To ban or blacklist a person, IP address, devices, or other identity. Short for adding someone to a blacklist: 拉黑名单。
Angel round. A VC term for a startup’s very first round of funding usually by an angel investor.
Literally bronze, referring to the lowest rank in 王者荣耀/League of Legends/Blizzard games. Basically means newb or noobie. The term is used to refer to someone as new or unskilled. 以为是青铜,没想到是王者。

These are some of the most surprising terms I have come across in Beijing so far. If you disagree with the terms as used above or have any suggestions, leave a comment below! Thanks again to all my friends for sharing examples and providing explanations where Pleco couldn’t cut it.

Roger Zurawicki

Software Engineer

Beijing, China