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The Anatomy Of A Chinese Business Letter

Sara Lynn Hua | September 30, 2015 | | 2 Comments
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The Chinese language is a tricky thing to grasp. In the Chinese business world, we’re also very particular about “礼仪” (lǐ yí), also known as “etiquette.” That means that formal letters need to have the correct salutations and wording. Not to fear, we’re here to help!

To sound polite and respectful, many letters begin with “尊敬的... (zūn jìng de)” which is similar to saying “Dear…” The literal translation of “尊敬的” is “Respectable.” If you go to any formal events in China, you may notice that in speeches and presentations the audience is often addressed as “尊敬的” as well.

Following 尊敬的, you may add the addressee’s surname and their position. For example, mine would be “华女士” (huá nǚ shì), or “Ms. Hua.

In order to sound straight to the point, some letters may start with “致” instead, which is the equivalent of “To.” It is often used in open letters or a single letter addressing an entire  department. For example, “致: Microsoft 财务部门” would be “To: The Microsoft Finance Department.” “致” is also used on mail and physical letters.

SOME LETTERS MAY HAVE BOTH THESE OPENINGS

Observe below.

致: Microsoft 财务部门

尊敬的员工 (respectable employees),

[Body of letter goes here]

Following 尊敬的, you may add the addressee’s surname and their position or honorific. For example, my Chinese name is “华夏” so a formal letter would address me as, “华女士” (huá nǚ shì), or “Ms. Hua.”

COMMONLY USED HONORIFICS IN THE WORKPLACE:

FORMAL TITLES

先生 (xiān shēng) = “Sir” or “Mr.”

女士 (nǚ shì) = “Ma’am” or “Ms.”

同事 (tóng shì) = “Co-worker.”

总经理 (zǒng jīng lǐ) sometimes shortened to “总.” = “President” or “Manager.”

经理 (jīng lǐ) = “Manager.” (a less superior rank than “总经理”)

领导 (lǐng dǎo) = “Leader.”

老师 (lǎo shī) = “Teacher.”

INFORMAL TITLES

同志 (tóng zhì) = “Comrade.”

(See more salutations here.)

THE COMPLIMENTARY CLOSE AND SIGNATURE LINE

To end your formal letter or email, you may choose to write “此致敬礼,” (cǐ zhì jìng lǐ) which means “I end my words with respect.” Those four characters should be written on two separate lines, as shown below:

此致
敬礼

Finally, to sign off, many people choose to write their name, followed by “敬上” which is similar to saying, “Respectfully yours…” Mine would be “华夏敬上.” The date is written below the signature, with the format Year/Month/Day.

The salutation and body of the email is typically indented four spaces, whereas the end and signature is often right-aligned. With the proper alignments, your letter should look something like this:

致: Microsoft 财务部:

    尊敬的员工,
    [Body of Letter]



此致
敬礼

华夏敬上
2014年1月26日

Having trouble with writing the body of your email in Chinese? Take some classes with us! We’ll have you writing like a native in no time.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

You may notice that younger generations sometimes like to address their letters as “亲爱的”, which is “Dear…” This should never be used in formal emails or letters as it sounds too personal.

A business letter should not be confused with a “公告” “Official Announcement,” or “bulletin” which has a slightly different format.

 

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Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorMing. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology. When she’s not reading up on Chinese culture, she enjoys crafting and painting.

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