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
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:
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.”
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:
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:
[Body of Letter]
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.
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.