The Chinese, as well as other “rújiā wénhuà” 儒家文化 (“Confucian cultures”), are very conscious of the types of relationships between people. Here are some of those “chēnghū” 称呼 (“terms of address”) that they use all the time. I’ve come across all of these in daily conversation.

NOTE: all of these can be used to fill in the blank when introducing someone as follows:

tā shì wǒ de _________ 他是我的 = he is my ________

At school

  • tóngzhuō 同桌 = desk-mate, seat-mate
  • tóngchuāng(hǎoyǒu) 同窗(好友) = close friend
  • shìyǒu 室友 = roommate
  • tóngxué 同学 = classmate (same study program)
  • tóngbān 同班 = classmate (exact same class)
  • xiàoyǒu 校友 = schoolmate

Graduate Students

All of the following have to do with graduate students and their “dǎoshī” 导师 (“academic adviser/teacher”). These terms apparently date back to “gōngfu” 功夫 (“kung fu”) masters and their students. If the student had been studying gongfu longer, they were referred to with the older brother/sister words, and vice versa. In English we really don’t have translations for these. So, for convenience, I’ve coined the term “adviser-mate.”

  • tóngmén 同门 = have/had the same academic adviser (“adviser-mate”)
  • shījiě 师姐 = “adviser-mate” (studied longer, girl)
  • shīxiōng 师兄 = shīgē 师哥 = “adviser-mate” (studied longer, boy)
  • shīmèi 师妹 = “adviser-mate” (studied shorter, girl)
  • shīdì 师弟 = “adviser-mate” (studied shorter, boy)

NOTE: tóngmén 同门 is the generic term and can be used independently or in conjunction with the other 4 like this: tóngménshījiě 同门师姐


  • tóngshì 同事 = colleague, coworker
  • lǎoxiāng 老乡 = someone from the same hometown
  • tóngchuáng 同床 = bedfellow, bedmate


This doesn’t include the huge manifest of family relationships (see also Chinese Family Tree, Terms of Endearment, and Addressing Strangers).

If anyone knows of any more of these relationship kinds of words, please feel free to leave them in a comment.

9 Replies to “Mates”

  1. Dmitry Sustretov,

    Yes, you’re right. I guess it could mean anyone who actually shares a bed. I don’t think it’s used very often though, and I can’t for the life of me remember when I heard it used…

  2. re: 同床
    (I’m chinese, btw) The 2 most common phases with those 2 characters in it are 同床异梦,同床共枕. the first one means a couple sleep together but have different dreams, implying they aren’t in love even though they are married. The 2nd phase simply means a couple sleeps on the same bed and pillow, you almost never hear it in oral Chinese.

    – Jessica C.

  3. Doesn’t tóngshì now imply homosexual? I believe it was used as “comrade” under the old regime but now implies a “tong xin lian”? (same sex love)

  4. quielo,

    I’ve never heard that. The old “comrade” word they used was “tóngzhì 同志” as far as I know. I hear people introducing their “tóngshì” to me all the time and I don’t see any eyebrows getting raised.

    Anyone else encountered a meaning for tóngshì besides “colleague”?

  5. I think that “tongzhi 同志” is used as slang for homosexual in Taiwan. Which makes sense in terms of its history and the state of cross straight relations.

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