Top 10 Chinese Characters for Shopping in China

Happy National / Mid-Autumn / Mooncakes / Make-up class on a weekend Festival(s) Everyone!

I know, I know: I’m a little late. But it was walking around town during the holidays with a friend that inspired to write this post. During the ”Golden Week” festivities I saw no end of sales and special promotions. This seems to be true of most holidays (in the world): a way to celebrate is to go out and flower, flower, FLOWER… oh oops. I mean “SPEND!”

So, following in the footsteps of a previous top 10 hanzi post, I’ve listed the most common and important characters you need to know if you’re a big shopper (which I’m not at all, so I could be totally wrong). Of course, it would be better if we had a proper Chinese Sign Frequency List, but until then this is better than nothing. I shall file this under “Travel” because it could be useful to anyone who’s in China for any period of time. And I know it’s more than 10 characters. It’s just 10 “things” to know.

Here’s a printer-friendly cheat sheet if you want to carry it around.

  Top 10 Chinese Characters for Shopping in China (printer friendly) (1,234 hits)

(requires Adobe Reader, which is available here).

All images courtesy of Google Images searches for the hanzi because I forgot to take my camera that one day I went to the shopping area.

1.  yuán = Yuan (Chinese money)

I know it seems like a no-brainer, but you’ve got to be able to recognize all the different stylized versions of it too. They don’t always use the internationals currency symbol ¥. So when you see a sign like the above one, it’ll help do know that three of the six characters are just telling you the price. (The other three at the end, by the way, are 看电影 kàn diànyǐng = watch movie.)

2.  zhé = Discount (but it’s weird)

Ok a “zhé” discount is very important to know about because it’s counter-intuitive. As you can see from the picture a “7 zhé” discount is REALLY 30% off. So what it means is: you multiply the original price by 0.7 and THEN you get the new price. I know, very strange. But that’s how it is. So essentially a “zhé” discount is answering: “How many tenths of the original price do I have to pay?” Therefore, a sign that says “8.5 ” would be a 15% discount, or original price * .85 = new price. Weird, I know, but that’s how it works here. By the way, you might see 折扣 zhékòu instead of just  zhé. It’s basically the same.

3. 买一送一 mǎi yī sòng yī = Buy one, get one free

Literally “buy 1 give 1,” you’ll see this around a lot during festival time and special promotions. There is also the ol’ “买二送一” which would, of course, be “Buy 2 get 1 free.” By the way, a little grammar aside: How should I say 买二送一? That would be “mǎi èr sōng yī” right? Even though you’re really buying “liǎng gè”  两个 or “liǎng jiàn” 两件, right?

4. 全场 quán chǎng = Whole store

You can see it in the picture above. It’s just good to know that the special is for the whole store. Sometimes there will be a special (and outrageously huge) discount advertised (like maybe even 1 !) but it’ll only be for one really ugly item and everything else is really expensive.

5.  qǐ = And up / Starting at

Here’s a McDonald’s advertisement for dinner time specials. They start at 15 yuan and get more expensive from there. You’ll also see that little after the character which can get a little confusing. If it’s 3 折起 it doesn’t mean “70% discount AND UP!” it means “starting at 70% discount and getting worse from there.” Since the higher the zhé discount gets, the lower the price gets, they start with the best dicount and work “up” from there (which means the price is also working it’s way up, if that makes sense.) If that hurts your head to think about, just forget it and remember: the store will not be giving you the discount you are hoping for. That little rule of thumb should get you through. For you hanzi enthusiasts out there, here’s what the rest of the McDonald’s sign says: 晚餐也超值 / 晚上5至8点晚餐同享超值午餐优惠价.

6. 半价 bàn jià = Half price

Using what we learned above, you can now read that sign: “Whole Store Half Price!” Seems almost too good to be true, right?

7.  dì = _st / _nd / _th

8.  jiàn = Item / Article

This sign says “2件半价” dì èr jiàn bàn jià = Second item half price. It’s a 4th-tone bonanza, sounds like you’re shouting and angry, but it’s probably good news. You’ll see that character used a lot. And usually a number is in the middle with as the front bookend and after.

9.  mǎn = Filly / Fulfill

10. jiǎn = Subtract

Ok, these are kind of tricky and not really necessary (but I wanted 10 things). This sign: “99立减35″ mǎn jiǔshí-jiǔ lì jiǎn sǎnshí-wǔ = “Spend (on your total bill) 99 yuan and immediately we’ll subtract 35 yuan.”

Now, I have to admit I’ve never really taken advantage of, nor paid attention to, sales like this. So if I’m not quite right about that “total bill” part, let me know. Confusingly, that  jiǎn character for subtract is NOT the same as the  jiǎn character for “cut” NOR the same  jiǎn character for “simple.” Just thought I should mention that.

I am admittedly the worst shopper I’ve ever met. So if there are any characters you think are important but I left off my list, please free to leave a comment and let me know.

Happy shopping everyone!


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  1. 4 Responses to “Top 10 Chinese Characters for Shopping in China”

  2. ZYMCI UNITED KINGDOM said:

    I feel so used to the Chinese way of doing things now that I wish we did the same for discounts in the UK.

    Maybe adding things like 会员折 as in “Member Discount” and 会员卡 (Member card) and 刷卡 (pay wtih card) and 银联 which is the Chinese bank card accepted in most places.

    9. Doesn’t in this context it mean “Spend x” rather than fill/fulfil?
    EDIT have notice you explained underneath just the translation next to it is not right.

    Comment date: Oct 17, 2012

  3. dna synthesizer INDIA said:

    I have a plane for walking in chine and shopping over there plz give the suggestion by which my journey could be enjoyable

    Comment date: Oct 19, 2012

  4. 龙猫 said:

    有水平

    Comment date: Nov 17, 2012

  5. Ethnically Chinese AUSTRALIA said:

    I don’t think 折扣 and are the same.

    折扣 is usually used the same way as the English word ‘discount/off’.
    e.g. 百分之三十折扣 = 30% off.

    Comment date: Apr 4, 2014

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