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During your time in China, and even in the days leading up to your departure for China you will come across some important expressions. This page attempts to clarify their meaning.



dān wi

This means 'work unit'. The majority of Chinese still belong to one or other danwei which is responsible not only for their employment, but for virtually every aspect of their lives. Your 'danwei' will almost certainly be the school or factory which employs you.



guān x


It is difficult to find a precise equivalent for this word. It means something like 'connections' but carries a lot more implications. Basically it means, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Chinese people take this very seriously and try to acquire as much guanxi as possible. Need a train ticket? Can't buy one? Use guanxi and ask a colleague who has guanxi with someone in the railway station. You will get your ticket but now owe your colleague a favour. They in turn owe their contact. By this means things get done and guanxi chains grow. Everything from train tickets to new jobs to political power is handled through the guanxi system. 

Many guide books and web sites say that as a foreigner you are outside the guanxi system. This is nonsense. Teachers may be asked by the Dean of the Department to give a talk at a school other than their own.  This is tradable guanxi. The Dean gains some from introducing the foreigner to the school. The school enhances its reputation by having visiting foreigners. Now you are owed a favour. By helping people enhance their guanxi, you potentially gain. In one school in which I worked, I became the person who could get train tickets easily (it's a long story) and I became besieged by people wanting to do me favours in case they or a distant contact ever needed a train ticket at any time in the future. Learning to appreciate and use the guanxi system can make life much easier. On the other hand, beware of people doing you excessively large favours. They probably want something from you. And remember the step from guanxi to corruption is a small one.

(Do not confuse 'guanxi' and 'Guangxi' which is the province in south China!)



lǎo wi

Derived from the Chinese 'old outsider' but used to mean foreigner, this is what you will hear people mumble, whisper, say, shout, yell at you on a daily basis when you are out and about. It can get annoying, but there is nothing you can do about it. Best advice? Ignore it.


or Public Security Bureau


gōng 'ān j


the PSB is quite simply the police. Hopefully, your only contact with them will be in obtaining re-entry visas or visa extensions.

Waiban or Waishiban



wi sh bn

Abbreviations of the Chinese term for Foreign Affairs Office (FAO), this term refers both to the person appointed by your employer to look after your needs while in China and to the office from which they operate. Often they will speak some English, but this is not guaranteed.   There will also be a Provincial and perhaps a city Foreign Affairs Office. Your contact with them will probably be nil, although there are exceptions. 

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