Having Fun in China

Word of the Week: hǎo wán


I’d been in China about two weeks when I got a call one evening, from a girl I’d met the day before, asking “do you want to come round to my place this evening and have some fun?”

I was shocked. I never realised Chinese people were so “open” (“open” being the Chinglish word for “slutty”)

if a girl asks you round to "have fun" it might not be quite what you expect

if a girl asks you round to “have fun” it might not be quite what you expect

As I suspected, the girl wasn’t quite as “open” as her choice of words might lead you to believe. In fact, it’s a common Chinglish mistake to ask someone to “play” or “have fun” with you when what you really mean is “hang out”.

The Chinese word wán 玩 has a far more general use than any one English word. Although it can at times be translated as “play” or “have fun” it is completely devoid of the childish (or sometimes even sexual) connotations these English words might take on in certain contexts.


nǐ xiǎng chū qù wán ma?
do you want to go hang out?

jīn tiān wǎn shàng qù jǐu bā wán ba
let’s go to a bar/club this evening and have fun

wán can also be used to mean “fun” and almost anything you enjoy can be described as hǎo wán. Football is hǎo wán. Drinking a few too many beers and making an idiot out of myself at a karaoke bar is hǎo wán. This iPad I’m typing on is hǎo wán…

hǎo means “good” and wán means “play”, the combination “good play” means “fun”.

Created with Nokia Camera

most people would agree that bowling is hao wan

It’s the same hǎo + verb combination that is used to make many adjectives. For example hǎo chī, “good eat”, means “tasty”, and hǎo kàn “good watch/read/look” can mean attractive or good looking (for a person) enjoyable to watch (for TV or movies) or enjoyable to read ( for books and magazines etc.)

These adjectives formed by hǎo + verb are extremely common, and they make learning Chinese very hǎo wán.