Is China a “Messy” Country?

Word of the Week: luàn

China isn’t famous for being particularly tidy or organised. I don’t like to promote racial or national stereotypes but I was once staying in a Chinese youth hostel and met a German girl who had become somewhat frustrated (to put it mildly) by what she saw as a lack of organisation in China. She couldn’t speak any Mandarin (she was just travelling) but if she could speak mandarin she would have probably used the adjective luàn

luàn means “messy” or “disorganised” (depending on the context) but since messy things tend to be disorganised, and vice-versa, it’s not usually that important to distinguish which English translation to go for.


tā de tóu fa hěn luàn 她的头发很乱 (her hair is messy)

It’s pretty much a universal fact that in every country yī shēng de bǐ jì dōu hěn luàn 医生的笔记很乱 (doctors’ handwriting is messy/ disorganised) and most students can say wǒ de fáng jiān hěn luàn 我的房间很乱 (my room is messy/ disorganised).

luàn can also be used to describe intangible things, and in this situation the meaning is perhaps closer to “disorganised”.

zhè gè rén de sī shēng huó hěn luàn 这个人的私生活很乱 (this person’s private life is very disorganised). Although you need to be careful with this example because it can have sexual connotations, which I will leave to your imagination.

If you want to sound that little bit more sophisticated you can also use luàn as part of the idiom luàn qī bā zāo 乱七八糟 and impress your Chinese friends with sentences like gāo fēng shí jiān shí mǎ lù shàng dōu luàn qī bā zāo 高峰时间时马路上都乱七八糟 (at rush hour main roads are all chaos).

When used as an adverb luàn can of course mean “messily” tā xiě de hěn luàn (he writes messily) but it can also mean that you do something without giving much thought to it.

You can also add luàn in front of lots of verbs to mean something is done recklessly or without properly thinking it thorough first. So if your Chinese friend is talking a lot of rubbish that is untrue or just irrelevant you can say bié luàn shuō! (don’t messy talk/ don’t talk nonsense!) However, in a serious situation bié luàn shuō could be a piece of advice meaning “don’t speak without properly thinking through what you’re saying”.


Similarly, lots of people luàn chuān mǎ lù 乱穿马路 (recklessly cross the road/ jaywalk) or luàn rēng lā jī 乱扔垃圾 (messily throw rubbish/ throw litter about without thinking) and if you luàn lún 乱伦 it means you often jump into bed without thinking about who it is you’re jumping into be with. Also, when I’m writing a blog post I will often let my mind wander, which is luàn xiǎng 乱想 (messy/ disorganised think) so I’m going to end this post right here before it gets too luàn.

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