Why is China So Noisy?

Word of the Week: rè nao

For some reason Chinese people seem drawn to those restaurants where you have to sit outside on a cheap little plastic stool for an hour before getting in. It seems to be a social phenomenon particularly common in (but not limited to) department stores.

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For me, it’s usually the last kind of place I want to go. Can’t we go somewhere with a bit of ambience? Somewhere we can sit and chat without the noise made by crowds of people both inside and outside the restaurant?

Chinese people call this rè nao 热闹 which is often translated as “lively” and “noisy”, but with good connotations, like a party.

zhè gè dì fang hěn rè nao 这个地方很热闹 (this place is lively)

When I’m in the mood for a party I enjoy a bit of rè nao as much as the next person. Although in China I sometimes find jostling crowds of people being sold to me as rè nao by Chinese friends when I’m really not sure it is.

If you want to say a place is noisy with negative connotations you can use the adjective chǎo 吵, which can apply to places and people.

zhè gè dì fang bìng bù rè nao, ér shì hěn chǎo 这个地方并不热闹,而是很吵 (this place isn’t lively, it’s noisy!)

tā men zěn me nà me chǎo 他们怎么那么吵 (how come they’re so noisy?)

You can also use chǎo as part of the phrase dà chǎo dà nào 大吵大闹 which is used to describe people when they’re making a lot of noise. It’s not really used for places. I was once in the hospital and saw a kid kicking up a huge fuss, screaming and crying because he didn’t want to have an injection.

nà gè nán hái dà chǎo dà nào de shuō bú yào dǎ zhèn 那个男孩大吵大闹地说不要打针 (that boy noisily say not want injection/ that boy kicked up a fuss saying he didn’t want to get an injection)

You can also use it for people who are not consciously being noisy.

guò nián chī fàn de shí hòu wǒ lǎo pó jiā dōu shì dà chǎo dà nào de 过年吃饭的时候我老婆家都是大吵大闹的 (when celebrate new year eat meal my wife’s family all noisy/ my wife’s family are all really rowdy when eating dinner at Chinese New Year)

Although my wife usually says her family are rè nao and not dà chǎo dà nào.

The word for quiet is ān jìng 安静which usually have good or neutral connotations. However, Chinese primary school teachers often shout ān jìng as a way to get their students to shut up when they’re being too chǎo, so it probably has slightly negative connotations when used this way.

If a place is a little too quiet in the eerie sort of way you can say zhè gè dì fang hěn jì jìng 这个地方很寂静 (this place is eerily quiet).

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jì jìng lǐng = eerily quiet hill

The adjective jì jìng 寂静 means that sort of quiet with negative connotations. It is commonly used to describe things such as graveyards and the dead of night. The name of the video game and movie Silent Hill is translated into Chinese as jì jìng lǐng 寂静岭 (eerily quiet hill). Although with the high population density in Chinese cities there might not be that much opportunity to describe things as jì jìng.

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