Chinese Equivalents of Sunbae/Hoobae or Senpai/Kohai

I really didn’t realize that there are so many Chinese equivalents of the terms, “sunbae” & “hoobae”, until I started listing them recently (and thanks to a friend from AFF for kindly pointing it out).  O___O”

Anyways, here are the equivalents and their usage (please do kindly point out if you see any inaccuracy here):

Sunbae (Korean), Senpai (Japanese), Senior (roughly translated):

Qianbei (前輩) – this is probably the term that sunbae and senpai derived from as they sounded the closest, phonetically-speaking (also, Japanese use the same kanji).  This term can be used in most settings.

Xuezhang (學長) – refers generally to older male students in school (or older male alumni who graduated from the same school as you).

Xuejie (學姐) – female version of xuezhang (學長).

Shixiong (師兄) – usually older male (or sometimes could be someone younger with more seniority) who practice in the same martial arts school/sect as you.  This term is also commonly used amongst co-workers in occupations/fields such as police, firemen, and etc.

Shijie (師姐) – female version of Shixiong (師兄).

Hoobae (Korean), Kohai (Japanese), Junior (roughly translated):

Houbei (後輩) – like qianbei (前輩), this is probably the term that hoobae and kohai derived from as they sounded phonetically the closest. This term can be used in most settings (aka pretty much the same function as hoobae and kohai).

Xuedi (學弟) – younger male students in school (or younger male alumni who graduated from the same school as you).

Xuemei (學妹) – female version of Xuedi (學弟).

Shidi (師弟) – usually younger male (or sometimes could be someone older who doesn’t have as much seniority as you) who practice in the same marital arts school/sect as you.  Like, Shixiong (師兄) and Shijie (師姐), this is also commonly used amongst co-workers in occupations/fields such as police, firemen, and etc.

Shimei (師妹) – female version of Shidi (師弟).

Sometimes, I think it’s because there are so many Chinese variations of sunbae/hoobaes (also, senpai/kohai) that there isn’t much uniformity to be found in English subtitles for Chinese dramas.


4 thoughts on “Chinese Equivalents of Sunbae/Hoobae or Senpai/Kohai

    • Haha… I actually meant English subtitles (but now that I’m looking at it, I realize that it works the same for “Chinese subtitles of ____dramas” too). @___@ Anyways, I should have elaborate more. What I’ve really meant is that it’s easier for translators to translate Korean or Japanese dramas because there aren’t as many sunbae/hoobae or senpai/kohai variations, or at least the variations are not as commonly used. That means the English subtitle teams are able to use the direct phonetic terms (sunbae/hoobae or senpai/kohai) without any worries that the audience won’t get it since the audience has seen these terms so many times before, they would at least get a gist of what the sunbae/hoobae or senpai/kohai terms are used for.

      However, for Chinese dramas, it seems it would be difficult for translators to put in the subtitles without adding in some sort of footnotes to explain what a “xuezhang” is and what a “shixiong is” (that these terms used to illustrate the “sunbae/hoobae” relationship, but that are only applicable in certain settings). Often times, I notice that the English subtitle teams of Chinese dramas would translate these terms in such ways:
      Shixiong/Shijie/etc. – Senior Brother/Senior Sister/Junior Brother/Junior Sister (for some reasons, these just sound weird/cringed to me, and really do not do the hierarchy relationship much justice). Or that sometimes, they would use the direct phonetic sound, so just shixiong/shije/etc. Or even more strange is that names of the characters would be used in lieu of any these terms (even though these terms are being used in the actual dialogues).
      Xuezhang/Xuejie/etc. – the phonetic sound (pinyin) of these words are used in some and names of the characters are used in others.
      Qianbei – Either phonetic sound (pinyin), “senior”, or “elder”.

      So for that particularly messed up sentence (lol I usually write late at night ^^”), I meant to point out that for English subtitles for Korean/Japanese dramas, the audience would get to see the terms sunbae/hoobae and senpai/kohai over and over again that those meanings would somehow be ingrained in their mind. Meanwhile, a similar outcome would not apply to Chinese dramas because there are already many (commonly used) variations in the Chinese language itself plus the lack of uniformity to express these qianbei/houbei terms in English subtitles. Instead, I would imagine that most non-Chinese audience might get confused over the English subtitles of Chinese dramas, especially if they were relatively new to the Chinese drama-land because in one drama or episode, they might see words such as “Senior Brother”, and then in other drama or episode they would see “Shixiong”. I even came across one comment before of someone asking “Who is Shixiong?”. XD

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much for the detailed explanation. It must have taken quite some time. The Shixiong anecdote was funny indeed. ^^

        I’m in favour of using “senior” for those higher in the hierarchy and the names of the characters for those in junior positions. It may not be perfect but it sounds most natural to me. =P

        It’ll also be interesting to take a look at how other martial arts terms are similarly relevant in the workplace, even though they may not be directly spoken of. I know of people practicing “qinggong” whenever they see a pushy work counterpart. XD

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry for the late reply! Been busy with work the past several days. ^^”

        I agree with you. It does sound most natural and while it’s not perfect, it does make sense.

        Oh yea, I just recently notice that there’s some regional differences as well for these hierarchy terms. For example, people from Hong Kong (& the Canton area in general) tend to use Shixiong/Shijie/Shidi/Shimei a lot regardless if the person is a school or workplace senior/junior. They rarely use Xuezhang/Xuejie/Xuedi/Xuemei for school-related individuals. While, Taiwan and mainland China actually use these terms (Xuezhang et al).

        LOL yea that would be interesting to take a look at. XD I actually heard of the “qinggong” thing too amongst the Chinese-dominant workplaces even here in Canada. In fact, it seems that Chinese tend to compare the workplace to the martial arts world. Or recently, thanks to “The Legend of Zhen Huan”, the workplace is often compared to the Emperor’s palace harem. @_____@ Hahaha…this actually makes me curious what other East Asian countries (South Korean & Japan) would compare the workplace to.

        Liked by 1 person

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