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Valentine's Day in China

Updated on July 10, 2014

What is Valentine's Day like in China?

Valentine's Day in China didn't really exist when I arrived here in 1988. People were very shy about saying the word "love." Actually, the word "love" was reserved for things like your country - you could "love China," but if you said "I love my daughter" or "I love my wife" everyone would blush. Why? China has been modest about these things for centuries.

But The day that celebrates love is very popular now! And you can sometimes hear "I love you" on television, although not too much. Most people don't blush if you mention love now... and I think that is a good thing.

The Chinese Symbol for love is the character you see here. It is very interesting and I will describe it more below.

On this page you will find:

Symbols for love in Chinese

How to say "I love you" in Chinese

Some "Love Stories"

Cool things you could get as a gift for someone you love with Chinese for "I love you"

Have fun!

Chinese for kiss
Chinese for kiss

Will you kiss someone on Valentine's Day?

In China, kissing used to be a no no!

When our family arrived in China 25 years ago, I did what I always did in the US. I would kiss my husband good-bye as he left for work. The driver of the company van that took him to work was often in our small apartment, and she would blush or look the other way when this happened.

After a few months of looking the other way, she made a comment on our kissing custom. She said, "Does everyone in America do that?" It took us a while to figure out that she was talking about kissing. And then we assured her that it was very common there, and we got the cue that she wasn't too comfortable with us kissing. What to do? It was our own house, so we just kissed anyway. But we now knew it wasn't so smart to kiss in public. So we were more careful about that.

In the last 25 years, this has changed completely. Instead of kissing being considered something that happened between hooligans, you can now see young lovers holding hands, and even kissing in public. They even had a kissing contest in one province to see how long people could kiss. Amazing.

So if you can't say "I love you" what do you say? - Hint: It's close...

If the person is not your husband or wife, serious boy friend or girlfriend, you probably wouldn't say "I love you" in Chinese, but you would say...

I like you.

Parents say it to their children often. But I know one Grandpa who would never tell his kids that he loved them. He knew they would call him "foolish," because that really wasn't the custom to say that. But when they were sleeping at night, he would tiptoe into their rooms and kiss them lightly so they wouldn't wake up. There are many ways to get "I love you" across. Some are more subtle than others.

Isn't that sweet? The fact is - whatever the words are, there is deep feeling behind it. It really doesn't matter what words you say if the feeling is there, right?

Happy Valentines Day in Chinese mug
Happy Valentines Day in Chinese mug

Want to say Happy Valentine's Day to your dear ones in Chinese?

There is no direct translation for Valentine's Day in Chinese, so they had to come up with their own name for the holiday. Since the word "love" is still a little bit too forward in some people's minds, they came up with this - Beloved Person's Festival. That says it pretty well, don't you think? I like it.

You pronounce it: Ching Wren G-eh k-why luh!

Like this mug? Click on the image.

What do you think of kissing in public?

See results

Fascinating stories about Love in China

Every one of these is an interesting story - don't just go rolling by. Stop and click on one.

Chinese for I love you
Chinese for I love you

Want to be Revolutionary?

Say I love you in Chinese!

Thirty years ago, this mug would have been banned for being decadent in its sentiment. Of course, things have changed. But I still like the idea of Love as being a bit revolutionary!

Want to see how the character for LOVE is written?

Paul Wang, master calligrapher from the China Culture Center in Beijing, shows us how to write the character for LOVE in Chinese

Two ways to write "Love" - The one on the right is the simplified one

Chinese character for love
Chinese character for love

Why are there two ways to write LOVE in Chinese?

Chinese characters are REALLY hard to write. Back in the 1950s the government decided to simplify many of the characters so people would find it easier to learn how to write. They also began a literacy campaign, and hundreds of thousands of older illiterate people learned how to write the basic characters.

The tops of these two are the same. The difference is in the bottom part.

Let's look at these again - The one on the left is the older form - here it is enlarged

symbol for love in Chinese
symbol for love in Chinese

The older character version is made up of three parts. The upper part represents breath stopped or reversed - as if in awe - and the lower part means "graceful movement." That is quite a picture - someone holding their breath in amazement at the graceful movement of something beautiful.

That something is?

A heart.

So the older, more complicated way to write "love" includes our hearts.

So how is the simplified way different? - This simplification made some unhappy..

Chinese symbol for love
Chinese symbol for love

Why?

Because it leaves out the heart. Do you see the middle part is missing?

This simplified character is very modest. The people simplifying the language left the heart out, and replaced it with the character for "friend" on the bottom.

Very very modest.

Do you like learning about Chinese characters? - Character Reflections tells the story of many...

Mandarin Ducks - Why are they a sign of loyalty in marriage?

Mandarin Ducks stay with their mate for life, so they are a symbol of love.

Back in the early 1990s a new concept came out in the Chinese movie theatres. They made a seat where couples would sit without any arm rest dividing the two seats. Young people rushed to the movies so they could sit together unhindered by their parents or onlookers. But each theatre had a "watcher" to make sure no one got too involved.

The seats were called "Mandarin Duck seats. " I asked an older friend if he had ever been to a theatre like this, and he blushed and told me he had just taken his little daughter. I am sure it was true.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...

What do you think of saying "I love you?" - Did your family members say to each other?

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    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @anonymous: Tipi - Thank you so much! I am so glad it was a good page to read for you. I have thought a lot about love and how it is expressed. Each country is different. In China they don't do much praising or verbal expression of love, and that is just the way it is. We like to do that a lot in the US!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is just beautiful and so well presented in honoring love in China. Your discussion on the symbolism had me hold my breath and experience something wonderful. Thank you for this excellent teaching! :)

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      I'm glad the younger generation can say "love" and I think all people should say it more often.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 4 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      My family is pretty old-fashioned and private about sharing their feelings. Thanks for sharing Valentine's Day in China. Blessed!

    • CoolFool83 profile image

      CoolFool83 4 years ago

      Awesome lense!

    • profile image

      kerri5 4 years ago

      Nope. We are humble Chinese. :)