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60 Chinese words for death

A grim but interesting topic! I found this list of various Chinese words for death organised into different categories and I’ve roughly translated it here with a few additions.

Note that a lot of the terms here are very formal, archaic or otherwise inappropriate. This is not a list of appropriate words to use in real-life situations!

Status / rank

This is an archaic hierarchy of words for death based on the rank or status of the person who died. Modern Chinese hasn’t kept these distinctions.

  • 驾崩 (jiàbēng) - death of a king or emperor
  • (hōng) - death of a prince
  • (zú) - death of a scholar official
  • (shì) - death of a normal official
  • 不禄 (búlù) - death of a member of the ministerial / scholarly class
  • (sǐ) - death of a commoner

Age

  • 夭折 (yāozhé) - death in childhood

  • (shāng) - death before age twenty and before being married:
  • 下殇 (xiàshāng) - death aged eight to eleven

  • 中殇 (zhōngshāng) - death aged twelve to fifteen

  • 上殇 (shàngshāng) - death aged sixteen to nineteen

- 夭亡 (yāowáng) - death in the prime of one’s life - 英年早逝 (yīngnián zǎoshì) - death in middle age - 寿终 (shòuzhōng) - death in old age

Another two words that generally refer to death in old age:

  • 与世长辞 (yǔshìchángcí)
  • 仙逝 (xiānshì)

Special reasons or circumstances

  • (xùn) - to die for a cause / be martyred
    • 殉职 (xùnzhí) - to die in the line of duty
    • 殉国 (xùnguó) - to die for one’s country
    • 殉情 (xùnqíng) - to die for love
    • 殉道 (xùndào) - to die for one’s beliefs
    • 殉节 (xùnjié) - to die for one’s moral integrity
    • 殉难 (xùnnán) - to sacrifice oneself in disaster
  • - 献身 (xiànshēn) - to lay down one’s life / sacrifice oneself - 客死 (kèsǐ) - to die abroad or away from one’s home - 凶死 (xiōngsǐ) - to die in violence - 病故 (bìnggù) - to die from illness

    Religion

  • Buddhist terms:
    • 圆寂 (yuánjì) - death of a Buddhist monk or nun
    • 涅槃 (nièpán) - nirvana
    • 坐化 (zuòhuà) - to die whilst sitting cross-legged (Buddhism term)
    • 灭度 (mièdù) - “to extinguish worries” - another term for nirvana
  • Daoist terms for death of a Daoist:
    • 仙游 (xiānyóu) - “immortal roaming”
    • 登山 (dēngshān) - “to climb the mountain”
    • 骑鹤 (qíhè) - “to ride a crane”
    • 归西 (guīxī) - “to return west” (can be combined into 骑鹤归西 )
  • Literary terms and euphemisms

  • Suicide:
    • 自尽 (zìjìn) - “to end oneself”
    • 投井 (tóujǐng) - “to throw oneself in a well” (may be literal or metaphoric)
    • 寻短见 (xúnduǎnjiàn) - “to seek suicide”
  • Death:
    • 命绝 (mìngjué) - “life is cut off”
    • 升天 (shēngtiān) - “to ascend to heaven”
    • 断气 (duànqì) - “to sever qi
    • 命归黄泉 (mìng guī huáng quán) - “one’s life returns to the Yellow Springs”
    • 归山道 (guī shāndào) - “to return to the mountain path”
    • 上天 (shàngtiān) - “to ascend to Heaven” - religious euphemism for death
    • 归天 (guītiān) - “to return to Heaven” - as above
    • 见上帝 (jiàn Shàngdì) - “to see God” - another religious one
    • 见马克思 (jiàn Mǎkèsī) - “to see Marx” - socialist euphemism for death! (but actually just a joke)
    • 离开我们 (líkāi wǒmen) - “to leave us” - general euphemism
    • 走了 (zǒu le) - “to leave” - informal general euphemism
    • 入冥室 (rù míngshì) - “to enter the dark room”
  • Judgemental terms

  • Praising:
    • 牺牲 (xīshēng) - to sacrifice oneself
    • 就义 (jiùyì) - to die a righteous death
  • Derogatory:
    • 见阎王 (jiàn Yán Wáng) - “to see the King of Hell”
    • 下地狱 (xià Dìyù) - “to descend to Hell”
    • 得到应得的下场 (dédào yīngdé de xiàchǎng) - “to get one’s just deserts
    • 完蛋 (wándàn) - “to be finished”
  • Irreverent / humorous:
    • 蹬腿 (dēngtuǐ) - “to stretch out one’s legs”
    • 一命呜呼 (yímìngwūhū) - “one’s life in a word”
    • 见鬼去 (jiànguǐ qù) - “to go see a ghost” (similar to “go to hell”, often just an insult)
    • 翘辫子 (qiào biànzi) - “to have one’s queue raised” (i.e. by an executioner - similar to “kick the bucket”)
  • Burning incense

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