Congratulations, if you are clicking on this article, then you must have written something in Chinese already. That’s a big step in the learning journey. Now, you might wonder, how do I write emails to my colleagues and superiors in Chinese? How do I translate important announcements and notices for my Chinese-speaking audience? Keep reading; we will dissect the three main points of business Chinese writing in this article, as there are words, style, and structures that are specific and essential to formal correspondence.
A business letter consists of five sections: beginning, main body, conclusion, signature, and date.
In the beginning part, it’s very important to know how to address the recipient. The established format is “adjective + addressee.” Unfortunately, you only have a few adjective options. Depending on how close you are with the recipient and your hierarchical relationship, such as seniority, authority in the company or ranking in social status, you have 尊敬的，敬爱的，亲爱的 to choose from. 尊敬的 is the most distant but also most respectful, so it’d be suitable to address another company’s CEO whose last name is 李 as 尊敬的李总经理. If you are sending an invitation to a group of scholars or professors whose names you may not know, it’s also okay to say 尊敬的学者们 for plural scholars and 尊敬的教授 for a singular professor. 敬爱的 is slightly more affectionate than 尊敬的, so students often write 敬爱的X老师 on Teacher’s Day cards. “X” stands for the teacher’s last name here. 亲爱的 is intended for someone close to you or equal to you in rank. It shows the most fondness and also the least respectful distance. But 亲爱的X老师 is also appropriate if you have a more friendly and personal relationship with the teacher. You’d write the “adjective + name” on the top left corner of the letter with no indent, and follow with a colon, not a comma.
Before you start writing the main message, you need to greet your audience. The phrases used are pretentious and dated, and you’d rarely encounter such language beyond formal written letters. You can write 别来无恙 to express care for someone you haven’t met for a while, hoping that they are free of sickness. 兹定于 is often used for notices on a scheduled event. For example, the meeting originally scheduled to take place on Oct. 19 is now canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic: 兹定于10月19日举行的会议，现因新冠疫情取消. You can find such phrases by looking up similar notices online, as the sayings rarely change!
When it comes to the main body, it should be clear and concise. Refrain from using subject pronouns and unnecessary adjectives. You want to include actionable items, results, and methods. As people say in English: no fluff, no buff, and no fillers. Another tip for making things sound more proper is to shorten two-character words into one-character ones and utilize the less colloquial equivalent. For instance, 或, which means “or,” sounds more matter-of-fact than 或者, and so 或 is the better choice in business writing. 或者 also means “or,” but it’s the better choice for verbal communication as it sounds more natural. By the same token, use如 or 若in place of如果 for “if…,” write 如何 instead of 怎么样 for “how…,” and choose 共同 over 一起 for “together.” The same rule applies to public announcements and notifications. For instance, when you need to cancel an event due to inclement weather, you say 因天气原因，活动取消。 You don’t even need to translate the “inclement” or say “we are canceling the event” here, just “Event is canceled due to weather.”
Before you sign off, people also write a few closing salutations for transition and courtesy purposes in a letter. 敬盼回复 is a versatile one, saying that you will be awaiting their reply respectfully. 冒昧通信，期待与您建立业务关系 is another common one; you apologize for sending the cold letter/email out of the blue and expect to start a business relationship with your recipient. You can swap out the business relationship part for what your actual expectations are.
Once you have the three main elements: appropriate honorifics, opening and ending “jargon” that corresponds to your main message, and a clear and concise main body without unnecessary adjectives or pronouns, you are good to go. Of course, you need to pay attention to grammar and punctuation just like you do with any letter, but business letters are actually short and to-the-point, and thus more straightforward to write. Hopefully, this article will help you ease into business Chinese writing and understand the key components better. Why don’t you try writing a congratulatory message to a few iTalki users who have won the Language Challenge in the comment section below? I will reveal a sample answer in the comments in a few days but you can be creative with the prizes.