I’m not! feeling! what you think I’m feeling!

Having myself been annoyed by the seemingly excessive use of exclamation marks in Chinese writing, I’m glad to see Julen Madariaga is taking up the issue from a purely descriptive standpoint at Chinayouren:

I have seen from experience that many Westerners find this habit annoying, or even consider it immature. I can see where they are coming from, but they should bear in mind that  “!” does not mean the same thing in Chinese as in English. I you don’t believe me, check a professional format letter in Chinese. Both the introductory and the final formulas are normally followed by “!”.

Great point. Just because you recognize the exclamation point from your native language, doesn’t mean you know what it means in Chinese.

This would be a great paper for some intrepid Chinese student: take a bunch of writing of some genre and categorize every last exclamation point. Compare to, say, English, and let us know what you find!

13 responses to “I’m not! feeling! what you think I’m feeling!”

  1. Porfiriy says:


  2. Julen says:

    Good one Syz!!! Go go go~~~ 抢个沙发!!!!

  3. Kellen Parker says:

    What?! Unacceptable!!!

  4. Helen says:

    We Chinese are saying the same!

  5. Duncan says:

    check a professional format letter in Chinese. Both the introductory and the final formulas are normally followed by “!”.

    Right, this surprises me no end! I’ve seen my fair share of formal letters in Chinese and not one had exclamation marks. I see them a lot in casual letters and e-mails (as in English), but never in “properly” written formal letters.

    I’ve had arguments/heated discussions with Chinese colleagues on this topic before – but I hold that generally the formal style goes something like this:


    There is some debate about where the 此致 should be placed on the page (left or right).

    In fact I thought the usage of exclamation marks in formal letters was frowned upon. I’d welcome opinions to the contrary…

  6. Julen says:

    @Duncan – My assertion was based on these facts!!!

    1- My teacher of Chinese (grad 对外汉语 from 上师大)taught me to write letters like this!!
    2- My clients write me letters like this!! and I reply like this!!!
    3- The official HSK training book published by the BLCU that I hold in my hands right now has ! in all the example letters in the closing formula (although admittedly not all have it in the opening formula)

    I am not saying that this is the ONLY standard for formal letters, but I am completely sure that it is a valid standard. And it is also pretty common in real life.

    It might possibly happen that, as more Chinese study in the West or get influenced by Western teachers/colleagues, they begin to think that this is wrong, and they feel ashamed of it. This would be silly, IMO, and a real pity. But that is how cultural colonization always works.

  7. Julen says:


    I have been looking a bit more since my last comment and I see there are quite a few formal letters with no “!” in the opening.
    On the other hand the 敬礼!as far as I see, is almost universal.

    I deal with some traditional Chinese clients (old managers in mega-SOEs) and their command of English is approximative. You can always tell when their secretary has taken a leave, see this email I just came accross from last year:

    bear Julen,


    Best Regards!

    I appreciate the lack of ! in the opening, but I never thought I would be called a bear :)

    I guess those people never studied pinyin at school, and sometimes those pesky Western letters are so similar to each other! (the b is not even close to the d in the keyboards here)

  8. Duncan says:


    I accept that the exclamation mark is much more common than I suggested in my earlier reply; but I would still maintain that in the top levels of communication you just don’t see it; we used to do a lot of translation work for Chinese government agencies, and they would occassionally ask us to translate letters into English (diplomatic communiques and such). Not one of these letters used an exclamation mark.

    But this is of course a tiny, tiny percentage of written communication…

    I just like to think that it has been misappropriated in modern Chinese and subsequently semi-institutionalised.

  9. Syz says:


    misappropriated in modern Chinese and subsequently semi-institutionalised

    The thing is — and this is why I liked Julen’s post! — is that once something has been institutionalized, it becomes a law in itself. Julen’s original point that I echoed in the title is that, in China, an exclamation mark may not at all mean the writer is super-excited! or angry!

    Again, I think we’d want to see some serious analysis of a wide variety of writings before claiming to know what the exclamation mark means in China, in particular situations, but I think one should not look at English usage and conclude that vast numbers of Chinese are making an exclamation mark mistake. Even if it was a mistake originally, hey, we’re all mistakeholders!

  10. Duncan says:

    A pox upon your descriptivist ways, Syz!

  11. Syz says:

    I feel your pain! For the record, the correctionist in me writhes in agony at every encounter with the exclamation mark with Chinese characteristics!

  12. Kaiwen says:

    I read ‘The Personal Letters of Ba Jin’ one time. It’s mostly letters between him and his wife, and he often ended with a 祝好! The formulation has been around for a while.

    For examples of ! in formal letters, search for 书信格式 on Baidu Answers or a similar site.

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