Everything Is Negotiable!


In China, 金钱 (jīn qián), money, made from the characters 金 (jīn), gold, and 钱 (qián), coins, is not a taboo. To the contrary, it is a symbol of 社会地位 (shè huì dì wèi), social status, and 成功 (chéng gōng), success.  Throughout history, 财富 (cái fù), wealth, has always been an important part of Chinese culture. 物质生活 (wù zhì shēng huó),  material well-being, is of capital importance in China, as can be seen in the character  富 (fù), richness,  which can be interpreted as a roof with 口 (kǒu), mouth, and 田 (tián), farmland. On the Chinese New Year we wish another  财源滚滚 (cái yuán gǔn gǔn), money flooding in.

钱币 (qián bì)  or 货币 (huò bì), currency, appeared early in Chinese history, before the country was unified under Emperor Qinshihuang in 221 BC. In the earliest ages, Chinese money was made of 贝 (bèi), shells, a rare commodity in the inland territories. For this reason this character is a component of many words related to commerce, such as 财 (cái) riches, 货 (huò), goods, and 购 (gòu), buy. 

Currency units in a country often change according to time. The Chinese money, known as 人民币 (rén mín bì), “the money of the people,” is divided into 分 (fēn), 角 (jiǎo), equaling 10分, and 元 (yuán), or just 块 (kuài), equal to 10角. In imperial times Chinese people used gold or silver 元宝 (yuán bǎo), ingots, and 铜钱 (tóng qián), copper coins, as the currency.

Being rich is nothing to be shy about in China, where there are many expressions for wealth: 有钱 (yǒu qián), having money, 富有 (fù yǒu), having plenty, and 腰缠万贯 (yāo chán wàn guàn), having a deep pocket. The last means literally to have 10, 000 strings of copper coins tied on your belt — old Chinese money has a hole in the center so that it can be threaded into a necklace. One 贯 (guàn) is 1,000 copper coins strung together.

In China prices 价钱 (jià qian) are very relative. Although big stores have 明码标价 (míng mǎ biāo jià), fixed prices, in small shops and 批发市场 (pī fā shì chǎng), wholesale market, everything is negotiable, sometimes for less than half the first offered price. The common strategy is to ask 多少钱 (duō shǎo qián), “how much money?” and then 谈价钱 (tán jià qian), discuss the price. You can ask for a discount by saying “便宜点儿吧” (pián yi diǎnr ba), “cheaper please.” When the vendor says “不能再便宜了” (bú néng zài pián yi le), “I can’t go any lower,”  you reply “我考虑一下” (wǒ kǎo lǜ yí xia), “I’ll think about it,” and pretend to walk away. Usually he or she will ask “你要几个?” (nǐ yào jǐ ge), “How many do you want?” because it is cheaper to buy several. Finally, if he agrees, he will say “好的,我卖给你” (hǎo de, wǒ mài gěi nǐ),  “fine, I’ll sell it to you.”

讨价还价 (tǎo  jià huán jià), haggling, is a little game with simple rules. Don’t listen to overenthusiastic sellers saying their goods 太便宜了 (tài pián yi le), the price is too low, or “我赔钱哪!” (wǒ péi qián na), “I am losing money on the sale.” Besides, you will often observe shops give you a 原价 (yuán jià), first price, and then say 现价 (xiàn jià), current price ... a strange habit, but one which works because all prices are relative. Of course, the cheapest bargains are not always of good quality, and the adage says “便宜没好货” (pián yi méi hǎo huò), good stuff isn’t cheap.  The important thing is to buy things for a 很值 (hěn zhí), good value.