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Per title. Both describe an institution for children who have no parents. I've looked around on the Internet and asked several people about this, but no one seems to have a definitive answer? Does it have anything to do with how they become orphans, i.e., whether they were abandoned by their parents/caretakers or whether their parents/caretakers died?

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Looks like euphemism to me. The difference is just like 养老院 is to 老人院. –  Question Overflow Jan 8 at 3:34
    
保育院 and 孤儿院 were with almost the same meaning "orphanage" in the old times. But what should be highlighted is, nowadays 保育院 doesn't have to be an orphanage any more but can just be a general kindergarten. –  Stan Jan 8 at 6:03
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4 Answers 4

Actually, I believe the difference between 孤儿院 and 保育院 is that there are kindergarten and primary school in 保育院 while 孤儿院 is just an institution that keep and take care of orphans.

In other word, 孤儿院 is not responsible to educate orphans. Like what @LadyP said,

保育院: 为保护、教育失去父母或父母无法照管的儿童而设的机构,内有托儿所、幼儿园、小学等

孤儿院: 中文解释 ①抗日战争时期由宋庆龄创建的孤儿收养机构。 ②也称“育婴堂”。解放前,国民政府、外国教会等举办的收养社会遗弃婴儿的慈善机构。新中国成立后,由人民政府接收并改建为儿童教养院和儿童福利院

保育 means taking care , especially for children. Check this 中国战时儿童保育会 , it may be helpful. The word 保育院 comes from here. 保育会 established lots of 保育院 to save, develop, and educate children that suffered in war. But actually after war, people still call similar institution 保育院 till now.

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孤儿院 sounds more straightforward to me while 保育院 seems a more considerate name. 孤儿院 is much more frequent in casual talk, at least just for me, it's not common to use 保育院 in my dialect. I think the recent usage of 保育院 might be a protection of children. I didn't look up in a dictionary or any other reference. Literally, 孤儿院 implies the children have lost their parents, which in reality that might not be the case. 保育院 doesn't have that implication. Chances are the children still have their parents, but for some reason, the custodies are taken over.

Anyway, I'll vote for 保育院, that's definitely a better name. It's safer to use 保育院, especially in formal situations.

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To me, they have quite different meanings. 保育院 is to 孤儿院 what nursery is to orphanage.

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Well, assuming my sources are correct:

保育院: 为保护、教育失去父母或父母无法照管的儿童而设的机构,内有托儿所、幼儿园、小学等

孤儿院: 中文解释 ①抗日战争时期由宋庆龄创建的孤儿收养机构。 ②也称“育婴堂”。解放前,国民政府、外国教会等举办的收养社会遗弃婴儿的慈善机构。新中国成立后,由人民政府接收并改建为儿童教养院和儿童福利院

So the difference appears to be that 孤儿院 is a more archaic term referring to a set of institutions that have now been (generally) replaced, while 保育院 is a more modern term. However, the institutions that these terms refer to appear to have essentially the same function.

However while Wikipedia gives essentially the same answer, it reverses the distinction. It has 孤儿院 as the more general term and 保育院 as the archaic term referring to a historical set of institutions.

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Fairly sure 保育院 is a lot more recent, so I think your initial edit sounds more plausible. I think another difference is 孤儿院 is usually charity-based whereas 保育院 is either state or privately funded? Maybe... –  deutschZuid Jan 7 at 22:58
    
I'm not sure because google returns about the same amount of results for both, with 孤儿院 having slightly more, so both terms appear to be in use. I'll see if 辞海 has anything on it later today. –  user238264 Jan 7 at 23:05
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