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Can someone please clarify how and when 做 is used to mean "to be" e.g.

不愿做奴隶人们

I am familiar with 做 meaning "to do" or "to make", and I would expect that if I was saying "I am a slave", “我是一个奴隶“ would be preferable to “我做一个奴隶“

Why is 做 used in the first instance?

  • In my short experience with chinese, I've seen 做 used as to do in terms of work or activity, so maybe slavery is considered as such, and then, instead of being a slave, in chinese you say do slavery (as an activity) – Petruza Feb 15 '12 at 13:30
  • en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%81%9A I think this wiktionary page can explain something~ 做: 1. work, make; 2. act – coolcfan Feb 16 '12 at 3:53
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"做" has a meaning of "充当,担任" (serves as, work as) (from 现代汉语词典 Modern Chinese Dictionary). It is different from "是" (to be).

The nuance of English and Chinese here is a little different. In Chinese, we don't say "I don't want to be [a slave]" (我不愿是[奴隶]). It is always "I don't want to serve as (become, etc.) a slave" (我不愿做(成为)奴隶).

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做 also means '(to) do' in 不愿意做奴隶的人们, you can try to translate it like this: the folks who don't want to do a slaver('s job).

Another example:

我长大之后要做医生
I want to [be a doctor]/[do a doctor's job] when I grow up.

做 means some kind of action, while 是 means it's a state.

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In this context, 做 means "to function as." 不愿做奴隶人们 means, "I don't want to function as (do the role of) a slave."

The idiomatic English expression would be "I don't want to BE a slave."

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I'd just like to add some more examples. If you're like me, it takes more than one example to get a non-superficial understanding.

To be [some role]

永远人民的保护神![src]
Forever be the people's guardian angel

老师简直太难了![src]
To be a teacher [is] simply difficult!

别再花钱去理发店造型了![src]
Don't again spend money going to the hairdressers to be a model

射手座真的适合爱人吗?[src]
Is [a] Sagittarius really suitable to be a lover?

To be a [something]

其实我不想做一个虚伪的人[src]
In fact, I don't want to be a hypocritical person

如何做一个人见人爱的好媳妇?[src]
How to be a loved-by-all good daughter-in-law?

别胡思乱想了,做一头猪吧[src]
Don't let your imagination run wild, [and] be a pig

在故宫做一只猫,是什么样的一种感受?[src]
In the Forbidden City, to be a cat, is what kind of feeling?
(Or: What does it feel like to be a cat in the Forbidden City?)

Cannot be [some role]

做不成男女朋友 可以兄妹吗?[src]
[If we] cannot be boyfriend and girlfriend, can we be older brother and younger sister?

为什么做不成恋人,也做不成朋友?[src]
Why [we] cannot be sweethearts, [and] also cannot be friends

做不了自己的主人,就会成为别人的道具[src]
[If you] cannot be your own master, [you] become another person's prop

Cannot be a [something]

是什么阻止了你,做不成一个勤俭持家的人?[src]
What is preventing you; cannot be a hardworking housekeeping person?

你注定做不成一只树懒[src]
I am destined to not be a sloth

572巴士车上,我做不了一只独立特行的猪?[src]
On the 572 bus, I cannot be an independent-behavior pig.

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