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


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
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 13:30
  • en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%81%9A I think this wiktionary page can explain something~ 做: 1. work, make; 2. act
    – Dante WWWW
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 3:53

4 Answers 4


"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).


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:

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.


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."


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]

Forever be the people's guardian angel

To be a teacher [is] simply difficult!

Don't again spend money going to the hairdressers to be a model

Is [a] Sagittarius really suitable to be a lover?

To be a [something]

In fact, I don't want to be a hypocritical person

How to be a loved-by-all good daughter-in-law?

Don't let your imagination run wild, [and] be a pig

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?

Why [we] cannot be sweethearts, [and] also cannot be friends

[If you] cannot be your own master, [you] become another person's prop

Cannot be a [something]

What is preventing you; cannot be a hardworking housekeeping person?

I am destined to not be a sloth

On the 572 bus, I cannot be an independent-behavior pig.

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