I have not seen the film or read the book, I can't judge.

Is this 霸 just a name, or does 霸王 really mean 'the tyrant king'?

3 Answers 3


It can be a general term, i.e. not a proper name, but it is/was often used to refer to a certain historic person called Xiang Yu. So 霸王 will not translate as "King Ba".

Chinese Wikipedia:


More references:

Baidu Baike: 霸王(汉语词语)


In addition Baidu Baike lists 12 entries in total for this word.


霸王 is used as a name for Xiang Yu, a famous warlord of the late Qin era, and this play is a straight-up usage of this name - it describes Xiang Yu bidding his concubine farewell. Other usages of the word "霸王" is usually in reference to him; for example Sun Ce and Zhou Tong both have the nickname of "小霸王" due to their martial prowess.

However, the character 霸 in 霸王 is not a name; it simply takes its actual meaning of "hegemony" or "tyranny". Thus 霸王 is translated as "hegemon-king", "king-of-kings" and so on. It describes a king that, unlike normal kings, has dominion over other kings without being an emperor. This is exactly what Xiang Yu was when he claimed the title 西楚霸王.


In this situation (霸王别姬), 霸王 usually means a king who is stronger than other kings.

  • 霸王 usually means "overlord", but in this situation, 霸王 means 西楚霸王 (i.e. 项羽), and 姬 means 虞姬 (the wife of 西楚霸王). Haven't you heard the story of 霸王别姬 ? It's so famous.
    – Victor
    Aug 18, 2015 at 12:22

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