I admit that I am a beginner with Chinese, thus in no position to judge the language. However, I got the feeling that it's "vague" when I tried to understand its logic, by examining a Chinese text and its literal translation and human translation.

I got the feeling that it's "not accurate" and that it's possible for the reader to not pick out what the writer means. Am I right or wrong about this?

! I am this user but i can't take control over this account. because i have posted without with email without log in.

you are right monaliza i meant literal.

well an example would be : 兵者 [soldier][person], some translate it war, and other translate it art of war. i can't grasp the meaning by only connecting those radicals.

校之以計,而索其情 [check] [it] [with] [plan], [and] [seek] [its] [situation] which must be considered in one's plans in order to ascertain the situation.

those literal-translation meanings are already choose between multiple other meanings, but it's still ambiguous for me what the author want to say.

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    It is hard to compare languages without a precise definition of "vagueness". In some sense Chinese might as well be more precise in some aspects (e.g. family relationships) than many European languages; in others (e.g. grammar without context), perhaps not. – user5714 Nov 16 '15 at 0:48
  • Does the OP have a typo, what is meant here by lateral translation? In the context of languages I have only heard of literal translation but not lateral translation. – clarity123 Nov 16 '15 at 1:40
  • I think this question may have something to do with "semantic references" and/or the way different languages organize the world. If it does, it may have the potential to generate some interesting discussions. But I don't want to presume. Perhaps the OP could supply a few examples of what s/he feels is "vague" or "not accurate"? – monalisa Nov 16 '15 at 3:24
  • Try this: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/16561/… – Henry HO Nov 17 '15 at 5:32
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    @Maroon I know. Ancient people just learn as is. Grammar isn't wide spoken but it's there in the language. That's why classical Chinese is more open in grammar but harder to understand. I didn't say "there was no grammar", but the rules are less strict in my opinion. – Daniel Cheung Nov 19 '15 at 1:18

Anything that can be expressed in such an inexact language as, say, English, can be precisely described using Chinese. It is no more vague than any other language.


Well, that exists in all natural languages which usually leads to something that you can find in satires and humors here and there.

Just take a check.

Any Chinese-only examples to illustrate your point?


in some cases you are right. Chinese, as a language with extremely long history, is not as 'accurate' as you are expecting, which makes it amazing. You can always find something more from a sentence you thought you have already understand. Further more, the 'inaccurate' is from the multiple layer of meanings of each character, which makes Chinese very short. When you want to describe complex things, you just need one word. Also, when talking or reading, this 'inaccurate' language leaves a huge blank for you, the audience, to fill in. That is, the more you can image, the more you get from the author, especially when you are reading poems or other literature art works.


From some aspects, yes, it's vague. It depends on context heavily. Same word/phrase may means totally different. A frequently referenced example is:


It can be translated to "Team China defeated Team Korea.", as well as "Team China was defeated by Team Korea". OK, I made a mistake, 大败 can only be translated to win in English in this sentence. But considering the character "败" here, it really mislead people who don't familiar to the 文言文.

But I don't think "Chinese is a vague language", Chinese used by billions of people in every fields, from literature to science, from poem to fiction novel, from thousands years ago to nowadays. How accurate it is depends on how precise you use the words.

Back to the example, "Team China defeated Team Korea." can be translated to "中国队战胜了韩国队", and "Team China was defeated by Team Korea" can be translated to "中国队被韩国打败"。Now, it's clear.

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    "中国队大败韩国队" can mean "Team China was defeated by Team Korea"? Really? Are you sure? – monalisa Nov 16 '15 at 4:08
  • Yes, I'm sure. It's used frequently in sports news. – thinwa Nov 16 '15 at 5:29
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    You are essentially saying from this sentence 中国队大败韩国队 one can't tell which team won. And 中国队大败韩国队 and 韩国队大败中国队 would have to have the same ambiguous meaning. What is the point, then, of a sentence like this in sports news? Not convinced. – monalisa Nov 16 '15 at 16:41
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    @user2550062 You must misunderstand something. Was it 中国队大败于韩国队 in sports news? – songyuanyao Nov 17 '15 at 3:24
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    中国队大败韩国队 has only one meaning, ie Team China defeated Team Korea heavily. It has the same meaning of 中国队大胜韩国队 even 败 is replaced by its antonym 胜。The reason is that 败 in the 1st sentence is of a special usage, which means 使...败, ie to make sb defeated. Believe me, I am a Chinese native speaker. – 孤影萍踪 Nov 18 '15 at 1:04

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