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Some people in the US normally avoid saying a person has "died." They say the person "passed on," or "has left us." Are there similar, gentle ways in Chinese to avoid saying a person died? Would it generally seem rude among friends to just say that someone has died?

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    There're a lot and they're kind of similar to English. To name a few, "Died" = 死, "passed on" = 走了(very implicit, should be used within some context), 过世了/去世了 (commonly used), "has left us" = 离我们而去了. For old masters, may also say 驾鹤西去了. It's not rude to just say someone "has died" among friends unless the dead you're talking about is close to anybody present (e.g. friend or relative of somebody present). – Stan Feb 13 '16 at 3:21
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    @Stan Why don't you write this as an answer? It's very comprehensive. The only other expression I can think of to add to the list is 離開了。 – monalisa Feb 13 '16 at 5:23
  • @monalisa Because I'm waiting for a comprehensive list too and currently I don't have time to summarize one :) For example, there're some euphemisms for specific people: for Buddhist monks, 圆寂, for emperors, 驾崩, etc. – Stan Feb 13 '16 at 5:57
  • Is there any translation of the Monty Python's parrot skit? :) – Olle Linge Feb 13 '16 at 6:58
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TL;DR

The most general euphemism for "die" in Chinese is

去世

Literally means "leave the world". Similar to the English expression "pass on/away".

It would be polite enough to address anyone's death and is commonly used in speaking and writing. So if you don't know which word is the best, just use this one – in only a few cases would it sound unsuitable (even though it won't sound impolite), e.g.

  1. When using euphemism is absurd. For example, it's weird to say

    (Awful!) 这个专门杀男孩的杀手终于去世了。
    (Awful!) Finally, the serial killer who aims at boys has passed away.
    

    As you wouldn't say that in English, don't try it in Chinese.

  2. When addressing children's death. Chinese consider 去世 is too solemn for children, and in formal writing we use 夭折. In conversations, personally I might (I hope there's no chance for me) say 离开了我们 (has left us).

A Longer List

  1. General (for grown-ups)

    • (leave the world; leave forever) 去世/过世/离世/谢世/辞世/与世长辞 / [长逝/永逝]
    • (sleep forever; rest in peace; say farewell forever) 安息/永眠/长眠/永别
  2. For children and youths

    夭折/夭亡/早逝 / [殤/兰摧玉折]

  3. For young girls

    香消玉殒/倩女离魂

  4. For the great

    逝世/辞世/与世长辞/ [星陨]

  5. For martyrs

    牺牲/就义/殉道/殉国/殉难/殉职/壮烈/舍身 [成仁/以身许国/舍生取义/马革裹尸]

  6. For those who die for illness

    病故/病逝

  7. For ancient emperors

    驾崩/ [大薨/山陵崩/登遐/晏驾]

  8. For Buddhist monks

    圆寂/坐化/涅槃 [示寂/示灭/入灭/灭度/示灭]

  9. For those who die for accidents

    遇难/罹难/丧身

  10. For those who normally die at an old age

    寿终/寿终正寝

  11. For old masters (these phrases are Taoism related)

    驾鹤西去/仙去/仙游/ [登仙/物化/羽化/遁化/迂化/迂神/隐化/解驾]

Note:

  • Brackets [ ] denote expressions that would be too formal to be used in conversations.

  • This list is far from and is not supposed to be perfect (as expressions are too many). Feel free to improve it :)

  • At last I've got some time to write down an incomplete list XD It's a community wiki answer so anyone who wants to improve it is welcomed! – Stan Feb 13 '16 at 16:18

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