She in English (as this is the main language of the site) sometimes has the following function:

  1. Used in place of it to refer to certain inanimate things, such as ships and nations, traditionally perceived as female:

Here's a line from 天下四川人 by 陈世松 that is in the '99 pressing that I have (with emphasis being my own):


I have yet to come across this type of using of 她 in Chinese.

  • Does "she" (她) work for inanimate objects in Chinese?

  • If so, how?


Everyone seems to disagree but here are some examples from dictionaries:


2 代 称值得自己尊重和珍爱的事物

我爱祖国, 她永远连着我的心。


3 {formal} she (as a reference to one's country, party, flag, etc.)

Hanyu Da Cidian

2 指可敬、可爱的事物, 往往用“她”字。

蒋光慈 《月夜的一瞬》诗

月儿如玉盘一般的圆, 她的美丽的清光, 神秘的笑脸, 引得我起了无名的幻想。

何其芳 《听歌》诗

我听见了迷人的歌声, 它那样快活, 那样年轻, 就象我们年轻的共和国, 在歌唱她的不朽的青春。


2 稱代自己敬愛或懷念的事物。如故鄉、母校等。

  • 1
    see earlier Q:What is the difference between 他, 它, and 她,iciba (earlier edition):它 can be used for flag and mother country, also used once when referring to province 四川 by 虹影 in 饥饿的女儿
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 8:30
  • I think this is just a form of 拟人.
    – user23013
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 13:04
  • I'm just hoping for an answer from @Stan
    – Mou某
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 13:09
  • good explanations and samples. Commented May 5, 2017 at 9:42

4 Answers 4


No, referring to ships and nations as female is an English thing. If you see that being done in Chinese, the writer must be under too much English influence. By the way, if I remember correctly, ships and nations are fererred to as male in Russian.


I believe you can find a lot of examples that use "她" to refer to various things, but still it's not common practice. In fact, using "她" to mean "she" was not introduced into Chinese until very recently, just a little more than a centuary or so, when Chinese people started to get familiar with western culture. Today most Chinese people are quite comfortable with this character for referring a female person, but the infiltration is not complete:

  1. you would still encounter people (especially elder ones) who use "他" to refer to both male and female people;
  2. while there are "她" and "妳", the character "您" still doesn't have a female counterpart;
  3. it is used for referring to a female person, not an object, in most cases;
  4. "她" and "他" are pronounced exactly the same, so are "妳" and "你", so the distinction doesn't exist in oral Chinese.

Furthermore, this really is a cultural matter. When an American says "my country" I believe he/she must have a motherly figure in mind, but to most Chinese people, the word "祖國" just doesn't give them the same feeling.

  • to mention Russian in this context may be somewhat questionable since anyhow each Russian noun has one of 3 grammatical genders (like Old English, Anglo-Saxon, or at least proto-Germanic ?), and the usual word for ship is корабль n.m., if nation means country, then most are feminine (2 exceptions:Китай, Израиль China,Israel are masculine)
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 7:12

A Chinese author I translate does this sometimes, although very rarely. The two instances in which I recall seeing it were:

1) 她 to refer to a country/motherland (maybe to a car too, on one occasion, but I'm not sure, so don't quote me here - yes, I realize the similarity with English).

2) 他们 to refer to 潜意识、无意识 (the subconscious and unconscious).

My cotranslator (native Mandarin speaker, unlike myself) told me that it was fine in both instances, and a type of personification (拟人的手法). Confused the bejesus out of me while I was translating, though...


Q1: Does "she" (她) work for inanimate objects in Chinese?

Yes it does.

Q2: If so, how?

How it is used is based on your affect, so no regulation is actually given. But here is a few tips i can think off.

She(她) is used when something is beautiful, memorable to you.

He(他) is used when something is mighty to you.

If neither, then use it(它).

  • Downvoted: these assertions need to be proven, otherwise it is just plain false.
    – gb.
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 4:16

I would say it is arbitrary. You can write whatever you feel fit.

Chinese do not have gender for pronoun generally until some writers tried to copy European languages and did some experience on new type of Chinese writing around 1910s and afterwards. In tradition writing, 她 does not exist and everyone writes 他 or its variant 它 for He/She/It/(They). 她 is new invention of that time.

In China, it does not assign gender to non-living things. There might be some deities with gender, but not the non-living things themselves. If gender is important, they would write it out explicitly. Say the deity of earth have gender, they write 地母 (lit. Earth Mother) or 土地公 (lit. Local Earth Grandfather) and use 他 afterwards, regardless of gender.

There is absolutely no agreement on the assignment of gender to non-living things. This is unnatural to Chinese. That's why you found contradictory usage. It is from author to author.

The words such as 祖國 and 母校 are borrowed from European languages. The word 祖 in 祖國 means male ancestry. The example in your question 「我愛祖國, 她永遠連着我的心。」shows how contradictory usage is.

There are some authors who do not use 她 at all. It is up to you to write 她 or not.

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