I'm reading a book in which the author used both 皇帝 and 皇上 to say 'The Emperor'. I'm a bit confused about why the author would use two words (that according to my knowledge have the same meaning) to refer to the same person in one story. Could anyone please tell me the difference between them?

  • bkrs:皇上:我国封建时代称在位的皇帝 。(1) [the emperor]∶皇帝 (2) [Your Majesty]∶对皇帝的直接称呼 (3) [His Imperial Majesty; His Majesty]∶对皇帝的间接称呼1) emperor; throne; reigning sovereign 2) Your/His Majesty 封建时代臣民对皇帝的称呼。多指在位的皇帝。 also see jukuu for samples, e.g. 1. The Emperor commands you make contact with him. 皇上命令你和他连系 皇帝 is just any emperor
    – user6065
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 18:33
  • 皇上仅用于口语,它是一种称呼 (address, Just like Mr. Trump);而皇帝是一个身份 (Status / Position),仅用于正式场合 (just like President Trump)。 You can address the emperor "皇上“,but you can NOT address it "皇帝”。 Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 1:20

2 Answers 2


'皇帝' is a title for 'Emperor' (n)

'皇上' is an honorific (n), exclusively reserved for an emperor. It is like "Your Majesty" or "His Majesty" in English.

  • You address an emperor as '皇上/陛下/主上/聖上' (Your Majesty) when you are speaking to him

  • You refer an emperor in third person by his honorific '皇上/陛下/主上/聖上' (His Majesty) or by his title '皇帝' (Emperor)

  • You do not address an emperor by his title '皇帝' (Emperor) in front of him

The nickname '萬歲爺' (The great one who will live for ten thousand years) is also used to refer to the emperor in third person

literal meanings:

皇上 (emperor above); 陛下 (The one who stands at the bottom of the stairs to the throne); 主上 (master above); 聖上 (virtuous one above)

'陛下' is the one still in use in modern Chinese language. 皇上, 主上 and 聖上 are all archaic terms. They can only be found in something like period dramas on T.V


Compared with 皇上, 皇帝 is a bit more formal. That's why 皇上 could be used as a normal addressing term by his subjects.

In the word of 皇帝,皇 means emperor/sovereign and 帝 refers to empire(帝国, the country in the feudal system).

As 皇帝 connotes 'the country/empire' and his supreme power, it would be used when engaging the concept of country, emphasizing his supreme power, or both. Examples,

  1. An emissary from another country would call the empire 皇帝陛下, because there are two countries involved here.

  2. 我才是这个国家的皇帝!It emphasizes both his supreme power and the emperor of the country.

  3. 封建帝国的统治者是皇帝!It emphasizes his supreme power and also engages the concept of 封建帝国.

  4. 皇帝的尊严! It emphasizes his supreme power.

Most of time, 皇帝 and 皇上 are interchangeable in other normal contexts. For example, 我是皇帝==我是皇上,皇上旨意==皇帝旨意,他想做皇上==他想做皇帝... ...

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