Wikitionary has a cool feature that shows a dialectal map with word differences across all Chinese dialects, as in this example.

The problem is that I was trying to see which places it was OK to use 小姐 with the meaning "miss" and not "prostitute" but the map didn't help at all.

Does anyone have reliable map about the usage of 小姐 across China or can at least elucidate where it's OK to use 小姐 without offend anyone?

The question here is where the word 小姐 by itself would imply the derogatory sense. Like when we call the attention of someone:



  • Notice that, even if in a place 小姐 does not mean prostitute, it does not mean it's okay to use it.
    – trisct
    Dec 18, 2019 at 2:45

6 Answers 6


People say calling a woman 小姐 in Hong Kong and Taiwan is ok. but not so good in Mainland China. I have to disagree with this presumption. It all depend on the context and the situation this term is used.

Generally 小姐 is a polite/ formal address for single woman in Chinese everywhere.

For example:

張小姐 (Miss Zhang)

我家小姐 (my daughter/ the daughter in the family I serve)

The term 小姐 can be interpreted as a nickname for prostitute because people in places where women provide various degrees of sexual service, would not use derogatory terms liked 舞女, 陪酒女郎 or even 妓女 to address the female sex workers directly, They just call them "小姐" (ladies) for politeness and subtlety.

For example: "我們店的小姐" (the ladies in our establishment) ; "去做小姐" (go work as a Miss) would clearly imply 小姐 is not an honorific but a code for female sex workers in the context

Even in Hong Kong, people often refer 舞女 or 妓女 as 小姐 like in mainland China.

It is not ok. even in Hong Kong to ask a woman "妳係邊間店嘅小姐呀?" (which place's lady you are?)

One thing is sure. It is perfectly fine to address a female stranger as 小姐 in Hong Kong or Taiwan, No one would think 小姐 be anything but an honorific.

Some people argued with me that 小姐 is ambiguous in Mainland and should be avoided. I thought those people just treated a specific nickname in a specific area as a general term

小姐 is mainly an honorific/ title in Chinese , 张 in 张小姐 is that person's identify and 小姐 is an honorific/ title . But the term 小姐 itself can also be used as a code for female sex workers in certain context. And Mainland Chinese seem to be more sensitive to this additional usage than Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan

  • I think the downvoter disagrees with you on that mainland Chinese would argue it is ambiguous... We would not actually... You already provided good explanation about when it is derogatory. It's the same in mainland China. Dec 17, 2019 at 17:14
  • Don’t understand why this answer got downvoted.
    – sylvia
    Dec 17, 2019 at 18:20
  • Some people did argue with me that 小姐 is ambiguous in Mainland and should be avoided. I thought it is just some people treating a specific nickname in a specific area as a general term
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:27
  • 小姐 and 张小姐 are completely different. Calling someone 小姐 with their last name added in front of it is fine. But calling a random stranger 小姐 has a big chance of being offensive.
    – trisct
    Dec 18, 2019 at 2:37
  • @trisct That's why I stated it is totally fine to do it in Hong Kong but not so sure in Mainland. Toosky Hierot doesn't seem to think it is ambiguous but obviously you do. Three up votes and two down votes may be a hint of this issue is not settled among Chinese in the mainland
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 18, 2019 at 3:10

In my opinion, the issue is less regional, but more subjective. One might take it offensive in the situation where another doesn't care. So, I really doubt you would be able to find such a map.

The easy way to get around this is to avoid using it unless you are sure they don't care. Like when you try to call the attention of someone, you can say 你好,饭馆在哪儿?, instead of 小姐,饭馆在哪儿?


To be safe in China use the term 姑娘 in place of 小姐. In a restaurant of other business you might want to use the term 服務員 or 服員, this is a unisex term for: service personel -- waiter, waitress, sales person, clerk.

I experenced using the term 小姐 and got a dirty look from the female. I immediately said: 姑娘,對不起我是外國來的。中文都是我的母語


As always, context and circumstances.

So you could use 小姐 anywhere in the World to politely address a young Chinese girl in an ordinary social setting, and she would not be offended. This is the contextual part.

But, if you similarly address a young Chinese girl, (or any girl of any nationality for that matter), and followed it up with a naughty wink of the eye, what do you think she would think? This is the circumstances part.

I believe 小姐 got a bad press because of the 19th century sudden proliferation of girlie drinking bars and hostess clubs in mainland China / Hong Kong / Taiwan / Singapore, etc, where the "Mummies" often refer to their charges euphemistically as 小姐s (perhaps to imbue some measure of respectability)

In fact another innocuous term is also used, namely, 姑 娘, for their more matured charges.

BTW, 小姐 has also for the better part of the modern era being used to address waitresses in Chinese restaurants.

Another term, this time for males, which has gotten a bad press is 大 哥. It ordinarily means elder brother, but because of movie usages, it now also means the head of a criminal gang.

And shouting out 大 哥! across a crowded restaurant to address someone may cause an unintended misconception.

  • I've seen people talking about calling a waitress 小姐 (and that's all) somewhere around China and people around stopped eating and their jaws dropped. So it's not just context and circumstance AT ALL. Dec 18, 2019 at 22:49
  • 1
    People now use 小姐姐 with one extra 姐 added to sofen the embarrassment it might cause, and for the usual occassions, it is safe to say 美女 to cover females of all ages and all looks. Jun 14, 2023 at 4:14


Quote:- "... people around stopped eating and their jaws dropped"

Really, that serious?

Though I am not mainland Chinese, I am part of the Chinese diaspora, and in my trips to mainland China, to visit my Hakka ancestral home and big city sight-seeing, I've not experienced the "jaw-dropping" thing.

It could well be that big city folks are more sensitive. However, using some anecdotal incidents as a comprehensive gauge for defining the cultural, societal behavior of a whole country or people as big and diverse as China is of course not useful. I suppose that's why you need a map?

So, since it is downright impossible to draw a "小姐 Prohibition Map of China / World" for your general use, I suppose you just have to "play it by ear"? Good Luck.


As others have mentioned, there is no such thing as a specific area to avoid a term, because it has more than one meaning and its not like people in a bad meaning area have never heard of the good definition, vise versa. Language is fluid.

Lets look at a random english example "loser"-- maybe not the best example but the first one to come to mind and it'll do.

Loser can be very offensive to call someone, but are there areas that don't say it on a map? Impossible, because there are so many places that use it for a normal non-offensive meaning too. Even if I lived in a place that never used the term inoffensively, I would recognize that the sentence "The loser of the bet buys dinner" is the normal definition of the word. Even if I live in an area the never uses the term badly, I would recognize the sentence "You loser" is not kind.

In the same way, if you very clearly say 小姐 in an inoffensive way, people will recognize what you mean, even if they would not use that term themselves in that area. On the flip side, even if you are in an area where 小姐 is ususally not used offensively, an ambiguous sentence may be interpreted badly and seen as an insult.

"If in doubt avoid it" is true, but also just pay attention to how the locals around you say it. If they are all saying it to each other normally, its probably just fine to use clearly. If you've never heard a single local say it, then its probably better to use 女士 or whatever term you have heard them saying. If you hear the term in Hongkong, don't assume it'll be the same in Macau or Guangdong just cause they are nearby-- the same anywhere else.

Actually in Hongkong its totally okay to say this for miss, and the prostitute slang totally exists too. Just like loser in english, I have never had any confusion about what meaning was intended for this term as long as your sentences are clear (well, as is often chinese habit, any unclear sentence will probably be read between the lines no matter the subject haha).

In chinese context is almost always king, and that continues to apply here too :)

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