Does any difference exist between 部门 and 系?

These are the two different results I get from Google translate:

I work in the university Chinese language department


I work in the university IT department


Besides the fact that Google has opted for different grammar for these two similar English sentences. Is there are good reason to use 部门 in one option and 系 in the other or are these two interchangeable.

  • Chinese language department is usually called 中文系, or 中国文学系, or 中国语文学系 (Taiwan)... no one says 中国语文系
    – user58955
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 4:52
  • A university's name in China ends with 大学 or 学院 commonly. Whether the school itself is a 大学 or a 学院, it offers many 学院 (the 学院 here likes 系 but not the same) and 系, maybe there are also some 系 under a 学院. Finally there are some 专业 under a 系 or a 学院.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 2:43

3 Answers 3


means college major and is exclusively used by the education system. 专业 is a synonym in this context.

For a student of the English major, he would say




An institution, a faculty or a big department that hosts multiple majors is usually translated into 学院. In a college, there can be only one language department which teaches multiple languages as different majors.

So when you say


It means you work for the English department (if there is), or you work on stuffs related to English major for the language department. While


Means you work for the department/school of language.

部门, or for short, is usually connected with the roles from an (commercial) enterprise, such as HR Department (人力资源部门), Operations Department (运营部门), Sales Department (销售部门), IT Department (信息技术部门), etc.

Sometimes you can connect 部门 with the 'business subject'. It's not the best word choice but is acceptable, such as 洗衣机部门, 冰箱部门, if you are a manufacturer and have dedicated sector for each product.

Back to the education system, you should stick with 系, 专业 or 学院 mentioned above. '英语部门' sounds very weird to me. However you can say '语言学院的IT部门' meaning the 'IT office for the language department'.

As a recap, and 部门 means different things and are not interchangeable in this context.


When I wrote this answer, I didn't realize there is a difference between Chinese college organizational model and the U.S. one.

To clarify, the education system in China used to follow the Russian model, that is, there are different offices for different majors in one department, and there are supporting staffs like administrators and operation personnel within the department, each of whom may be assigned to serve a specific major or all majors in the department.

Now they are gradually switching to the Western model, that is, each major is a department, and supporting services are run by the college.

  • I have seen 英语系 = English department before. Also, could you clarify what you mean "work for the English major"? Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 1:09
  • @StumpyJoePete What I am trying to say is there can be one major or multiple majors under one department. By 'work for the English major' I mean 'work on the teaching, administration, operation or other services for the courses for English major students'.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 3:20
  • If a university/college is large enough to distinguish the two, 学院=college/school and 系=department. E.g., "English department" (which might belong to the "College of Letters & Sciences" or something). Many institutions don't have the distinction, i.e., there are only departments, and there are no administrative groupings of them. Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 6:04
  • @StumpyJoePete I see. Then it's different from colleges in China. There are some colleges like you described, but there is another type like the college I attended, where there is a language department (语言学院), which has offices like education research office (教研处), guiding office (教导处), administration office (教务处), etc. Each office has staffs for different majors, like admin for English major (英语系教务), admin for French major (法语系教务), and they may or may not rotate responsibilities within the department. Under this setup, 英语系 crew is like a virtual team off of the 语言学院 staff.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 7:20
  • 1
    The education system in China used to follow the Russian model (there are different 教研室 for different subjects in one department), but now they are gradually switching to the US model (departments in a college).
    – user58955
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 15:56

is used exclusively for a department in a university, and you should not use any other word for it. (Of course, Faculty of Engineering/College of Engineering are translated into 学院 like 工程学院, but that's an upper-level organisation of a department)

When referring to a department in a hospital, use . For instance, department of radiology/internal medicine/obstetrics and gynaecology are called 放射科/内科/妇产科, respectively.

When referring to a government division or office, the names could vary among 局, 处, 厅, 部, etc depending on the level of that government division. For instance, Department of Personnel of the central Chinese government is called 人事部, of a provincial government 人事厅, of a city government 人事局, of a public university (which is sort of part of the government system) 人事处. This is the naming system in mainland China. The names are different in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

When referring to commercial organisations, it is typically 部门. A company's department of human resources would be called 人力资源部.

The established name of a department usually contains a single character 部 (department of procurement 采购部), while 部门 would be used for generic references such as IT部门 (IT department).


and 部门 have different connotations. applies to academic departments, while 部门 applies to professional/corporate departments. With these definitions in mind, it should be clear that working for the 中系 (Chinese academic department) justifies the use of , whereas working for the university's IT部门 (IT professional department) does not. Thought of a different way, you work in an IT department that happens to be at a university; there is nothing inherently academic about your work.

However, if the school is teaching "Information Technology" (IT) as an academic discipline, there may be an academic department called the "IT (academic) Dept." (though most universities would dub this a sub-section of their Computer Science department). In this case, you would be working for the IT系 (IT academic department).

tl;dr It doesn't matter what job you do, it's who you are doing it for. If you work for an academic department, it's X系; if you work for a professional (non-academic) department, even if it's at a university, it's still just X部门.

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