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Three important words when talking about work are

  • 上班 (shàng bān, to go to work)
  • 办公 (bàn gōng, to work [esp. in an office])
  • 工作 (gōng zuò, job / work)

This can be confusing for beginners - I often get them mixed up because the pronunciations are similar, even though the symbols are completely different.

Is there are reason for the similar pronunciation of 班 and 办, respectively 公 and 工? Or is it basically just a coincidence?

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  • 1
    It is just coincidence. – fefe Apr 8 '20 at 7:51
  • 1
    An interesting observation though. – Wayne Cheah Apr 8 '20 at 8:58
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    I think you need to ask yourself how similar they really are. It's essentially one syllable out of two and the tone is different (except for 公/工, which clearly don't mean the same thing). I agree that it's coincidence, I just want to point out that with very lax standards for "similar", anything can look related. – Olle Linge Apr 8 '20 at 14:52
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It is just a coincidence. I haven't notice it until I see your question :)

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Yes it's a coincidence. The characters are completely unrelated.


办 ban4 means "to do, to handle", and it's a phono-semantic compound where the 力 part (strength) conveys the meaning, and the two dots at the sides are a simplification of 辛 (xin1). But the phonetic part when doubled is pronounced bian4. Compare the simplified characters 辩 (as in 辩论)and 辨 (as in 辨别)


班 ban1 means "class, team", and it's a compound ideograph composed of two 玉 (jade)and 刀 (knife).

To 刀 cut up 玉 pieces of jade and bestow the halfs as rank insignia upon feudatory chiefs (Karlgren)


公 gong1 alone means "official duties" or "public affairs", and is (if I'm not mistaken) also a compound ideograph, from 八 and 厶.

The right 八 division of 厶 private things (Karlgren)


工 gong1 means "work" and is instead a pictogram of an axe (a carpenter square, according to Karlgren). (See picture)

enter image description here

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  • That description of 公 is not correct unfortunately (it’s actually a picture of a clay jar, and is the original form of 瓮). In general it’s better to trust paleographers over linguists for tracing glyph origins - paleographers have a higher focus on primary evidence. – dROOOze Jul 2 '20 at 3:00
  • @dROOOze so is it the consensus now in academia that paleographers are more correct sources than linguists? Do you have any links? I’m not in front of my computer atm – blackgreen Jul 2 '20 at 8:26
  • Put it this way - paleographers will not only look at the primary sources of text (oracle bone, bronze inscriptions, bamboo strips), but they will also use linguistics as a tool to determine glyphs and the words they represent, and will engage in readings of classical literature. The most famous works on Chinese linguistics are now outdated - apart from Baxter and Sagart's work (2014) which reverses the process by including paleography in their linguistic models, the rest are a few decades out of date in terms of the latest research. – dROOOze Jul 2 '20 at 8:34
  • This particular description of 公 comes straight from 說文, and is what people normally resort to if they don't have any better research to fall back on. Since linguists are normally more out-of-date than paleographers in models of writing and the words they represent, their description of glyph origins are much more likely to be out of date too. – dROOOze Jul 2 '20 at 8:36
  • @dROOOze I see, that’s interesting. I would like to do some more research. Can you give me any titles that you deem particularly representative of this modern paleographic approach? – blackgreen Jul 2 '20 at 8:56
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Just a coincidence. What you found is similar pronunciation of 上班, 办公 and 工作 in Mandarin, not similar pronunciation of 上班, 办公 and 工作 in Chinese.

If you get this point, you will realize that these three words appeared before Mandarin was created.

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  • Hi and welcome to Chinese Language Stack Exchange. I find your explanation a bit confusing, especially since you don't transcribe the pronunciation. "Mandarin" (官话) refers to a dialect group spoken predominantly in North-East China; "Chinese" is a broader group that includes Mandarin. Perhaps one of the two terms you used needs to be replaced with "Standard Chinese" (普通话)? – Tsundoku Jun 29 '20 at 20:18

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