I don't know if other countries had similar systems for electing officials, but I often struggle to find the right English equivalent for 新科状元 or just 状元 when trying to translate Chinese text.

Are there any good suggestions or ideas?

  • from wiki: Zhuàngyuán, or trạng nguyên in Vietnamese, variously translated into English as principal graduate, primus, or optimus,[1] was the title given to the scholar who achieved the highest score on highest level of the Imperial examination,省試 [ja](in Tang) and 殿試 [zh](in Song)[2] in ancient China and Vietnam.
    – fefe
    Sep 21 '20 at 9:22

Like all cross-linguistic and cross-cultural translations, this requires a knowledge of the context, not just of the source material but also of the target language.

In medieval and Renaissance Western Europe, the 科举 was not "a thing" in the same way as in Imperial China (and East Asia), with the viva voce being more traditional. However, with greater knowledge of these practices, an accepted translation for certain terms formed, e.g. 科举 = imperial examination.

There are plenty of possible translations for 状元 which are native to English, that any good Chinese dictionary should give:

  • top scorer
  • best in class
  • top of the class
  • leading light (best applied to the world of work)

However, in most academic texts, zhuangyuan is used, in recognition of its origin.


If in urgent situation with no time to explain the background, New (National) Exam Champ(ion) might be a good choice. In modern world, 状元 refers to top No. 1 in all kinds wide range exam, thus 市状元 municipal level, 省状元 provincial/state level; you can also add type of exam (competition) like 高考状元,奥数状元,even 电竞状元。


There are several other phrases related to 狀元.

No. 1 狀元, 新科狀元 usually refer the person who is the new number one in some kind of exam. (In ancient China, it was a national-wide exam.)

No. 2 榜眼

No. 3 探花

名落孫山, which is a 成語, means "failed to pass the examination".

e.g. 這次大學入學考試我鄰居的兒子名落孫山,只好來年再努力看看了!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.