So I'm trying to understand the first sentence from the book 三体.

The original:


My translation:

Wang Miao thought the 4 men coming to him were a strange combination: 2 policemen and 2 soldiers, if the the two soldiers were armed police that would be normal but the two men were land force officers.

I'm not sure if my translation is true but even if it is, I am still confused about the differences between 警察, 武警, 便衣, 士兵, 軍人 and 陆军军官. I'd really like to know what these terms represent/mean in China.


3 Answers 3


警察: Police. In China the term 民警 (abbreviation for 人民警察 people's police) is used more often.

武警: Abbreviation for 武装警察 armed police. Although it is "police", actually it is a military unit. The main tasks of 武警 are anti-terrorism, law enforcement, and handling extreme violent crimes.

特警: Similar to 武警, but is a well-equiped police unit that supports public security (e.g. SWAT).

便衣/便衣警察: Plainclothes police. They do not wear uniforms nor drive police cars in case criminals escape because of seeing their uniform or hearing the siren.

士兵: Soldiers.

陆军军官: Army (ground force) officer.

军人: People in military service (a superset of 士兵 and 军官).

  • See also: Gendarmerie nationale vs Police nationale in France (some roles are different than in China, but the military/civilian structure is similar).
    – xngtng
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 11:55

This is the first sentence of the forth chapter of The Three Body Problem:

4 三十八年后·科学边界


The first book, luckily enough for you, was translated by Ken Liu. Here is his, published, translation:

4 The Frontiers of Science

Forty-plus years later

Wang Miao thought the four people who came to find him made a rather odd combination: two cops and two men in military uniforms. If the latter two were armed police, that would be somewhat understandable, but they were actually PLA officers.

As you can see 武警 is just translated as "armed police" here. While, 陆军 is directly translated as PLA (People's Liberation Army). And 军人 is rendered somewhat round-a-boutly as "men in military uniform." 警察 are just "cops."

As to your additional question: 便衣 refers to undercover cops.

  • 1
    便衣警察 refers to plainclothes police. 卧底探員 / 卧底警察 refers to undercover cops
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 22:59
  • A plainclothes police officer is much more likely to be referred to as an undercover cop colloquially. "卧底" may be, "deep undercover."(?)
    – Mou某
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 23:19
  • police detectives don't wear uniforms, therefore, they are plainclothes police.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 23:33

警察 = police

武装警察 (abbreviation: 武警) = armed police

The thing that confuses you is that you do not know the Chinese fact that “armed police” is not listed in police staff. In fact, “armed police” is listed in the military force (army).

The full name of Chinese armed police is 中国人民武装警察部队, literally Chinese People's Armed Police Army, so it is a part of the army, not a part of the police.

便衣警察 = plain-clothes police (police without uniforms, in order to disguise their identity in front of criminals)

士兵 = 军人 = soldier

陆军军官 = army officer

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