In Cantonese 放水 means not using one's full strength (in a contest against an opponent) [literal] release water

For example, a strong team is winning 9-0 against a weak team. If they want to give the weak team some face, they can allow the weak team to score once before the game ended. It is a typical 放水 behavior; In some cases, you can even 放水 to the point of your opponent actually win the game

I don't think 手下留情 is the same as 放水 because 手下留情 doesn't allow your opponent to win in any case while 放水 does

What is the term equal to 放水 in Mandarin? Can it be simply 讓?



  • 1
    放水 is also used in Mandarin.
    – joehua
    Jan 4, 2022 at 5:45
  • Good to know. The dictionary I referenced states it is a Cantonese term. Should I remove the Cantonese tag? Or keep it as it is? It might be a case of Cantonese exported to Mandarin (thanks to Hong Kong TV. many mainland Chinese are familiar with Cantonese terms that was unknown in the mainland before)
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 4, 2022 at 6:18
  • Because the Cantonese used it all the time? I actually rarely hear it said in Mandarin which usually use 讓一讓 or 让一让 (simplified) The Cantonese too use 讓一讓 but somehow it does not have the colloquial flavor of 放水 which also carries with it the hidden agenda of "disdain" for your opponent. Jan 4, 2022 at 7:31
  • An easy way to check is to search 放水 in newspapers. In Taiwan, this term is used quite often. It's not as often in mainland. I searched 人民日報 and found that in most cases 放水 really means to release water. Yet, I also saw things like 質量放水. The following is from 中青在綫: 若加上修业年限比学硕短,没有与职业资格做到很好衔接,就很容易被贴上“放水”的标签 ;而这与疫情以来美国政府采取的“直升机大撒钱式”的财政政策、“大放水”的货币政策脱不了干系. Not sure if it's necessary to remove the Cantonese tag.
    – joehua
    Jan 4, 2022 at 12:33
  • 大放水 means release fund in grand scale, it is a different usage from 'go easy' on someone
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 4, 2022 at 12:38

4 Answers 4


It's 放水 in Mandarin too.

The meaning is roughly 让对手, or more precisely 让对手赢, and it can be used as you describe. The implications I'm aware of are that you let the opponent win out of kindness (as you say, in order to 给面子), and, depending on how competitive they are, they might see that as an insult.

As a reference, MDGB includes the definition as:

to throw a game (sports)

zdic also says:


  • Throwing a game in English always means losing the game. It cannot mean simply allowing the opponent some points, to save face. OP says 放水 can go to the point of letting your opponent actually win the game but usually does not. "Throwing a game" always goes to that point. Jan 4, 2022 at 19:13

放水 is a situation that one withholds his superior ability in a game and allows the opponent to win or lose but not look so bad.

The closest equivalent is "讓一手", or "讓子/棋, but not exactly the same, as 放水 has a negative implication - cheat (the audiences, the referees, sometimes the team he plays for, and teammates). I think its counterpart should be "不留情".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 5, 2022 at 2:22

It is a panel from the manga Hikaru No Go (Taiwan translation)

enter image description here

A professional Go player played against four Go learners and he decided to make all four games a tie and not let them notice it was done intentionally. In order to do that, he has to go easy on them at a different levels according to their strength. And the term used here is 放水. So we can see Mandarin also use this term the same way as Cantonese does


放水 is also a common term in Mandarin for the sense OP describes.

As alternatives, we also say 留手 or (手下)留情.

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