These characters all mean "to attack" or "to invade", but what are the differences between them? When should one be used and not the others?

  • 2
    征 - conquer, 讨伐 - punish by invading, 侵 - invade, 袭 - attack.
    – 杨以轩
    Dec 5, 2013 at 13:45
  • 1
    Perhaps it would be more illuminating to ask about the words they're used in? Dec 5, 2013 at 21:06
  • You will need to ask in compounds that they are used in. They are usually used by themselves, so it's a bit hard to explain the nuances. Dec 6, 2013 at 2:17

3 Answers 3


it is hard to tell what they exactly mean without contexts, but i can give you a very general idea of these characters:

征 (zheng1) means 'wage war by travelling a long distance'. it is usually associated with a war with a very large scale in both space and time.

伐 (fa2) is just 'to wage war against', nothing more. in fact, among all five characters, only the original meaning of 伐 is directly related with war.

讨 (tao3), literally "to demand", means "to wage war demanding justice/punish the wrongdoers"

侵 (qin1) means “to invade" or "to encroach"

袭 (xi2) is usually associated with “sudden attack”.

  • 2
    It should also be noted that both 征 and 讨 are used much more commonly in words where they have different meanings. 征 is most commonly found to mean ‘search for, ask for, inquire, solicit’ (as in 征求 ‘solicit’, 征婚 ‘look for a lover/spouse’, or 征兵 ‘conscript, draft’), while 讨 most commonly means ‘discuss, study’ (as in 讨论 ‘discuss, talk about’). 伐 is not particularly common, but usually means either ‘attack’, ‘punish’, or ‘fell, cut down (trees)’. 袭 is only really common in 袭击 ‘raid, surprise attack’. Only 侵 is really commonly used for ‘invade, encroach’, mostly as 侵略. Dec 8, 2013 at 15:08
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'd say 讨 is more often used to say "demand return of something previously lent out", e.g. 讨债.
    – phoeagon
    Dec 10, 2013 at 13:34
  • @phoeagon, that’s common, too. But I for one use the words ‘discuss’ and ‘talk about’ more than I reclaim debts. YMMV, of course, but 讨论 is definitely more common to me than 讨债. Dec 10, 2013 at 14:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet yeah 讨论(discuss) is probably more common but 讨 along does not mean having an discussion....
    – phoeagon
    Dec 11, 2013 at 15:19
  • @phoe, hence why I said they are used more commonly in words where they have different meanings. They have different meanings in those words, and those words are much more common than ones that have the meanings related to attacking/invading. Dec 11, 2013 at 20:05

As single characters they are only used in classical Chinese scripts, and their level of just decreases as has been listed before.

征 usually describes a war initiated by the emporor against local rebels/nomades.

伐 describes a war between emporors/kings/dukes because of various affairs political, marital, etc.

讨 describes a war initiated by a low class, sometimes a minister, against a high class. e.g.讨武曌檄文

侵 describes a war unfair without proper Casus Belli, typically strong kingdoms bullying weak kungdoms.

袭 describes a battle initiated when the opponent is unprepared.

攻 means to attack on a general sense.

Note: Meaning of characters can only help you to understand words, but since mandarin has gone through so many years, it does not have a rigid way of composing words from characters. And in classical Chinese, characters may have plural meanings, and character used for the same meaning changes with time.

Read more:http://www.douban.com/group/topic/11633451/


although I'm a native speaker, I still can't tell you the difference between them. In fact they have the same meaning, maybe include some little difference.

we always use them as following method: 征伐, 征讨, 侵袭

but don't mind it. Chinese is not a strict language. for example, elevator and escalator,we just use one word to describe them:电梯 sometimes we also use 手扶梯 to specific the escalator. But nobody will be puzzle when you say elevator when you point to a escalator.

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