Why is retail referred to as 零售 in Chinese? Why the combination of "zero" with "sales"? Certainly one expects to make (hopefully many) sales in retail so why is the character for "zero" used here? It just strikes me as such a negative and inauspicious word.

3 Answers 3


零 means "a part (fraction,fragment) of something" here. Some examples for this meaning:

零钱 small change such as RMB1, 2 or 5 (depending on how much you are talking); It also has another meaning. I.e,you buy something at a total price of 8.3,and you give one note of 100 to the cashier, so the cashier needs to return you 91.7. in Chinese,we also call that 91.7 零钱(here,零 refers to fragment) . Usually,the cashier may ask you"您有零钱(here,零 refers to small amount)吗?" Here,he hopes that you have notes with a small face value.In this case, it would be 10 so that he doesn't need to return you too many notes.

零件 part (in a machine) as a "part" is a part of a component in a machine.

Why is “零售” used?

Well, 售 means "to sell". We have another word opposite to "零售"; it's “批发 (wholesale)”. "批" means "a batch", "a package", and "发" means "to distribute, to sell".

The wholesalers (批发商) will buy a lot ("a lot" refers to 批 here)of goods from the manufacturers and sell them to different retailers(零售商). The retailers sell goods to end customers and generally a customer would only buy small amount (a small fraction, this is why we use 零 here) of the goods. You won't buy 10 soaps at a time, will you?


The character 零 means "small amount." In one context, "small amount" means "zero."

In the context of "sales," “零售,” it means "small sales" (Swedish: "Minuthandel" instead of "Grosshandel.") An appropriate translation for "small sales" is "retail."

  • 1
    Minuthandel? Grosshandel? Please specify the language of those words.
    – dusan
    Commented Jan 14, 2012 at 23:43
  • @Tom Au perhaps you are speaking in German, however,English is preferred here so we can communicate better.Thanks.
    – Huang
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 10:17
  • 2
    @Huang: Actually, it was Swedish. I used it because the name Bjourn appears to be Swedish, and I was trying to explain it to him in his own language. (These comments were in parentheses. My non-parenthetical comments were in English.)
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 14:39
  • @TomAu Thanks. I ignored the words in parentheses because I can't understand them,however, thanks for your reply! Happy to know that.
    – Huang
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 14:47
  • @Huang: "Minuthandel" and "Grosshandel" mean retail and wholesale respectively.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 14:49

In English one word often has one specific meaning. The word "Apple" can't mean much else. There are some examples of English word that have multiple (and seemingly unrelated) meanings:

  • Fast : To not eat for a period of time. Or, a description of speed.
  • Fan : I am a fan of ACDC, or 'fan' as in the electrical device you use in summer.

In Chinese, this is more common. It is actually extremely common and it would not surprise me if I find 4-5 seemingly unrelated meanings to one word (I am native). Being bi-lingual, this is one of the most immediately noticed difference to me, and I think you will need to give yourself time to adapt to it. However being aware of such difference is definitely going to help you learn.

零售 here means "non wholesale". The reason is that 零 can means loose items, or surplus that cannot be grouped into one lot. It also carries the meaning of a small quantity of items. 批发 on the other hand, means wholesale.

批: This means one lot (of goods), or a batch. For example a cargo container full of products. For example "This shipment of fabrics" can be said as "这一批布料" where we use 批 to express the large volume in a wholesale situation.

发: To distribute (goods)

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