How to write a formal letter in Chinese

Writing a formal letter in Chinese can be a somewhat daunting task for those who are not familiar with the language and its intricacies. However, by understanding the basic structure and etiquette of Chinese formal letters, this can become a much more manageable and even enjoyable process. In this post, we will outline the essentials of writing a formal letter in Chinese, including essential elements and step-by-step guidelines to help you create a well-constructed and polite letter for any occasion.

Understanding Chinese formal letter structure

Before diving into the details of the letter itself, it’s essential to grasp the structure and format of a Chinese formal letter. Formal letters in Chinese follow a specific structure including headers, addresses, date, salutation, body, closing, and signature. Though you may encounter variations, it’s crucial to understand these elements as a foundation for your formal letter.

1. Header (信头 xìn tóu): This is where you write the recipient’s name and title.
2. Addresses (地址 dì zhǐ): The sender’s address should be on the top right, and the recipient’s address on the top left.
3. Date (日期 rì qī): Placed below the sender’s address, the date format in Chinese is YYYY年MM月DD日.
4. Salutation (称呼 chēng hū): It usually includes the recipient’s title and surname (for example, 张经理 Zhāng Jīnglǐ, meaning Manager Zhang).
5. Body (正文 zhèng wén): This is the content of your letter. Make sure to divide it into clear and concise paragraphs.
6. Closing (结尾 jié wěi): Politely close your letter before signing. Common closings include 敬礼 jìng lǐ (respectfully) or 顺祝商祺 shùn zhù shāng qí (wishing you prosperity in business).
7. Signature (签名 qiān míng): Sign your name under the closing.

Step-by-step guide to writing a formal letter in Chinese

Following the structure outlined above, we can break down the process of writing a formal letter in Chinese into eight simple steps:

1. Begin with the sender’s address: Write your address in the top right corner. If you have a company logo or letterhead, include it.
2. Add the date: Write the date directly under your address, following the Chinese format (YYYY年MM月DD日).
3. Write the recipient’s name and title: Leaving some space, write the full name and title of the recipient. Position this on the side aligned with the left margin.
4. Write the recipient’s address: Complete the header by adding the recipient’s address underneath their name and title.
5. Include the salutation: Start your letter with the appropriate salutation, addressing the recipient with their title and surname.
6. Compose the body: Write your letter’s content in clear, concise paragraphs. Keep your language formal and respectful.
7. End with a closing: Choose an appropriate closing phrase to end your letter politely.
8. Sign your name: Add your signature below the closing to complete your formal Chinese letter.

By following these guidelines and understanding the structure of a Chinese formal letter, you will be able to effectively communicate your message in a respectful and proper manner. It may take practice, but over time, you’ll find it easier to write formal letters in Chinese for various personal and professional situations.