Laoban - Daily Mandarin Lesson

Addressing a Shopkeeper

Florist arranging in shop

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Titles are important in Chinese culture, and they are used more frequently than in most Western countries. One good example of this is that titles can be used to address people, which you might be familiar with from your Mandarin class where you can call the teacher 老師 (lǎoshī). While that can be done in English too, it's usually reserved for younger kids and not as common as in Mandarin Chinese.

老板/闆 (lǎobǎn) - 'boss; shopkeeper'

The title for “shopkeeper” is lǎobǎn. This is used to refer to the owner or proprietor of a shop. Lǎobǎn can be used when referring to or addressing the shopkeeper.

Lǎobǎn has two characters: 老板/闆:

  1. The first one, lǎo, means “old,” and is a term of respect. It is the same character used in lǎoshī (teacher). Even though it doesn't mean "old" in this context, it can be a useful memory aid to think of it like that.
  2. The second character 闆, bǎn, means “boss,” so the literal translation of lǎobǎn “old boss.” Note that these are different in simplified and traditional Chinese (simplified: 板, traditional 闆, but the simplified version is used in traditional too). The most common meaning of 板 is "plank".

To remember the word, create a vivid picture of a typical shopkeeper in China (whatever comes to mind when you think of the word), but picture the person with a face like an old, gnarled plank.

Examples of Lǎobǎn

Click on the links to hear the audio.

Nèigè lǎobǎn yǒu mài hěn hǎo de dōngxī.
That shopkeeper has very good things.
Lǎobǎn hǎo. Yǒu méiyǒu mài píngguǒ?
老闆好. 有沒有賣蘋果?
老板好. 有没有卖苹果?
Hello. Do you sell apples?

Edit: This article was significantly updated by Olle Linge on April 25th 2016.

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Su, Qiu Gui. "Laoban - Daily Mandarin Lesson." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Su, Qiu Gui. (2023, April 5). Laoban - Daily Mandarin Lesson. Retrieved from Su, Qiu Gui. "Laoban - Daily Mandarin Lesson." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).