Chinese Train Terminology

If you are planning to travel to China for an extended period of time, most likely you will want to take trains between cities. This article will discuss Chinese train terminology so you can have an easier time travelling on trains in China.

Chinese bullet train. Image via

Chinese Train Terminology Related To Train Tickets

出发站 (chu1 fa1 zhan4) is the origin station in city you will leave from.
An alternative of the above is: 出发地 (chu1 fa1 di4) is the origin station in city you will leave from.

到达站 (dao4 da2 zhan4) is the station in the city that you will arrive at
An alternative of the above is: 目的地 (mu4 di4 di4) is the station in the city that you will arrive at or your destination.

出发日 (chu1 fa1 ri4) is the date you will leave.

单程 (dan1 cheng2) means one way ticket

往返 (wang3 fan3) means return ticket

Chinese Train Terminology For Slow Trains

硬座 (ying4 zuo4) means hard seat. This is the most common seating on slow trains.

Chinese Slow Train Hard Seats. Image via Wikipedia

硬卧 (ying4 wo4) means hard bed or hard sleeper. When getting a bed seat, I have only ever slept with hard sleepers when I got a bed on a train in Mainland China, but I have never had a problem and I feel that they are fairly comfortable.

Chinese Hard Beds. Image via morguefile.

上/中/下 (shang4/zhong1/xia4) These mean respectively, bottom, middle, and top. In hard sleeper cars, there are always 3 beds stacked one above the other like bunk beds. You have the choice of being on the bottom bed, the middle bed, or the top bed. Usually the bottom is the most expensive followed by the middle, and then the top bed being the cheapest usually. I usually choose the top just because I don’t like people waking me up, and there is less chance of that if you choose the top bed.

软卧 (ruan3 wo4) means soft bed or soft sleeper. These will be slightly more comfortable than a hard bed, but more expensive. Also, there will be fewer people in one area. With soft beds, there will be 4 people in one areas, but with hard beds, there will be 6 people in one area. With soft beds, there will be 2 beds with one above the other. There is a bottom bed and a lower bed you can choose from. 上 (shang4) means bottom and 下 (xia4) means bottom.

Advise If You Will Be Travelling More Than 12 Hours On A Slow Train

I would advise that if you are travelling on a slow train, the distance to your destination is vast, and if it will take more than 12 hours to get there, that you get a bed. I don’t think there is a huge difference between a soft bed and a hard bed. I think the soft bed is just slightly more comfortable. So, if you are price conscious, then get a hard bed.

I have actually ridden on a slow train by myself for more than 12 hours just in hard seats, but I definitely would not recommend it. The seats are not so comfortable, and you may have much difficulty going to sleep. I have met some people in China who have travelled on a train for more than 48 hours in hard seats, but I think that is a little crazy, unless you have absolutely no other choice, and you will likely regret the decision.

Beds are often the tickets that sell out the most quickly, so, if you are travelling, make sure you buy your tickets well in advance to make sure you can get a bed seat.

Chinese Train Terminology For Fast  (a.k.a. Bullet) Trains

高铁 (gao1 tie3) means highspeed rail.

二等座 (er4 deng3 zuo4) or just 二等 (er4 deng3) means 2nd class seats. I have only ever taken 2nd class seats when I use fast trains in China, and find them to be very comfortable. I have never felt the need to pay more for 1st class tickets. These are the cheapest tickets you can buy on fast trains.

Chinese bullet train 2nd class seats. Image via Wikipedia.


一等座 (yi1 deng3 zuo4) or just 一等 (yi1 deng3) means 1st class seats. These will be the most comfortable seats on fast trains, but also the most expensive.

A note about foreigners buying train tickets in China

In general, foreigners cannot buy tickets from the machines in train stations or online due to not having a Chinese ID card. So, if you want to buy tickets, you will need to go to a train station with your passport, or to a travel agent in China, also with your passport. If you are staying in a hotel, often your hotel can arrange to get the tickets for you, but you will still need to give them your passport. Usually, going to a travel agent to buy a train ticket is much more convenient than going to the train station, they are much more helpful and sometimes speaking English, and often the fee is as low as 5 RMB per train ticket.

Do you learn much from this article? Do you have anything to add? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

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