Who's the Boss in China?

In English, the title "boss" refers to someone who is in charge and makes decisions. In business, this typically applies to someone who owns a business, manages other people, or works for themselves. It can also refer to someone in charge of an organization like a worker's union or a mafia boss.

In Chinese, the term 老板 (lǎobǎn) means "boss" and is used in a similar way. When speaking to someone who owns a small business or store, or even someone who appears to be in charge in a small store, you can call them 老板. Remember to use their family name followed by their title (老板).

While a "boss" in English can refer to anyone who's in charge, its usage in Chinese is more narrow. In an office, your manager may be in charge and, as the definition of boss says, the one making decisions, but they have a specific title that they've earned. It's most respectful to address them using their official title which is often "manager" 经理 (jīnglǐ).

Besides 老板, there are some casual phrases people use as titles for leaders at work. For someone in charge of a department or section in a company, instead of the full title "Department Head" they are just called 头 (tóu) which literally means head (family name + 头). For a leader of a team or a project, especially someone who doesn't have a work title that indicates they are the leader, you can call them 老大 (lǎodà) to show respect in a fun and friendly way. The literal translation is "old big" which isn't a comment about physical appearance but refers to their experience and responsibility.

This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.