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The Uses of “Door” in Chinese – All about “门”

We all know that “门”(a door) represents an entrance, and therefore it plays an important role in our lives. The traditional Chinese character for door is written as 門 (mén), and 门 (mén) in simplified Chinese. However, this word has gone through many stages from ancient to modern times. Have a look below:

door

Besides the most common definition (the large flat object that you open and close at the entrance of a building or a room), “门” (door) in Chinese has several other meanings that you should know.

1. Door-like things or objects:

  • 冰箱门 (bīng xiāng mén) Fridge door
  • 柜门 (guì mén) Cupboard door
  • 心门 (xīn mén) This word refers to the ostium. It also refers to the metaphorical door of one’s heart.

e.g.

为了打开她的心门,我每天都陪她散步,送她回家。但为什么她还是不能告诉我她的秘密?(Wèile dǎkāi tā de xīn mén, wǒ měitiān dōu péi tā sànbù, sòng tā huí jiā. Dàn wèishénme tā háishì bùnéng gàosù wǒ tā de mìmì?) In order to open her heart, I walk with her every day and take her home. But why can’t she still tell me her secret?

2. Entrance or doorway:

  • 门可罗雀 (mén kě luó què) This idiom indicates a place where it is rare that people or guests come, very desolate.
  • 门庭若市 (méntíng ruò shì) This idiom indicates a place that is very lively and bustling. There are many people. It’s often used in family and business situations.  

e.g.

这家饭店20年前门庭若市,很多人排队来这吃饭。但是后来换了一批厨师,生意就慢慢不好了,现在门可罗雀。可惜呀!(Zhè jiā fàndiàn 20 nián qián méntíngruòshì, hěnduō rén páiduì lái zhè chīfàn. Dànshì hòulái huànle yī pī chúshī, shēngyì jiù mànman bù hǎole, xiànzài ménkěluóquè. Kěxī ya!) 20 years ago, this restaurant was very popular, and many people lined up to eat here. But then a group of chefs were replaced, and the business slowly deteriorated, and now there is rare guests. What a pity!

3. Describing a certain family:

  • 豪门 (háo mén) refers to a family with power and influence.
  • 朱门 (zhū mén) refers to a family with great power and fortune.
  • 名门 (míng mén) refers to a famous family. There are usually one or more celebrities who come from this family.  
  • 寒门 (hán mén) Contrary to the words above, this word refers to a poor family without fortune or influence.
  • 门风 (mén fēng) The ethics and moral standards that a family / clan has kept for generations.
  • 门当户对 (mén dāng hù duì) A marriage between families that are of equal social standing.
  • 双喜临门 (shuāng xǐ lín mén) It indicates that two joyous events come simultaneously.

e.g.

他家大儿子马上要和一位门当户对的姑娘结婚,小女儿又考上了全国最好的大学,真是双喜临门啊!(Tā jiā dà érzi mǎshàng yào hé yī wèi méndānghùduì de gūniáng jiéhūn, xiǎo nǚ’ér yòu kǎo shàngle quánguó zuì hǎo de dàxué, zhēn shì shuāngxǐlínmén a!) The eldest son of his family is about to marry a well-matched girl, and the youngest daughter has been admitted to the best university in the country. It is double happiness!

4. A certain school of thought or religious sect, sometimes referring to a teacher’s or master’s entrance hall:

  • 佛门弟子 (fó mén dì zǐ) Buddhist disciple
  • 门生(mén shēng) / 门徒(mén tú)  Disciple, follower of a famous master
  • 同门(弟子)(tóng mén dì zǐ) Disciples / pupils of the same master
  • 关门弟子 (guān mén dì zǐ) refers to the last student or disciple that the master enrolled.
  • 入门 (rù mén) indicates that one knows the basic principles and knowledge when learning an art form or technology.
  • 门外汉 (mén wài hàn) layman, outsider

e.g.

我来介绍一下,这位是李先生的得意门生小张,这一位是赵先生的关门弟子小陈。两位的老师原来也是同门师兄弟,你们可以互相认识一下。(Wǒ lái jièshào yīxià, zhè wèi shì Lǐ xiānsheng de déyì ménshēng xiǎo Zhāng, zhè yī wèi shì Zhào xiānsheng de guānmén dìzǐ xiǎo Chén. Liǎng wèi de lǎoshī yuánlái yěshì tóngmén shī xiōngdì, nǐmen kěyǐ hùxiāng rènshi yīxià.) Let me introduce, this is Mr. Li’s favorite student Xiao Zhang, and this one is Mr. Zhao’s close disciple Xiao Chen. The two teachers turned out to be fellow apprentices from the same master, so you can get to know each other.

音乐方面,我只是个门外汉,还没有入门,请各位老师多多指教。(Yīnyuè fāngmiàn, wǒ zhǐshì gè ménwàihàn, hái méiyǒu rùmén, qǐng gèwèi lǎoshī duōduō zhǐjiào.) In terms of music, I’m just a layman, and I haven’t gotten started yet. Please give me more advice, teachers.

5. A measurement word, usually for subjects of study or branches of science, a marriage, or relatives:

  • 一门外语 (yì mén wài yǔ) A foreign language
  • 一门亲戚 (yì mén qīn qi) A set of relatives
  • 一门技术 (yì mén jìshù) A kind of skills
  • 一门艺术 (yì mén yìshù) A type of arts

e.g.

你必须要学会一门外语或者一门技术,这样找工作更容易。(Nǐ bìxū yào xuéhuì yī mén wàiyǔ huòzhě yī mén jìshù, zhèyàng zhǎo gōngzuò gèng róngyì.) You have to learn a foreign language or technology to make it easier to find a job.

6. A way to do something:

  • 窍门 (qiào mén) Knack or key to a problem
  • 门路 (mén lù) The way to do something
  • 没门儿 (méi ménr) No way!

e.g.

A: 你能告诉我打开这个盒子的窍门吗?(Nǐ néng gàosù wǒ dǎkāi zhège hézi de qiàomén ma?) Can you tell me the trick to open this box?

B: 没门儿!(méi ménr) No way!

7. The categories or arrangements of things or objects:

  • 五花八门 (wǔ huā bā mén) many and manifold; all kinds of things
  • 分门别类 (fēn mén bié lèi) be divided into classes and divisions; classify according to subject

e.g.

这个书店的书五花八门的,你们能帮我把这边的书分门别类放在书架上吗?(Zhège shūdiàn de shū wǔhuābāmén de, nǐmen néng bāng wǒ bǎ zhè biān de shū fēnménbiélèi fàng zài shūjià shàng ma?) This bookstore has a variety of books, can you help me sort the books here and put them on the shelves?

8. As a suffix, indicating a negative event that got public attention:

  • 水门事件 (Shuǐmén shìjiàn) Watergate scandal
  • 艳照门 (Yànzhào mén) Sexy Photo Gate (China’s first big internet celebrity sex scandal)

Bonus word:

  • 走后门 (zǒu hòu mén) Originally, this term refers to going through the back door. Now it also often indicates that someone secures advantages through pull or influence.

e.g.

A:他的能力那么差,为什么可以当领导?(Tā de nénglì nàme chà, wèishénme kěyǐ dāng lǐngdǎo?) His ability is so poor, why can he be a leader?

B:走后门呗。(Zǒu hòumén bei.) By the back door.

There is a famous story related to门 (mén) – 程门立雪 (chéng mén lì xuě). It is the story of Yang Shi and You Zuo, two students in the Song Dynasty. Patiently and respectfully, they waited in the snow outside the house of their teacher, Cheng Yi, until the snow piled one-chi deep. This phrase now means to revere a teacher and respect his or her teachings, with 门 (mén) referring to the door of someone’s house.

Do you have any questions about the various uses of门 (mén)? Are there any other Chinese characters you want to see a deep dive for? Let me know in the comments!

JING CAO

Jing Cao is the chief-editor and co-founder of DigMandarin. She has a master's degree in Chinese Linguistics and Language Aquisition and has taught thousands of students for the past years. She devotes herself to the education career of making Chinese learning easier throughout the world.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. thanks for sharing the various meanings of the word “door” in Chinese culture. i believe there must be some others,but i could not figure out more besides what u have done.

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