When you face a moment where it would help to dish out a compliment, say to a male partner or a friend or a friend’s son, China Simplified wants you to be armed and ready!

The current trendy expressions – 小鲜肉 xiǎo xiān ròu a hot guy (lit. little fresh meat), 男神 nán shén male god, and 高富帅 gāofù shuài tall, rich and handsome – are great among friends to show you know the latest pop culture sayings. In other settings, however, you may want to reach for a more sophisticated compliment, one able to communicate a degree of respect and intellectual substance.

Styles of expression come and go. Check out this translation from one of China’s greatest novels in description of Baoyu, its popular male protagonist:

“His face resembles the mid-autumn moon. His features hover like a flower on a spring morning. Sideburns trimmed sharp, as if cut by a knife. Eyebrows as if painted in ink. His cheeks are like peach blossoms, eyes like autumn ripples. When angry he seems to smile, and when he frowns, he still endears.”

— from Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin (1715-1763)

A wee bit of overkill? Perhaps. Lets explore five other male classic compliments, all still alive and well in the culture, to better prepare you with some praiseworthy firepower:

才貌双全
cái mào shuāngquán

Meaning
Blessed with both talent and looks. Source: The Tales of the Serene Mountain by Hong Pian, Ming Dynasty.

Context
To be eligible for this compliment, a man must score at least “8” on a 1-10 scale. Only through his pleasantness and generosity, however, can he earn a “10.” Originally male oriented, this phrase now applies to both genders.

Example:
你上辈子积的德吧,男朋友真是才貌双全!
Nǐ shàngbèizi jī de dé ba, nán péngyǒu zhēnshi cái mào shuāngquán!
“You must have done something amazing in your last life. Your boyfriend’s blessed with both talent and looks.”

玉树临风
yùshù línfēng

Meaning
Decent as a jade tree facing the wind. Source: Song of the Drunken Eight Immortals by Du Fu (712-770).

Context
In praise of his outward demeanor, yet implying deep inner character, since the Chinese culture treasures jade.

Example:
你玉树临风的样子,让我怦然心动。
Nǐ yùshù línfēng de yàngzi, ràng wǒ pēng rán xīndòng
“I’m moved by how well you hold yourself.”

风流倜傥
fēngliú tìtǎng

Meaning
Talented and unrestrained. Source: Slapping in the Table in Amazement by Ling Mengchu (1580-1644).

Context
To praise a laid-back man who doesn’t fuss over details and isn’t easily annoyed. He’s also easy on the eye.

Example:
你年轻时真是风流倜傥,现在依然。
Nǐ niánqīng shí zhēnshi fēngliú tìtǎng, xiànzài yīrán.
“You’re still as cool as when you were young.”

翩翩少年
piānpiān shàonián

Meaning
A fine young man. Source: Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian (145-86BCE).

Context
Implies delightfulness, sharpness, independence, and more. Applies to teens up to early twenties.

Example:
他转眼已长成一位翩翩少年。
Tā zhuǎnyǎn yǐ zhǎng chéngyī wèi piānpiān shàonián.
“He’s grown into a delightful young man.”

谦谦君子
qiānqiānjūnzǐ

Meaning
Humble and gentlemanly. Source: I Ching (Book of Changes)

Context
Again, if a man is score on a 0-10 scale, this refers to those who are scoring at least around 9. The pending one point depends on if he’s also a talented person. Compared with any of the above, he is a pleasure to be with guaranteed.

Example:
他是谦谦君子,从不与人计较。
Tā shì qiānqiānjūnzǐ, cóng bù yǔ rén jìjiào.
“He is humble and gentleman, never being calculative when dealing with people.”

Good luck and don’t be afraid to give these phrases a go! Chinese idioms (成语 chéngyǔ) can be a fun way to get your point across. And feel free to visit our matching female post – Appreciating and Complimenting Female Beauty.

Download our book China Simplified: Language Empowerment for more entertaining chéngyǔ. We call them four-character, less-is-more mini-poems providing writers and speakers with instant shortcuts to conveying their deeper meanings. Why elaborate when you can fire one of these laser-guided linguistic missiles into the fray and run for cover?

  • Great article! Regarding “你年轻时真是风流倜傥,现在依然。”, starting from what age is it possible to use it please? (without making the person feel old!). Thanks!