Yuanfen (Fate?)

How do we translate the chinese notion of yuanfen into English? I’ve tried, “Fate”, “Destiny”, “Preordination”, “Star-crossed”… but none seem to really do the job very satisfactorally. Perhaps this is a good example of when the two languages just don’t have a truly comparable word.

I’m wondering if anyone can help me understand why people sometimes say in Chinese, “You yuan, meiyou fen”.

In other words… what does “yuan” mean, and what does “fen” mean, and in what circumstances can they be seperarted? Can people say, “You fen, meiyou, yuan”?

Finally, am I the only one who has gotten the “Meiyou yuanfen” line as a kiss-off? :smiley:

Not serendipitous.

Originally posted by Alien: Not serendipitous.


Yes. There is something poetic called for, isn’t there? Sometimes students would ask me,“How do you say,‘Yuen-fen’ in English”? Depending how much time we had, and where in the lesson we were, we might touch on some sort of Shakesperian notion of Romeo and Juliet Star-crossedness.

But, I’m not sure how adequate this translation is.

And… I’m still in the dark about the literal meaning of the two characters, and how they can be used together.

緣分 is a Buddhist idea that was so thoroughly absorbed into Chinese culture that a lot of people don’t necessarilly relive the background anymore.

It means “karmic affinity” or “karmic ties.” The idea is that you knew each other in other lives and the karmic tie or affinity you created then has brought you together again in this one. Quite a romantic idea. In Buddhism the idea is used more broadly. Everyone that we encounter has an affinity with us of one degree or another.

Now when someone says “meiyou yuanfen” in the course of ending a relationship, it’s probably most like “things just aren’t working out.” If the relationship is just ending because of external factors, it can be more like “it’s just not meant to be,” ie there not enough karmic affinity to hold you together.

Hope that’s helpful.

As to the literal meanings, I think “yuan” may have originally had some sense of thread or something (silk radical) and “fen” I think is simply a filler, like in 一部份.


Thanks a lot for the input. I’m still not clear about the contemporary colloquial Taiwan usage of the phrase. Everyone knows that it has a Buddhist orign related to “Karma”, but what are people on about whey they split the characters? In Taiwan people say that a person and their lover can have one, but not the other, both, or neither.

Just asked some people I work with.I had never heard it split before, but it seems like a migration of the original meaning. When split, yuan refers to the feeling of love and fen refers to the official status of the relationship, primarilly marriage. So if you have yuan but not fen, then there was a relationship that didn’t result in marriage. Fen without yuan is means you got married and then lost that lovin’ feelin’. Only the “status” is left. This seems to be the basic idea.

I have always translated yuen fen as “fate in personal relationships.”

I think fate is a poor choice in thatimplies a plan or a deterministic worldview that doesn’t mesh with the native background of the word.

There’s also the phrase “yuan fen yi jing dao le”, which evidentally refers to when a relationship breaks up and the parties are no longer meant to be together.

Originally posted by Grizzly: Just asked some people I work with.I had never heard it split before, but it seems like a migration of the original meaning. When split, yuan refers to the feeling of love and fen refers to the official status of the relationship, primarilly marriage. So if you have yuan but not fen, then there was a relationship that didn't result in marriage. Fen without yuan is means you got married and then lost that lovin' feelin'. Only the "status" is left. This seems to be the basic idea.

Thanks Griz. This is pretty much what I had infered, but being thousands of miles away from Taiwan, wasn’t really able to confirm it.

Thanks Alien, and Mr. Hartzell, as well.

My girlfriend’s definition: Coincidence


Bu Lai En - coincedence would be qiao3 or qiao3he2. You yuan meiyou fen, would be you’ve met each other, but you don’t reap any result from it. Nothing’s there.


Literally “yuan” is chances to meet together between human beings and human beings or between human beings and objects. One of fen’s meanings is status, but when in “yuan fen” it just means relationship or feelings. And “yuan fen” is personal fate or destiny by which some people fit among one another or are well-matched.
The above are just definition or meanings but what matters more in a language to most people is how those words are used.

Usually we say “yuan fen” together or just “yuan”. If a friend and I have not seen each other for a long while, and years later we accidentally enter the same company, and even find out that we live in the same neighborhood, then this friend and I hen3 yo3 yuan (fen). Yuan fen gives us chances to meet each together again and again in our lives.

If I like somebody and I do have chances to see or talk to him often, but we just don’t have the luck or fate to be together, or we (keep) miss(ing) the chances to be together, then we “mei (yo) yuan (fen)” or our “yuan fen hen bao2(薄-thin)”(or pronounced as yuan fen hen bo2).

“Yo yuan mei fen” is a derivative from yo yuan fen, mei yuan fen. Usually we put yuan fen together, but when distinguishing them by saying “yo yuan mei fen”, then we particularly refer to a situation where we are in a love relationship with someone but don’t or can’t have good results, such as marriage.

While “yo yuan mei fen” is quite often heard, “yo fen mei yuan” is hardly said in our daily lives (at least in Taiwan.) But I found one article on internet written by a Chinese (in China), it seems that when people say yo fen mei yuan(again, rarely put this way), they mean there is someone over somewhere right for you, but you just don’t have chances to meet him(her). For example, two persons would have been well-matched as husband and wife from whatever angles, but too bad they just mei yuan to meet!!

Well, last but not least, the above is just my understanding about my language, but no guarantee its accuracy.

Thanks a lot for your detailed explaination, Shu Shu. Very clear, and very helpful. You rock!

Idon’t think it is worth even trying to translate this word into English. Just understand the meaning in Chinese. It is subtle and perhaps difficult to explain but you know when you have it and when you don’t.

My male Taiwanese language exhange partner and I get along really well and lately, he has been saying that he and I have yuanfen - that it was fate/our destiny that we should meet. I casually agree and say “yeah it must be” even though what I really think is that it’s just lucky that the two of us get along this well especially with the cultural differences etc. More recently he has been enquiring about my love life, whether I like anyone etc, and introducing me to his friends.

Last night I was flipping through Culture Shock Taiwan for the 5 millionth time and this little paragraph on yuan fen caught my eye. It says that yuanfen is when two people meet and fall in love and get married as if it was predestined, especially young people (…something along that line). The possibility dawned on me that my friend has feelings for me. This would explain the change in his behaviour lately… Then I asked my roommate what yuanfen is and she said it applies to any two people who have come together for some reason, not just two people of the opposite sex.

So does yuanfen only apply to young couples in love or to anyone? Are there any huge cultural differences between the courtship routines of Western and Taiwanese men? Is it true that if two people of the opposite sex are seen together alot it means they are together?

It is “fate in personal relationships”, and can apply to men as well as women.

There need not necessarily be any sexual or marital overtones . . . . . it can just be a friendship with common interests, for example.

Note: When the two break up, it is said that the yuan fen has ended . . . . .

I disagree with the previous poster. Yuanfen, at least in contemporary Taiwan, refers to romantic love, not just friendship. I think it can mean that you are well on the road to being together (‘compatible’) or that you are already a couple. The phrase isn’t restricted to young people these days.

If a girl tells you we don’t have ‘yuanfen’, she is letting you down easy. I’d translate it as something like ‘We’re just not right for each other’.

I’d say your language exchange partner is shifting into high gear on the highway of love. Languages exchanges, after all,are a well-marked exit.

緣分: 宿命論認為人與人之間能夠投何, 有一種定份, 叫 “緣分”.

As per the definition, it is the supposedly “fateful” or “predestined” meeting of two people who gets along together. That is, under some circumstances it is perfectly okay to describe the coming-together of two complete strangers as a kind of “緣分”.

So, in short, when two people meet and enjoys each other’s company, it is said that they have 緣分.

A less formal usage of 緣分 can be used to describe the “meant-to-be-ness” between a person and “something”. For example, I’ve had my driver’s license since I was 18 but up untill now that I am 24, I still cannot afford a car. So I often joke to my cousins that “車和我無緣”, which, basically means that cars and I are not “meant to be”.