Ten thousand years
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 萬歲
Simplified Chinese 万岁
Japanese name
Hiragana ばんざい
Kyūjitai 萬歳
Shinjitai 万歳
Korean name
Hangul 만세
Hanja 萬歲
Vietnamese name
Quốc ngữ vạn tuế (Sino-Viet.)
muôn năm (native)
Chữ nôm 𨷈𢆥 (35px) (native)
Hán tự 萬歲 (Sino-Viet.)

The use of the phrase "ten thousand years" in various East Asian languages originated in ancient China as an expression used to wish long life to the Emperor, and is typically translated as "long live" in English. Due to the political and cultural influence of China in the area, and in particular of the Chinese language, cognates with similar meanings and usage patterns appeared in many East Asian languages (see the table to the right for an overview of these). In recent times, the term has been associated with Imperial Japan (due to a Meiji-era reintroduction of the term as banzai) and with the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China, where it was used to laud Mao Zedong. Although its usage in both countries is now less common, it nevertheless does not engender a negative connotation and, especially in the greater China area, continues to be used in historical contexts and occasionally informally.


The phrase was once used casually, much like "cheers to your health". During the Tang Dynasty, it came to be used exclusively to address the emperor as a prayer for his long life and reign. Then, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, its use was temporarily extended to include certain higher ranking members of the imperial court,[1] but this tradition was relatively short-lived: in later imperial history, using it to address someone other than the emperor was considered an act of sedition and was consequently highly dangerous. During the Ming Dynasty, especially during the reign of weak emperors (such as the Tianqi emperor), powerful eunuchs such as Liu Jin and Wei Zhongxian circumvented this restriction by styling themselves with "jiǔ qiān suì" (九千歲, literally "9000 years") so as to display their high positions, which were close to or even exceeded the emperor's, while still remaining reverent to the title of the emperor.

Traditionally, empresses consort and empresses dowager were addressed as "thousand years" (simplified Chinese: 千岁; traditional Chinese: 千歲) rather than "ten thousand years", which was reserved for the emperor. However, Empress Dowager Cixi, the de-facto supreme ruler of China from 1861 to 1908, was addressed as "ten thousand years". Several photographs of her[2] show a banner on her litter reading "The Incumbent Holy Mother, the Empress Dowager of the Great Qing, [will live and reign for] ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years" (Chinese: 大清國當今聖母皇太后萬歲萬歲萬萬歲).



Classically, the phrase is repeated multiple times following a person's name or title. For example, in ancient China, the Emperor would be thus addressed: "Wú huáng wànsuì, wànsuì, wànwànsuì" (simplified Chinese: 吾皇万岁,万岁,万万岁; traditional Chinese: 吾皇萬歲,萬歲,萬萬歲), literally "May my Emperor [live and reign for] ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years"). An important distinction made in Chinese but not in English is the use of suì to mean year, rather than the equally common nián (年), which is also translated as year. The former is used as a counter for years of life, whereas the latter is used for periods of time and calendar years. Thus the phrase "ten thousand years" in its original sense refers to ten thousand years of life, and not a period of ten thousand years.

The significance of "ten thousand" in this context is only that "ten thousand" in Chinese (and in many East Asian languages) represents the largest discrete unit in the counting system, in a manner analogous to "thousand" in English. Thus 100,000 in Chinese is expressed as 10 ten-thousands; similarly, whereas a million is "a thousand thousands", the analog in Chinese is "bǎiwàn" (simplified Chinese: 百万; traditional Chinese: 百萬), which is literally "hundred ten-thousands". Because of this, Chinese people often use wàn in a manner analogous to "thousand" -- whereas an English speaker might exclaim "there are thousands of ants on the ground", the Chinese speaker would substitute ten thousand in his description. So in the context of wànsuì, a literally incorrect but culturally appropriate translation might be, "may you live for thousands of years". The number simply denotes innumerability, in a manner etymologically similar to the Greek myriad (although the current usage of that word differs).

Modern use

File:Commuting to Work.jpg

One of the most conspicuous uses of the phrase is at the Tiananmen gate in Beijing, where large placards are affixed to the gatehouse reading "Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó wànsuì" (simplified Chinese: 中华人民共和国万岁; traditional Chinese: 中華人民共和國萬歲; literally "[may the] People's Republic of China [last for] ten thousand years") and "Shìjiè rénmín dàtuánjié wànsuì"(simplified Chinese: 世界人民大团结万岁; traditional Chinese: 世界人民大團結萬歲; literally "[may] the Great Unity of the world's people [last for] ten thousand years").

During the Cultural Revolution, the saying "Máo Zhǔxí wànsuì!" (simplified Chinese: 毛主席万岁; traditional Chinese: 毛主席萬歲; literally "[may] Chairman Mao [live for] ten thousand years!") was also common. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the phrase has never been used for any individual. Apart from these special cases, the phrase is almost never used in political slogans today. In casual conversation, however, the phrase is used simply as an exclamation of joy. For example, CCTV commentator Huang Jianxiang shouted "Yìdàlì wànsuì" (simplified Chinese: 意大利万岁; traditional Chinese: 義大利萬歲; literally "Italy ten thousand years!"; translated as "Forza Italia!" by some media) during a game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Taiwan-based singer Leehom Wang's 2007 album Change Me (traditional Chinese: 改變自己; simplified Chinese: 改变自己; pinyin: Gǎibiàn Zìjǐ contains a song called "華人萬歲" (pinyin: Húarén Wàn Sùi; literally "Long Live Chinese People").


The Chinese term was introduced to Japan as banzei (Kana: ばんぜい) in the 8th century, and was used to express respect for the emperor in much the same manner as its Chinese cognate.

Banzei was later revived as banzai after the Meiji Restoration. Banzai as a formal ritual was established in the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889 when university students shouted banzai in front of the emperor's carriage.

Around the same time, banzai also came to be used in contexts unrelated to the emperor. The supporters of the Freedom and People's Rights movements, for example, began to shout "Jiyū banzai" (Kanji: 自由万歳; Kana: じゆうばんざい, literally "Long Live Freedom") in 1883.

During World War II, banzai served as a battle cry of sorts for Japanese soldiers, with kamikaze pilots reportedly shouting "banzai!" as they rammed their planes into enemy ships,[3] and ground troops doing the same as they attacked Allied encampments. As a result, the term "banzai charge" (or alternatively "banzai attack") gained common currency among English-speaking soldiers and remains the most widely understood context of the term in the west to this day.

Modern use

Traditionally, "banzai" (roughly translated as "hurrah") was an expression of enthuasiasm, and crowds shouting the word three times, arms stretched out above their heads, could be considered the traditional Japanese form of applause.[4]

In Hawaii, the term has taken on new meaning amongst the Japanese American community. It is used as a toast at celebratory events, particularly weddings. In this context, the Banzai is given twice - the first, "Shinro shimpu, banzai!" means "long life and happiness to the bride and groom." The second banzai is: "Raihin shokun, banzai!" meaning "Long life and happiness to all the guests!" After each toast, participants shout the word "banzai" three times in unison, raising their glasses each time, and drinking after the third.[5]

In The Karate Kid, Daniel (played by Ralph Machio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) engage in a scene where the two yell "banzai" one after the other. The scene is meant to highlight the bond the two have formed.[citation needed]


The same term is pronounced manse in Korean. In Silla of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, it was used as a casual exclamation. It was a part of the era name of Taebong, one of the Later Three Kingdoms, declared by the king Gung Ye in 911. During the Joseon dynasty, Korea used cheonse (Hanja: 千歲; Hangul: 천세, literally "one thousand years") in deference to the Chinese emperor.

In the 20th century, various protests against Japanese occupation used the term in their names, including a pro-independence newspaper established in 1906, the March 1st Movement of 1919, and the June 10th Movement of 1926.

Today, in North Korea, manse is used to wish Kim Jong-il a long life, and is also used for his father, Kim Il-sung, despite the fact that he died in 1994.

It is also used as a casual proclamation, commonly used as the English equivalent of "Victory."


File:The Ba Dinh meeting-hall.jpg
File:Muon Nam (Vietnamese Chu Nom).png

In Vietnamese, "vạn tuế" is the phrase cognate to the Chinese wàn suì and is the proper Vietnamese reading of the hán tự "萬歲". However, this word is rarely used in the modern language, appearing instead only in China-related contexts (such as in "vạn tuế, vạn tuế, vạn vạn tuế" -- compare to Chinese usage, above). In other situations, "muôn năm" is used instead, and is frequently heard in communist slogans, such as "Hồ Chí Minh muôn năm!" (Long life to Ho Chi Minh) and "Đảng cộng sản muôn năm!" (Long live the Communist party).

Because "muôn năm" is from an older nativized Chinese borrowing, chữ Nôm characters were created to write it and were used before the Latin-based quốc ngữ script became standard. "Muôn" is a sound-meaning compound consisting of a gate for the sound part (its pronunciation, "môn", approximates "muôn") and the character for "ten thousand" (vạn) for the semantic part. The character for "năm", also a sound-meaning compound, uses "south" (pronounced "nam") for the phonetic portion of the character and "year" (niên) for the meaning. These characters, while archaic, are nonetheless part of Unicode and are mapped to U+28DC8 and U+221A5, respectively, and with the right fonts installed may actually display: 𨷈𢆥.

See also


  1. Ouyang, Xiu. Davies, Richard L. [2004] (2004). Historical Records of the Five Dynasties. Columbia university press. ISBN 0231128266
  2. 瑞丽女性网-生活-揭密慈禧太后奢侈生活
  3. p.3, The Cambridge history of Japan, by John Whitney Hall, 1988 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521223520
  4. [1] What does Banzai mean?
  5. [2] Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii
it:Diecimila anni

nl:Banzaipl:Banzairu:Банзай sr:Десет хиљада година! uk:Банзай zh:萬歲

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