I was talking with a chinese friend about the concept of renqing (人情) and the idea that when two people know each other they may develop implicit expectations that they are obligated to help each other (人情在) based on that relationship, even if it isn't a deep friendship. She was saying that there may not be a word or phrase for this in english because of the difference in our cultures - that we are more individualistic, but I think the idea is fairly universal even if the degree is different. My closest approximation is "strings attached" but I'm not sure if there was something better.

*Also is there a word to describe the idea of looking for the right word/phrase to encapsulate a large concept like above?


  • "the idea of looking for the right word/phrase to encapsulate a large concept": Thesaurus.
    – Kris
    Jan 4, 2014 at 6:13
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    The two Chinese words mentioned translate as human and favor.
    – Kris
    Jan 4, 2014 at 6:15
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    人情 is better translated as humanity or sympathy than human
    – virmaior
    Jan 9, 2014 at 23:07

8 Answers 8


The word good-neighbourliness exists, but neighbourliness is a synonym that's a bit less of a mouthful. Almost certainly there are widely-perceived connotations (an obligation to help someone in need - an obligation to help anyone in need) from the 'parable of the Good Samaritan' given by Jesus (94 million Google hits for who is my neighbor).

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    We (in the US Midwest, and I'm sure many other places) would refer to this as "being neighborly". However, that expression I've always heard in a literal "neighborhood" context, not just among friends
    – jmadsen
    Nov 29, 2013 at 10:11

I guess the word by trying to think back in my own mother tongue (Thai). With a bit of help of some dictionaries, I believe this word might be what you're looking for:

a person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others.

Some other words that come close, in my opinion, are acquaintance, intimate, and a common term such as close friend.

The reason that I prefer these terms over Samaritan and neighbourliness is that though they are quite close, they emphasize the sense of helping (each other) out, which might be correct, according to your suggestion. However, considering that the word renqing (人情) hints the sense of human or humane (I'm not very sure on this), and 在 hints the sense of "in", I would like offer the word confidant. (But I might be totally wrong, since I'm guessing Chinese words.)


It is one of the biggest differences in culture that most Western dwellers are unaware of.

I'm not sure if I'm answering the question, but to understand this concept you should try to understand:

(in China) The system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings.

Here is a Wikipedia article about Guanxi which also mentions renqing, and alludes to it being part of the wider concept of Guanxi.



noun 1 friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude:
the plan is dependent on goodwill between the two sides

noun friendliness, favour, friendship, benevolence, amity, kindliness
I invited them to dinner as a gesture of goodwill. (Collins)


Social contract is similar.

an implicit agreement among the members of a society

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    Along these lines, we also use social responsibility or social obligations.
    – MrHen
    Jan 10, 2014 at 15:36

Reciprocity is the name of a type of social interaction where everyone is expected to put in their fair share but nobody keeps exact score. Think of how family or friends might alternate buying lunch on different days without calculating the price, but if the friend orders the most expensive item each time on your day to pay you might eventually get upset.


I would suggest mutuality or shared humanity for 人情.

For 人情在, I would suggest the ties that bind us together or we are all bound together in common humanity. Or something roughly like give and take.

I don't think there's an exact conceptual parallel in English-speaking cultures. Looking at the other answers suggested, several concepts that result in similar attitudes towards others are built on different conceptual schemes, e.g. Good Samaritan -- built on a concept of obedience to a command to "love the neighbor as oneself", social contract - built on an idea that society is something we enter into through a choice, camaraderie -- built on friendship


The word camaraderie comes to mind. It's not uncommon, and can encapsulate your theme in certain contexts, but it leans towards the implied trust between all people falling into a group (nationality, culture, language, etc.) rather that just between two acquaintances.

camaraderie (ˌkæməˈrɑːdərɪ)


  • Goodwill and lighthearted rapport between or among friends; comradeship.
  • a spirit of familiarity and trust existing between friends
  • comradeship; good-fellowship.

I have also seen the word sodality used to describe this concept, where it was the sodality between two people rather than sodality as a group, which is its correct usage.

  • camaraderie is built on friendship... the Chinese concept is built on shared humanity. This might be a somewhat similar concept in the West, but it is not 人情
    – virmaior
    Jan 9, 2014 at 23:11
  • @virmaior Camaraderie does not have to be reliant on friendship, but on sharing a common group. It is membership in a common group that builds the camaraderie between two people. Two soldiers do not have to be friends to share a camaraderie between each other. If you introduce the context of both people being human, camaraderie can be the trust or implied expectation of assistance between two people just because both are human. I don't claim to be an expert in Chinese, so I am just following the guidelines that Naveen has laid out, in which case camaraderie fits.
    – Erofire
    Jan 18, 2014 at 15:57
  • Additionally, due to the comparative difficulty of creating words in English, the language will have much fewer single-word concepts than Chinese. You won't find a single word that completely encapsulated the idea, but one which can mimic it under a certain context.
    – Erofire
    Jan 18, 2014 at 16:01

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