IP — a new and much used word in Chinese

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Message from Stoyan Gegovski:

I am editing parts of the "Xi'an Investment Guide" (every major city in China issues one of these every year) and I came upon an interesting use of the abbreviation "IP" which might interest you:

"Xīn shídài xīn Xī'ān xīn IP 新时代 新西安 新IP"

It is placed on the third page of the handbook, right after a short introduction of the city and a map of the ancient Silk Road.

I have never encountered such a use of "IP" and I find it quite interesting. The Graduate students tasked with the translation rendered it as "New Era, New Xi’an, New IP", which obviously does not truly represent its meaning. Apparently, even the Chinese are not too sure what it means, as they were also unable to define it.

I'm not sure whether most Americans know what "IP" means, but my Austrian nephew is an intellectual property lawyer, so I am familiar with this usage, but I wouldn't have recognized it as such in the Chinese slogan quoted above.  Indeed, the first thing I think of when I see "IP" is Internet Protocol address (IP address), but clearly that is not the intended meaning in the Chinese slogan.

Incidentally, if you want to know how to say "Internet Protocol address (IP address)" in Chinese, guess what it is?  "IPdìzhǐ IP地址" ("IP address"), just like that.  Of course, there are various other long, cumbersome, translatese versions, for which see here, but nobody uses them in daily discourse.

Stoyan's graduate students in China were unable to translate "IP" into English and they were unable to define it in Chinese.  For them, as for countless others, it is just "IP".  They know how to use this neologism in their language, and they know roughly what it signifies.

Here are some explanations from native speakers (two graduate students and one senior, all of whom are aware that "IP" comes from English "intellectual property") of how people are using "IP" in Mandarin:


IP is a frequently used internet expression in China, it is the abbreviation of Intellectual Property. Depending on the context, it could be a storyline, a figure, or a certain kind of popular culture. I feel most of the time when people mention this concept, they refer to those film literature/animation/games that are suitable for commercial adaptation. Isn't it commonly used in the US?

I also found a pretty reliable article on that concept here.

Just for a supplement, according to my understanding, an IP doesn't have to be something abstract, it can also be concrete and figurative. For example, I think Terracotta Warriors or even Biang Biang noodles can be great IPs for Xi'an.


IP is abbreviated from "Intellectual Property." It can be an original story, image, character, concept, or something like this, which can be adapted into films, animations, or games, and on which many other products are based.


I think "IP" here refers to "intellectual property" as a broad term, indicating that Xi'an is unlocking the potential of its distinctive culture that could be exploited in multiple dimensions; and thus the slogan here intends to convey the message that Xi'an is going to develop its own cultural identity (by relating Xi'an's culture to Creative Industries).

Native speakers of Mandarin are comfortable with "IP" as part of their vocabulary and do not consider it as something alien.  It serves a specific use.  In fact, it serves two specific uses, as detailed above.


[Thanks to Chenfeng Wang, Yijie Zhang, and Siyuan Zhang]


  1. Jenny Chu said,

    February 4, 2020 @ 11:03 pm

    IP is a much more commonly-discussed topic in China than a lot of places. There are very frequent cases of Chinese companies being accused of stealing IP (my previous company had an entire department dedicated to battling Chinese fakes). So it is a very "normal" topic in China.

  2. Ursa Major said,

    February 5, 2020 @ 6:13 am

    The way I see IP used in English is with a narrower meaning referring to ideas that are or could be protected legally (by patent, copyright, or I suppose trademark). There would be a direct link between the idea and a potential commercial product, although there doesn't have to be an actual product. The extension to include general cultural concepts and a loose link via adaptation to commercialization must have occurred when it was imported to Mandarin.

  3. unekdoud said,

    February 5, 2020 @ 8:13 am

    The "intellectual property" use of the term should be very familiar to people who follow gaming news. One of the first things you can ask about any new video game anouncement is whether it's a sequel/reboot/crossover or a new IP.

    But I've never heard of IP referring to cultural elements that a city might promote.

  4. Suburbanbanshee said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 4:15 am

    It comes up a lot in, say, Disney fandom.

    Epcot is supposedly going to be renovated to have less science and knowledge attractions, and more Disney characters.

    So one nickname for the new version of Epcot is IPcot.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 9:17 am

    From Gerald Mair (Austrian IP lawyer):

    That is very interesting and good to know for my next INTA meeting, which is the biggest lawyers‘ meeting in the world.

    INTA stands for International Trademark Association. It's worth noting that the biggest meeting (around 12.000 participants) deals with IP.

    The second biggest meeting I know is the IBA (International Bar Association) with about 7.000 participants.

  6. rpsms said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 11:36 am

    Is the abbreviation "IPO" a thing in Chinese writing?

    Hard to tell just from the translation alone, but the overall investment context perhaps suggests IPO (initial public offering) was the intended metaphor, so perhaps a typo or elision. It would sort of make sense in the offered translation.

  7. Josh R said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 10:35 pm

    My take is very much with Ursa Major. As an example, "Minnesota Nice" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_nice) is a part of cultural identity that might be (and probably is) used for promoting the State of Minnesota. As such, it might show up in intellectual property (copyrighted books, images, etc.) but it would not itself be considered intellectual property in as much as no one can "own" the concept. The tourist board might try trademarking it, but good luck defending it.

  8. minus273 said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 4:00 am

    IP is something like franchise, like Star Wars etc.

  9. Philip said,

    February 14, 2020 @ 5:59 am

    Just tis morning I received an e-mail from an organisation called "Solar Winds" with the subject line "How to manage IP resources efficiently". Thinking that it might be pertinent to this thread, I read on, only to find "As IP addresses multiply due to trends within the IT industry (BYOD, Virtual Machines, etc.), creating a more efficient and robust system to manage IP addresses, as well as DHCP and DNS servers, can be critical to the success of any network engineer or systems administrator". Rather brought me down to earth with a bump !

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