Yuán (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: yuán; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: iân) or Yuanfen (traditional Chinese: 緣分; simplified Chinese: 缘分; pinyin: yuánfèn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: iân-hūn), "fateful coincidence," is a concept in Chinese society describing good and bad chances and potential relationships.[1] It can also be translated as "destiny, luck as conditioned by one's past", or "natural affinity among friends."[2] It is comparable to the concept of karma in Buddhism, but yuanfen is interactive rather than individual. The driving forces and causes behind yuánfèn are said to be actions done in previous incarnations.

Scholars Yang Kuo-shu and David Ho have analysed the psychological advantages of this belief: by assigning causality of negative events to yuanfen beyond personal control, people tend to maintain good relationships, avoid conflict, and promote social harmony; likewise, when positive events are seen as a result of yuanfen, personal credit is not directly assigned, which reduces pride on one side of the relationship and envy and resentment on the other.[3][4]

Role in society

Yang Kuo-shu and David Ho trace the origins of the term to traditional Buddhism and observe that yuan or yuanfen are important concepts. Yang and Ho's research found that these concepts are still very much alive in Chinese social life and culture among university students. The concepts of yuan and yuanfen and beliefs in predestination and fatalism have waned, and belief in yuan has waned as well, but continuity with past conceptions is still strong.[5]

Marc Moscowitz, an anthropologist, finds that yuanfen appears frequently in contemporary popular music. Here yuanfen refers to a “karmic relationship” with someone who was known in a previous life and is used to explain the end of a relationship that was not destined to work out.[6]

Popular usage


"Affinity occasion" could be a good translation of yuánfèn, as yuánfèn depends on the probability, or chance, of meeting (or seeing) someone in the real world at any given time and place, and involves both persons feeling as if they have already known each other for a very long time, even though in reality, they haven't.

The concept of "synchronicity", first introduced by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, is a good English translation of yuanfen. The French writer Émile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room.[7]

Often yuánfèn is said to be the equivalent of "fate" (as in the title of a 1984 film, 緣分, given the Western name Behind the Yellow Line, also known as Fate, starring Leslie Cheung), or "destiny". "Fateful affinity" is the term used to describe yuánfèn by a leading character in Hao Jingfang's novel Jumpnauts in Ken Liu's 2024 translation.[8] However, these words do not have the element of the past playing a role in deciding the outcome of the uncertain future. The most common Chinese term for "fate" or "destiny" is mìngyùn (命運; 命运, literally "the turn of events in life").

"Providence" and "predestination" are not exact translations, because these words imply that things happen by the will of God or gods, whereas yuánfèn does not necessarily involve divine intervention.

See also


  1. ^ Fan, Chen. 2013. p. 23
  2. ^ Lin Yutang's Chinese English Dictionary of Modern Usage (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press of Hong Kong, 1972) p. 1432.
  3. ^ Fan, Chen. 2013. p. 24
  4. ^ Yang, Ho pp. 269, 280.
  5. ^ Yang, Ho pp. 269, 280.
  6. ^ Moscowitz p. 76
  7. ^ Deschamps, Émile pp. 262-265
  8. ^ Hao, Jingfang p. 43