I’ve often pondered about how many words really exist in Mandarin for “popular” and so I’ve done my research and come up with what seems to be a pretty definitive list. For the purposes of this post, there is a distinction made between “popular” (known by many people) and universal (“affecting everyone/everything”), the latter of which is commonly translated as 普遍 pǔbiàn or 普及 pǔjí. I also left out 大众的 dàzhòng de and 民间的 mínjiān de, which are ideally conceptualised as “used by the people”, a little different to the essential meaning of “popular” in my opinion, but worthy of mentioning nonetheless. And now, onto the list…
1. 流行 liúxíng – The generic word for “popular”. Can be used in almost any context when talking about things – 流行音乐 (“popular music”), 流行设计 (“popular designs”), 流行游戏 (“popular games”), etc. It can also refer to people in some situations, e.g. 流行歌手 (“popular singers”).
2. 受欢迎 shòu huānyíng – Another common expression for “popular”, literally “received popularity”. The phrase 倍受欢迎 bèishòuhuānyíng – “enjoy great popularity” – is also common. Note that this word can refer to people, unlike 流行 liúxíng.
3. 走红 zǒuhóng – Literally, “walk [through] red”, this colloquial adjective commonly describes popular people, or “favourites” of superiors. Can also be abbreviated as just 红 hóng.
4. 火 huǒ – Another popular and extremely flexible colloquialism for popular. Literally, “fire”. Here’s an example sentence: 他的商店最近很火。— His shop has been popular as of late.
5. 时兴 shíxīng – Yet another colloquial word for “popular”, commonly used in Northern China. An example of usage: 现在这早就不时兴了。 — This has not been popular for a while.
6. 吃香 chīxiāng – This “popular” adjective most commonly collocates with professions and institutions, e.g. 这个行业比较吃香。— This profession is relatively popular.
7. 通俗 tōngsú – Usually restricted as an attributive in such collocations as 通俗小说 tōngsú xiǎoshuō (“popular fiction”) and 通俗文学 tōngsú wénxué (“popular literature”).
8. 盛传 shèngchuán – Relatively formal, 盛传 shèngchuán acts as a verb (“to make widely known”) and often collocates with certain media like articles, songs, etc, e.g. 最近网上盛传一首歌… This is literally parsed as, “Recently the Internet has made a song widely popular” – in idiomatic English, “A song has recently gained popularity on the Internet.”