In this article, I consider the meaning of the words “contract” (hetong in Chinese) and “agreement” (xieyi), and various other words in English and Chinese that are used to convey the same or a similar meaning.
In everyday conversation, these words are often used interchangeably. In some cases, the choice depends simply on convention – for example, in both English and Chinese we commonly refer to a “shareholders’ agreement” rather than a “shareholders’ contract”. In other cases, there are subtle technical differences that lawyers and legal translators should understand.
There are four English words that I will consider for this purpose: “contract”, “agreement”, “deed” and “instrument”.
A former partner of Linklaters Shanghai, Andrew Godwin teaches law at Melbourne Law School in Australia, where he is an associate director of its Asian Law Centre. Andrew’s new book is a compilation of China Business Law Journal’s popular Lexicon series, entitled China Lexicon: Defining and translating legal terms. The book is published by Vantage Asia and available at www.vantageasia.com