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Thursday, 29 March 2018 18:25

Heritage vs. Inheritance? 遗产 / 遺產

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Ask the Teacher: Heritage vs Inheritance? 遗产 vs 遺產?

In a recent bonus 1 on 1 class, Jack Lee, who is one of our long-term star students and a high school senior in Beijing, asked his star teacher Mr. Woodson: “I see that the Chinese meaning of these two words--Heritage and Inheritance--is the same. Are they synonyms 同义字 in English?”

The answer is – Yes, they are practically synonyms, in that their meanings are different, but their general use is usually different. For example, lists them as synonyms.  To make things more interesting, this is one of those many cases where Chinese has one translation for multiple English words, such as: look forward to / expect; shade / shadow; dark / black, etc. 

Inheritance generally refers to money, property, etc., that is received from someone when that person dies.

  • She began her own business with the inheritance she got from her grandfather.
  • He left sizable inheritances to his children. (plural use)
  • Sometimes retired people will spend a lot of money on a new car or travel trailer put a bumper sticker on it, I'M SPENDING MY KIDS' INHERITANCE.
  • The Bible indicates we should plan, not only for our children, but for our grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 says "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous."

Often, what a person inherits is taxed by the government:  inheritance tax is a tax on inherited property or money.

In a biological sense, inheritance means the reception of genetic qualities by transmission from parent to offspring. This is synonymous with heredity, or the physical features that offspring inherit from their parents, such as eye color, shape of nose and mouth, height and other distinguishing physical characteristics.

  • During the 1860s, Austrian monk and scientist Gregor Mendel examined the inheritance of certain physical characteristics of pea plants (e.g., seed color, seed shape, flower color, etc.), which he called traits, by successive generations of plants. Mendel is called, “the father of modern genetics.” (the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in living organisms)


Heritage, on the other hand, typically means something from the past that is still important or valuable, like culture, traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation (usually singular). According to Matthew from Nanjing, this can also be  传承 (Chuánchéng) in Chinese. 

  • England is a nation with a rich heritage of folklore (example – Robin Hood).
  • His Polish heritage was very important to him.
  • These battlefields are an important part of our heritage and should be preserved; this is what The Civil War Trust does.
  • The Great Wall and Forbidden City are important landmarks of China’s rich heritage and long history.
  • In the American Southeast, there is a heated debate about the "Rebel Flag" from the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some see it as a symbol of hatred and racism, but others use the term HERITAGE NOT HATE, to show it represents Southern pride and tradition. 


A similar word is Tradition (传统)  , the way beliefs and customs are passed down from one generation to the next.

  • Many American families have the tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas and Easter.
  • One of our family's favorite traditions is going to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
  • For many Americans, going to church for a candlelight service on Christmas Eve is a treasured Christmas tradition.


Note about the photograph: In March 2018, my family and I visited friends in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors on display, and we drove by St. John's Church, site of Patrick Henry's famous "Give me Liberty or give me Death!" speech. Just days before Mr. Woodson had told me Jack's question about the word "heritage," so when I saw this sign, I wanted to get a picture of it. It shows "heritage" and indicates how Richmond, Patrick Henry, and St. John's Church all played crucial roles in the American Revolution and our liberty that came from that. 



Thank you, Jack Lee for asking this great question, and thank you, Mr. Dennis Woodson for writing this blog post and explaining it so clearly with fine examples!

When I heard that 遗产 vs 遺產 both have the same English translation, I was surprised. However, I was also impressed, because I thought if Jack was able to notice fine points like this about English, this shows his English is GETTING PRETTY GOOD! Jack has studied with for many years, and we see the results of that with his excellent vocabulary and sharp curiosity. At, we ENCOURAGE questions!  Do you want to improve your English? Contact me today to find out how we can help you, the same way we have helped Jack! 


Read 49074 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 March 2018 23:16
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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