A Chinese Take on the Baseball Metaphor for Sex and Dating

Most Americans are familiar with the “base system” baseball metaphor for physical intimacy. If you’re not familiar with it, you might check out this XKCD comic for the complicated version, or this excerpt from baseball metaphors for sex from Wikipedia:

  1. First base is commonly understood to be any form of mouth to mouth kissing, especially open lip (“French”) kissing.
  2. Second base refers to tactile stimulation of the genitals over clothes, or of the female breasts.
  3. Third base refers to groping naked genitals (handjob or fingering), or oral sex.
  4. Home run (or rounding the bases, scoring a run, hitting a home run, scoring, going all the way, coming home, etc.) is the act of penetrative intercourse.

For the visual-oriented among us, here’s a graphic (adapted from XKCD’s complex version):

The base system (USA)

I can understand that a country little love for baseball might be confused by this metaphor system. Apparently even Europeans are confused by it. However, some people in China have picked it up, but in the process changed the system (reference link removed due to malware at destination website]):

  1. “一垒”代表拉手,
  2. “二垒”代表拥抱,
  3. “三垒”代表亲亲,
  4. “本垒”代表XX


  1. “First base” represents holding hands,
  2. “Second base” represents hugging,
  3. “Third base” represents kissing,
  4. “Home” represents _____

Clearly, this is a whole ‘nother ballgame the Chinese are playing, and their playing field looks like this when superimposed onto the American field:

The base system (China)

So much for “rounding the bases!”

Thanks to Marco from EnglishPod for bringing this interesting cultural difference to my attention!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. The Taiwanese system as would be expected, is much more concurrent with the American.

  2. John, this is incredible. Great post 😀

  3. Changye Says: May 26, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I’d like to know what the metaphor of “rain-shortened game” means in China.

  4. GREAT post! I never heard this in Chinese…..is it common? Most of the people I run into don’t understand baseball at all

    • Fight censorship Says: November 28, 2012 at 4:51 am

      I think most Chinese who live in mainland China don’t know about baseball,but it’s popular in Taiwan. So this Chinese base system may comes from Taiwan.

  5. Harland Says: May 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I would love to organize a baseball league here, but it would just be too much trouble. Boring game to watch, fun game to play.

    Interesting commentary on prudery, even though China is officially atheist and you’d expect this sort of thing from Christians instead.

  6. Lots of rich old expats seem to follow the rule “if there’s grass on the field, play ball.”

    Somebody stop me!

  7. I think it’s sweet. But, what do I know? I’m old. Seems to indicate that in the mind of a “traditional Chinese” there is no such thing as casual sex. So then, my question is, at what age group does the Western “scoring system” superimpose itself on the Chinese perception?

  8. Given their inexperience with baseball and casual dating/sex (on the mainland), the reconstruction of the bases seems natural. The stories of the 20-something dating scene in China and 30-year-old virgins will attest to the fact that the game is different here. Guys get nowhere until the ‘pledge’ is made. What I mean is that basically there is no physical contact until a decision is made to become ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend,’ which are entirely different concepts in China than in the U.S. Once that pledge is made, anything goes, and homers await. Of course, they’re almost engaged at that point. Breakups are really not so common and many people marry their first or second bf/gf.

    In China the American first base is much harder to reach, but once you’re there you can just steal second, third and home in succession. The girl might even just balk you forward, or even intentionally walk you to start with (since in southern China the guys can be quite shy and passive). Dating/sex really is more like softball or slow-pitch here.
    I suspect in northern China the rules are slightly more similar to the Americans’ game, but still more like softball than in Hong Kong or Taiwan.

  9. Hmm, I do believe XX in Chinese has the same meaning as 4th base in the US.
    It is shorthand for XXOO, which I’m also pretty sure, does not mean hugs and kisses.
    May we all live in harmonious times.

  10. Byron Meinerth Says: June 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Feds, your comments are on point. But I would argue that Northern China is still in line with the rest of China, if not further restricted. There are more foreign influences in places like Guangdong and Fujian, or at least Chinese who have travelled abroad.

    Does anyone have any thoughts about Taiwan? I think Tezuk is correct, but I’m wondering if anyone has live there.

  11. Love it. I live in Taiwan, but haven’t lived in China so I can’t really compare the two. I can compare it to home back in the U.S. and I must say, dating is much more conservative here in Taiwan than in America. There are a few girls here who seemingly exclusively go for foreigners, and their standards are obviously a bit more lax than say the average Taiwanese gal with no interest in hooking up with a “waiguoren”. But I would say that overall, here in Taiwan people have few boyfriends/girlfriends, and if you DO have one it is expected to lead to marriage.

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