权力 vs. 权利 showdown

In our last post, we covered 2 words meaning rights: 权利 (quánlì) and 权益 (quányì). An astute reader brought up the great question of where 权力 (quánlì) fits in in all of this. Both 权利 and 权力 seem to involve rights and powers – what’s the difference? We now settle this issue once and for all with a 权利 (quánlì) vs. 权力 (quánlì) showdown.

权利 is a broad term meaning rights that people can exercise under the law. 

By contrast, 权力 is a political notion, and is power that belongs to a person / organization due to their responsibilities and duties, e.g.:

  • 国家权力 (guójiā quánlì) – national or state power
  • 立法权 (lìfǎ quán) – legislative power
  • 司法权 (sīfǎ quán) – judicial power
  • 行政权 (xíngzhèngquán) – administrative power
  • 大会主席的权力 (dàhuì zhǔxí de quánlì) – the power of the chairman of the general assembly

In other words, everyone has 权利 of some sort but not everyone has 权力。权力 is always used in the context of powerful people and organizations:

Example 1:


“xū zhēnzhèng cóng běnyuánshàng nòngqīng quánlì yǔ tānfǔ de guānxì “

“(We) truly need to make clear at a fundamental level the relationship between power and corruption”

Example 2:


“déguó fǎyuàn huò xiànzhì zhèngfǔ yuánzhù quánlì”

“German court will likely limit government’s power to provide aid”

Example 3


“…yuēshù quánlì xíngshǐ ,bǎozhàng gōngmín quánlì”

“…limit the exercise of power, protect the interest of the general public”

Questions? Comments? Other words you like us to cover? Let us know!

P.S. Like this post? Check out our other Chinese Vocabulary posts!

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2 Responses to 权力 vs. 权利 showdown

  1. Ting September 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Wow this explanation is extremely well conceived and insightful! Thanks Alan.

  2. Alan September 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Glad that you found it helpful Ting! Please let us know if you ever have any questions!