Yuan (缘) or Yuanfen (缘份; pinyin: yuan2 fen4) is a Buddhist-related Chinese concept that means the predetermined principle that dictates a person's relationships and encounters, usually positive, such as the affinity among friends or lovers. It can be defined broadly as the binding force that links two persons together in any relationship.
Some believe that the driving forces and causes behind yuanfen are the actions done in the previous reincarnations. This aspect is therefore similar to karma of Buddhism. However, while karma often refers to the consequences of an individual's actions on him- or herself, "yuan" is always used in conjunction with two persons.
Unlike other Chinese social relations, which describe abstract, but easily noticeable, connections between people, nowadays, Chinese merely use this word poetically or to emphasize a meant-to-be relationship, and almost never in a serious business or legal situation.
The Mandarin proverb: 百世修来同船渡，千载修得共枕眠 (pinyin: bai3 shi4 xiu1 lai2 tong2 chuan2 du4, qian1 zai4 xiu1 de2 gong4 zheng3 mian2)
Often yuanfen is said to be the equivalent of "fate" (as is with the title of a 1984 movie starring Leslie Cheung) or "destiny". However, these words do not have the element of the past playing a role in deciding the outcome of the uncertain future. The most common Chinese term for "fate" or "destiny" is mingyun (命運 ming4 yun4), literally "the turn of events in life".
"Providence" and "predestination" are also not exact translations, because these words imply that the things happen by the will of God or godss, whereas yuanfen does not necessarily involve divine intervention.
See also: Chinese social relations