Monday, 17 July 2017

The term "comrade" in Chinese

This blog is inspired by, as usual, Valerio, my most avid follower and good friend, after a conversation about my other blog entry "My spouse":

The term "comrade" in Chinese is 同志 tóngzhì / "same aspiration", and was widely used as a term of address between mainland Chinese people post-1949.  It is a unisex term, which is egalitarian as well as convenient.

One would use it as a generic title, addressing Mr. Li / Miss Li as 李同志 Lǐ tóngzhì / Comrade Li.  Mrs. Li would be addressed by her maiden name, e.g., Comrade Wang, rather than as Mrs. Li.

If one needed to catch the attention of a stranger in the street -- to ask for directions, say -- then just tóngzhì in the same way one would say "Sir" / "Madam" in English.  

In the 80s, with Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms and a more capitalistic lifestyle (even if officially China was, and is, still a socialist* country), the term "comrade" with its political connotations started to lose its appeal and currency.  

A few more years down the road, it re-emerged, this time for referring to gay people, e.g., 他是个同志 He is gay.  One can see the logic of this.  The Chinese language can be quite flexible and creative, too, not just rigidly fixed in its wide use of proverbs and set phrases.

Note: Wikipedia says this was adopted as a formal term of address after Hong Kong film-maker Edward Lam's 1989 Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival:

QUOTE The Festival is screened annually each September, and in Chinese is known as the Hong Kong Tongzhi Film Festival, with both the title and the resurrection of the word Tongzhi (Chinese同志pinyintóngzhì), which translates into English as Comrades, the idea of one of its first organisers, Edward Lam (林奕華).  UNQUOTE (Wikipedia)

QUOTE 1989年随香港人林奕华的同性恋电影节香港同志电影节」的出现,渐渐演变为社會對同性戀群體的代称及該社群之間的正式稱呼。UNQUOTE (Wikipedia)

*They call it 有中国特色的社会主义:
QUOTE Socialism with Chinese characteristics, meaning socialism adapted to Chinese conditions, is the official ideology of the Communist Party of China (CPC), claimed to be based upon scientific socialism. ... The CPC argues that socialism is compatible with these economic policies. UNQUOTE (Wikipedia)

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