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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 28, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 17
In China, 'comrade' doesn't mean what it used to
Section One
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In China, 'comrade' doesn't mean what it used to

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Chinese Communist Party members are so reluctant to call each other 'comrade' that the party's Central Committee has issued instructions that members are to start using the term again.

Their problem is that the word 'comrade' no longer means 'fellow Communist' as it did in the heyday of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Now, especially for younger Chinese, it's the equivalent of 'girlfriend' - a term flippant Gay men call each other.

The Chinese word for 'comrade' is tóngzhì, which used to be the proper form of address for every Communist, whether male, female, young, old, rural, urban, party official, or peasant. A literal translation of the term into English would be 'same intent.'

It also shares the same first syllable as the word tóngxìngliàn, which means sexual relations with the same sex. Because of the similarity in sound, China's LGBT community adopted the term, using tóngzhì to refer to another Gay person.

The usage is said to have started in Hong Kong in the late 1980s as a way to mock the sexually repressed Communists. The term was adopted by hip young Chinese and subsequently spread into general popular culture.

Beijing Gay rights activist and filmmaker Fan Popo told the New York Times that everyone in China now associates the word 'comrade' with the LGBT community.

'Even the ticket-takers on the bus - the people who you would not really expect to know the modern lingo - don't say 'comrade' anymore because they know what it means among young people,' Fan said.

Since the word 'comrade' has changed meanings, Chinese now use generic forms of address like 'mister' or 'miss,' job titles, or terms like 'sister,' 'brother,' or 'auntie.'

According to reports, Chinese President Xi Jinping not only wants to be called 'comrade' again, he also wants to be described as Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, rather than President of China.

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