Gay activists are up in arms over the decision by editors of the sixth edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary to exclude a definition for the term tongzhi (同志) which refers to gay people.
While the term tongzhi, which literally means “people of the same purpose”, has been used to refer to “comrades” within the Chinese Communist Party (and also within the Kuomintang) since the beginning of the republican era, it is more widely used to refer to gay people in colloquially today.
“We knew about the usage but we can’t include it,” explained one of the compilers of the dictionary in a Chinese television interview according to the BBC.
“You can use the word whichever way you like, but we won’t put it into a standard dictionary because we don’t want to promote these things. We don’t want to draw attention to these things.”
For Ding Xueliang, a social sciences professor from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, this attitude is not surprising.
“The use of ‘tongzhi’ to describe homosexuality started in Hong Kong and Taiwan to make fun of the mainland’s communist terminology because Chinese leaders address each other using ‘tongzhi’ meaning ‘comrade’ – for instance, ‘Hu Jintao tongzhi’ or ‘Wen Jiabao tongzhi’,” he told BBC Chinese.
“So it’s quite normal that the Chinese government doesn’t want to take this new meaning into the dictionary.”
Some gay rights campaigners are up in arms.
One of them, whose name was given as “Nan Feng”, told China’s official news agency Xinhua it was unacceptable that the “gay” meaning of “tongzhi” was excluded from the dictionary just because of the compilers’ own preferences and values.
“Tongzhi is the most commonly used, non-offensive term used by our circle to refer to homosexuals,” Nan Feng was quoted as saying.
“We hope the compilers can view the word from an impartial standpoint.”
Terms like geili (awesome), leiren (shocking), weibo (microblog) and sinuoke (snooker) are among the 3,000 new phrases included in the new dictionary.