The Chinese Communist Party wants to bring back the old-fashioned term “comrade,” but there’s one problem — it’s too gay.
The Chinese word for “comrade,” tóngzhì (同志), used to be a common term of address in Communist China, used by everyone, whether male, female, young, old, rural, urban, party official or peasant. A literal translation of the term might be, “same intent.”
The expression fell out of fashion, and people these days don’t really use it any more, preferring to use forms of address like “mister” or “miss,” job titles, familial terms like “big sister” or “auntie,” compliments like “beautiful woman” or “handsome man” and various regional expressions.
But President Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials want to bring back tóngzhì, perhaps as a desire to return to more traditional mores. A CCP journal quoted in the New York Times railed against modern forms of address, saying that the terms “have not only destroyed the seriousness of democratic relations within the party, but they have also affected the relationship between the party and the masses.”
Late last year, CCP’s Central Committee leaders issued a directive encouraging party members to go back to calling each other tóngzhì.
But there’s one problem: it’s too gay.
In recent decades, China’s LGBTQ community has taken to using the word tóngzhì to refer to a queer person. The practice started in Hong Kong in the late 1980s as a way to defy the sexually repressive CCP. Plus, the word shares the first syllable with the formal term for homosexuality, tóngxìngliàn (同性恋), “same-sex love.”
Since then, the LGBTQ community in Mainland China have adopted the expression, and ordinary people have started to avoid it. Beijing Gay rights activist and filmmaker Fan Popo told the Times, “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.”