BEIJING, CHINA – LGBT rights advocates are condemning a glaring omission in the latest edition of one of China’s most widely-used dictionaries. Of the approximately 69,000 entries, 13,000 Chinese characters, and 3,000 new phrases in the revised sixth edition Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, a colloquial definition for the word “gay” has been excluded.
Linguistics experts say the word, tongzhi, is a commonly-used term equivalent to “gay.” But a social sciences professor from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology says that tongzhi also means “comrade,” a word containing political associations. “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,’” Prof. As Ding Xueliang told the BBC.
“So it’s quite normal that the Chinese government doesn’t want to take this new meaning into the dictionary.” The standard Chinese word for homosexual, tongxinglian— literally defined as “same-sex love”—is included in the revised edition, but that word has “clinical” connotations. Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997.
According to the BBC, the omission of tongzhi is an indicator of how the “preferences and values” of the dictionary’s editors shaped its content. A 2010 Agence-France Presse report said that there are approximately 30 million gay Chinese nationals, and 20 million of them are men.