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Chinese dictionary leaves out popular word for 'gay'

The Chinese gay community’s most popular word to refer to themselves has been left out of a new Chinese dictionary, sparking criticism
The cover of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary

A new edition of a modern Chinese language dictionary has been criticized for leaving out the most popular term used by Chinese gays to refer to themselves.

The compilers of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary omitted the gay usage among the definitions of the Mandarin word ‘tongzhi,’ literally meaning ‘comrade’, which has been adopted by Chinese homosexuals as a positive way to refer to each other.

Jiang Lansheng, one of the compilers of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, told Chinese news media at the launch of the dictionary last Sunday that they did not want to encourage using the word to refer to homosexuals.

‘We know homosexuals call each other “tongzhi” but a normative dictionary won't include that meaning, no matter how the term has been informally used,’ Langsheng said.

‘We don't want to advocate or bring attention to such things.’

However the new edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary contains slang and colloquial usages for other Chinese words.

Nan Feng, a HIV health worker based in Chongqing, told Xinhua that authors of dictionary should not be making moral judgements about what definitions to include.

‘It's unacceptable that the gay meaning of "tongzhi" was excluded from the dictionary, a reference book written for all, simply because of the compilers' own preferences and values,’ Feng said.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology social sciences professor Ding Xueliang told BBC News China that the omission was likely for political reasons.

‘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”,’ Xueliang said.

‘It's quite normal that the Chinese government doesn't want to take this new meaning into the dictionary.’

However 24 year old student Guo Yan stressed that that the usage of ‘tongzhi’ by the Chinese LGBT community was not disrespectful, telling Xinhua, ‘The term is a smart, indigenous expression to describe same-sex love in China and it is not used in a vulgar and offensive way.’

‘Tongzhi’ is a play on words on the non-colloquial Mandarin word for homosexuality, ‘tongxinglian’, but removes the original word’s sexual connotations.

The previous edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, published in 2005, described homosexuality as a mental disorder despite homosexuality being removed from the official Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders four years earlier

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