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For other uses of "Tongzhi", see Tongzhi (disambiguation).
Literal meaning "same will" or "same purpose"

Tongzhi (Chinese: 同志; pinyin: tóngzhì) is the Chinese word for "comrade" (the literal meaning of the characters is "same will" or "same purpose"). It has taken on various meanings in various contexts since the 20th century.

The term was introduced into Vernacular Chinese by Dr Sun Yat-sen as a way of describing his followers. Following the establishment of the People's Republic of China, "tongzhi" was used to mean "comrade" in the Communist sense: it was used to address almost everyone, male and female, young and old. In recent years, however, this meaning of the term has fallen out of common usage, except within Chinese Communist Party discourse and among people of older generations.[1]

Standard usage[edit]

It remains in use in a formal context among political parties in both mainland China and Taiwan. In the Communist Party of China, the labelling of a person as a "comrade" is especially significant for a person who has been denounced or demoted, because it indicates that the party has not completely rejected the person as "one of its own". In Taiwan, it also remains in formal usage in party politics. For example, Frank Hsieh said, after losing the Republic of China presidential election, 2008: "很多同志希望我能夠留到五月二十五日" ("Many comrades hoped that I could stay to May 25").[2]

Slang usage[edit]

Since the 1990s, the term is, however, increasingly being used to refer to sexual minorities in Greater China, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This use of the term was first adopted at the inaugural Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Hong Kong in 1989, with the aim of presenting same-sex relationships are positive and suggesting solidarity between LGBT people, while also providing an indigenous term to capture the Chinese experience of same-sex love; it also puns on tóngxìnglìan (同性戀), the formal (if clinical and disfavored) term for homosexuality.[citation needed]

Although it initially referred to gay and lesbian people, Tóngzhì is nowadays used to refer to all sexual minorities, like transsexual communities.[citation needed] In fact, according to Chou Wah-Shan, Tóngzhì is a very fluid term which can refer to all people who are opposed to or fall outside of heteronormativity. He views Tóngzhì as a means of signifying "politics beyond the homo-hetero duality" and "integrating the sexual into the social".[1]

It is preferred by LGBT communities over the term tóngxìnglìan (), the formal word for homosexuality, which is seen as being too clinical and having pathological connotations.[citation needed] The use of tongzhi over tóngxìnglìan roughly parallels the replacement of "homosexual" with "gay" in the Western discourse. In recent years, Western terms such as "gay" and "LGBT" are also increasingly used within China and Taiwan.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Chou Wah-shan, Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies, Haworth Press, 2000, ISBN 1-56023-153-X
  • Yuzhi Chen. 2012. Tongzhi in China: A social marker or not? Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (University of Pennsylvania) 27.2: 97-109. Web access to this article

External links[edit]