Ang mo (pinyin: hóng máo; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: âng-mo͘ / âng-mn̂g) or ang moh is a racial epithet describing white people, mainly in Malaysia, Riau Islands and Singapore, and sometimes in Taiwan and Thailand. It literally means "red-haired" and originates from Hokkien (a variety of Southern Nan). The usage is similar to the Cantonese term gweilo (鬼佬, "ghost man").
Other similar terms include ang mo kow (Chinese: 紅毛猴; literally: "red-haired monkeys"), ang mo kui (Chinese: 紅毛鬼子; literally: "red-haired devil"), ang mo lang (Chinese: 紅毛人; literally: "red-haired people"). Although the term had some derogatory connotations, it has entered common usage in Singapore and Malaysia and refers to a white person or, when used as an adjective, Western culture in general.
Etymology and history
The earliest origin for the term ang mo could be traced to the contact between Hokkien (Min Nan) speakers in Southern Fujian province of China with the Portuguese people and Dutch people during the 16th and 17th century.
During the 17th century, the Spanish people and Dutch people had colonized Taiwan and built Fort Santo Domingo in Tamsui, Taiwan, also known as "City of the Red-Haired" (Chinese: 紅毛城; pinyin: hóng máo chéng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Âng-mn̂g-siâⁿ) in Taiwanese Hokkien. This city was built by the Spanish in the 17th century. Following that, Dutch people were known in Taiwan as ang mo lang ("red-haired people") in Taiwanese Hokkien. This is most likely because red hair is a common trait among the Dutch. This historical term ang mo lang continues to be used in the context of Taiwanese history to refer to Dutch people.
The Chinese characters for ang mo are the same as those in the historical Japanese term kōmō (紅毛?), which was used during the Edo period (1603–1868) as an epithet for (northwestern European) white people. It primarily referred to Dutch traders who were the only Europeans allowed to trade with Japan during Sakoku, its 200-year period of isolation. Portuguese and Spanish traders were in contrast referred to as nanban (南蛮?), which is in turn cognate to the Chinese nanman and means "southern barbarians".
During the 19th century, Walter Henry Medhurst made a reference in his academic work A Dictionary of the Hok-Këèn Dialect of the Chinese Language that âng mô ("red haired"), generally applied to the English people. With the large migration of Hokkien people to South-East Asia, predominantly Malaysia and Singapore, the term ang moh became more widespread and was used to refer to white people in general.
The term ang mo is sometimes viewed as racist and derogatory. Others, however, maintain it is acceptable, making it in some contexts a reclaimed word. Increasingly though, the term is used disparagingly, particularly in Singapore. Its usage has become unambiguously pejorative, a common ethnic slur usually directed at white people. Despite this ambiguity, it is a widely used term. It appears, for instance, in Singaporean newspapers such as The Straits Times, and in television programs and films. The term was used in the film I Not Stupid, in which when several employees in the marketing department of their company resented a particular white individual because they perceived that preference had been shown to him because of his race.
In Singapore and Malaysia, the term ang mo sai (Chinese: 紅毛屎; literally: "red-haired shit") is a derogatory term used within the Chinese community for mocking other Chinese who are not able to read Chinese.
- Medhurst, W. H. (1832). A Dictionary of the Hok-këèn Dialect of the Chinese Language: According to the Reading and Colloquial Idioms: Containing about 12,000 Characters. Macau: East India Press. p. 481. OCLC 5314739. OL 14003967M.
紅毛 âng mô, red haired, generally applied to the English people.
- See, for example, Otori, Ranzaburo (1964), "The Acceptance of Western Medicine in Japan", Monumenta Nipponica 19 (3/4): 254–274, JSTOR 2383172; P[eng] Y[oke] Ho; F. P[eter] Lisowski (1993), "A Brief History of Medicine in Japan", Concepts of Chinese Science and Traditional Healing Arts: A Historical Review, Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 65–78 at 73, ISBN 9789810214951 (hbk.), ISBN 978-981-02-1496-8 (pbk.),
The culture which entered Japan through the Dutch language was called Kōmō culture – Kōmō means red hair.; Margarita Winkel (1999), "Academic Traditions, Urban Dynamics and Colonial Threat: The Rise of Ethnography in Early Modern Japan", in Jan van Bremen; Akitoshi Shimizu, eds., Anthropology and Colonialism in Asia and Oceania, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, pp. 40–64 at 53, ISBN 978-0-7007-0604-4,
His [Morishima Chūryō's] book on the Dutch, 'Red-hair miscellany' (Kōmō zatsuwa), also appeared in 1787. ... 'Red-hair miscellany' is the first book which contains a relatively extensive description of the daily life of the Dutch residents in the confinements of Deshima, the man made island allotted to them in the Bay of Nagasaki.; Jan E. Veldman (2002), "A Historical Vignette: Red-Hair Medicine", ORL 64: 157–165, doi:10.1159/000057797, PMID 12021510; Thomas M. van Gulik; Yuji Nimura (January 2005), "Dutch Surgery in Japan", World Journal of Surgery 29 (1): 10–17 at 10, doi:10.1007/s00268-004-7549-3, PMID 15599736,
Several Dutch surgical schools were founded through which Dutch surgery, known in Japan as 'surgery of the red-haired' was propagated.; Michael Dunn (20 November 2008), "Japanning for southern barbarians: Some of the first items traded with the West were decorated with maki-e lacquer", Japan Times, archived from the original on 24 June 2010,
Dutch taste dictated a new style of export lacquer known as 'komo shikki' ('red hair' – a common term for Northern Europeans), in which elaborate gold-lacquer decoration replaced the complex inlays of Nanban ware.
- Dunn, "Japanning for southern barbarians": "During the early years of European contact, Japanese craftsmen began to produce new items to order, now known as 'Nanban' lacquerware from the term 'Nanban-jin' used for the 'southern barbarians.'"
- See, for instance, Ong Soh Chin (30 October 2004), The Straits Times (Life!): 4,
[M]any of my Singaporean friends felt the term ang moh was definitely racist. Said one, with surprising finality: "The original term was ang moh gui which means "red hair devil" in Hokkien. That's definitely racist". However, the gui bit has long been dropped from the term, defanging it considerably. ... Both ang moh gui and gwailo – Cantonese for "devil person" – originated from the initial Chinese suspicion of foreigners way back in those days when the country saw itself as the Middle Kingdom.; Sean Ashley (5 November 2004), "Stop calling me ang moh [letter]", The Straits Times (Life!): 5,
As an 'ang moh' who has lived here for over six years, I hope more people will realise just how offensive the term is.
- For instance, Garry Hubble (5 November 2004), The Straits Times (Life!): 5,
To have my Chinese Singaporean friends call me ang moh is more humorous than anything else. As no insult is intended, none is taken.
- Michael D. Sargent (21 October 2007), "Lessons for this gweilo and ang moh", The Straits Times; Jamie Ee Wen Wei (11 November 2007), "Meet Bukit Panjang's "ang moh leader": Englishman is one of 900 permanent residents who volunteer at grassroots groups, and the number could rise with more foreigners becoming PRs", The Straits Times.
- Definition from the Coxford Singlish Dictionary
- Definition from the Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English