Ang mo

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Ang mo
Literal meaningred-haired
IPA[aŋ˧ mɔ̃˧˥]
A Meeting of Japan, China and the West (Shiba Kōkan, late 18th century); the "Westerner" is depicted with red hair.

Ang mo or ang moh (Hokkien POJ: âng-mô͘ / âng-mn̂g; Chinese characters: 紅毛) is a descriptor used to refer to white people. It is used mainly in Malaysia and Singapore, and sometimes in Thailand and Taiwan. It literally means "red-haired" and originates from Hokkien, a variety of Southern Min.[1]

Other similar terms include ang mo kow (紅毛猴; 'red-haired monkey'), ang mo kui (紅毛鬼; 'red-haired devil'), ang mo lang (紅毛儂 / 紅毛人; 'red-haired people'). Although the term has historically had some derogatory connotations, it has entered common parlance as a neutral term in Singapore and Malaysia, where it refers to a white person or, when used as an adjective, Western culture in general.

Etymology and history[edit]

The earliest origin for the term ang mo could be traced to the contact between Hokkien (Southern Min) speakers in southern Fujian with the Portuguese Empire and Dutch East India Company during the Haijin ("Sea Ban") period in the 16th and 17th century. One of the earliest known uses of the term in writing is found in the early 1600s Selden Map, which labels the Maluku Islands of Indonesia with ang mo, likely referring to the Dutch presence there.[2]

During the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company failed in its attempt to force their way into Fujian to trade in the 1620s during the Sino-Dutch conflicts and were called ang mo by the locals. The Dutch East India Company and then the Spanish Empire had colonized Taiwan and the Spanish built Fort San Domingo in Tamsui, Taiwan. The Dutch later drove the Spanish out and seized the Fort which also became known as "City of the Red-Haired" (Chinese: 紅毛城; pinyin: hóng máo chéng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Âng-mn̂g-siâⁿ) in Taiwanese Hokkien. 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 relatively 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 Europeans) white people. It primarily referred to Dutch traders who were the only Europeans allowed to trade with Japan during the Sakoku, its 200-year period of isolation.[3] 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".[4]

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 the Hoklo to Southeast Asia, predominantly Malaysia and Singapore, the term ang moh became more widespread and was used to refer to white people in general.

Racial controversy[edit]

The term ang mo is usually viewed as racist and derogatory by white people.[5] Others, however, maintain it is acceptable,[6] making it in some contexts a reclaimed word. Despite this, it is a widely used term, at least among non-Westerners. It appears, for instance, in Singaporean newspapers such as The Straits Times,[7] and in television programs and films.

Derogatory context[edit]

In Singapore and Malaysia, the term ang mo sai (Chinese: 紅毛屎; lit. 'red-haired shit') is a derogatory term used within the Chinese community for mocking other Chinese who are not able to read Chinese.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. Archived from the original on May 29, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 紅毛 âng mô, red haired, generally applied to the English people.
  2. ^ "Term 'ang moh' in use as early as 1600s in Ming Dynasty map". December 3, 2019.
  3. ^ See, for example, Otori, Ranzaburo (1964), "The Acceptance of Western Medicine in Japan", Monumenta Nipponica, 19 (3/4): 254–274, doi:10.2307/2383172, 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.), (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 (2): 157–165, doi:10.1159/000057797, PMID 12021510, S2CID 7541789; 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, S2CID 25659653, Several Dutch surgical schools were founded through which Dutch surgery, known in Japan as 'surgery of the red-haired' was propagated.; Michael Dunn (November 20, 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 June 24, 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.
  4. ^ 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.'"
  5. ^ Ong Soh Chin (October 30, 2004). "none". The Straits Times. p. 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 (November 5, 2004), "Stop calling me ang moh [letter]", The Straits Times, p. 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.
  6. ^ Garry Hubble (November 5, 2004). "none". The Straits Times. p. 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.
  7. ^ Michael D. Sargent (October 21, 2007), "Lessons for this gweilo and ang moh", The Straits Times, archived from the original on June 19, 2009, retrieved May 7, 2009; Jamie Ee Wen Wei (November 11, 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 Westerners becoming PRs", The Straits Times, archived from the original on May 15, 2007, retrieved May 7, 2009
  8. ^ [1][dead link]

External links[edit]