Gweilo or gwailou (Chinese: 鬼佬; Cantonese Yale: gwáilóu, pronounced [kʷɐ̌i lǒu] (listen)) is a common Cantonese slang term for Westerners. In the absence of modifiers, it refers to white people and has a history of racially deprecatory and pejorative use, although it has been argued that it has since acquired a more neutral connotation. Cantonese speakers frequently use gwailou to refer to Westerners in general use, in a non-derogatory context, although whether this type of usage is offensive (i.e., an ethnic slur) is disputed by both Cantonese and Westerners alike.
Etymology and history
Gwái (鬼) means "ghost" or "devil", and lóu (佬) means "man" or "guy". The term gwáilóu therefore means "ghostly man", and is sometimes translated into English as "foreign devil". In Chinese, "ghost" can be a derogatory term used as a curse or an insult. The term ghost has also been used to describe other ethnic groups, for example, a 17th-century writer from Canton Qu Dajun wrote that Africans "look like ghosts", and gwáinòu (Chinese: 鬼奴; lit. 'ghost slave') was once used to describe African slaves.
The term gwái (鬼) is an adjective that can be used to express hate and deprecation, an example being the local's expression of their hatred towards the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong in World War II with the same gwái. It conveys a general bad and negative feeling but is a somewhat obsolete and archaic/old-fashioned term nowadays and other more modern terms have largely replaced gwái for similarly negative meanings. Cantonese people sometimes call each other sēui gwái (衰鬼), which means bad person, though more often than not it is applied affectionately, similar to "Hey bitch!" in English when used affectionately. Nowadays, Cantonese speakers often refer to non-Chinese people by their ethnicity.
The pejorative sense of gwáilóu (鬼佬) can be identified when the term is used as it is the equivalent to saying, with a hatred tonal, which refer white male = "white devil", or just refer gwáilóu as a slang of white guy, which doesn't really have insulting nuances.
Gwáilóu is often considered to be an acceptable generic racial term for Westerners. Also, some members of the Hong Kong community with European ancestry (particularly those with limited or zero Cantonese fluency) are indifferent to the term, and those who believe that the best way to defang a word intended as a "slur" is to embrace it, and use gweilo to refer to non-Chinese in Hong Kong. Gwailóu has, in some instances, been recognised as simply referring to white foreigners in South East Asia and now appears on Oxford Dictionaries defined as such, although non-Caucasian foreigners are not gwáilóu. While gwáilóu is used by some Cantonese speakers in informal speech, the more polite alternative sāi yàn (西人; 'Western person') is now used as well, particularly if the conversation involves a non-Chinese person in order to avoid offense.
However, an increasingly common view is that the term is unacceptable in a modern context. The word is not permitted to be used in Hong Kong media due to the offensive nature of the term as brought up by Hong Kong actors of non-ethnic Chinese background.
Gwai is one of the term of various terms to refer to a white foreigner that is considered controversial and potentially offensive; other Cantonese term exists when referring to foreigners, a list of which is given below: .
- gwaijai (鬼仔; Cantonese Yale: gwáijái; lit. 'ghost boy') for Caucasian boy.
- gwaimui (鬼妹; Cantonese Yale: gwáimūi; lit. 'ghost girl') for Caucasian girl.
- gwaipo (鬼婆; Cantonese Yale: gwáipò; lit. 'ghost woman') for Caucasian woman.
- baakgwai (白鬼; Cantonese Yale: baahkgwái; lit. 'white ghost') for Caucasian people.
- haakgwai (黑鬼; Cantonese Yale: hāakgwái; lit. 'black ghost') for Black people.
- sai yan (西人; Cantonese Yale: sāi yàn; lit. 'western person') for Westerners.
- yeung yan (洋人; Cantonese Yale: yèung yàn; lit. 'western person') for Westerners.
- ngoigwok yan (外國人; Cantonese Yale: ngoih gwok yàn; lit. 'foreign country person') for foreign nationals.
- acha (阿差; Cantonese Yale: achā; from "acchā" meaning "good" in Hindi) for South Asians.
- molocha (摩囉差; Cantonese Yale: mōlōchā; lit. 'Mouro Indian') for South Asians.
- Riben guizi (日本鬼子; pinyin: rìběn guǐzi; lit. 'Japanese devil') or dongyang guizi (東洋鬼子; pinyin: dōngyáng guǐzi; lit. 'east ocean devil') - used to refer to Japanese.
- Er guizi (二鬼子; pinyin: èr guǐzi; lit. 'second devil') - used to refer to the Korean soldiers who were a part of the Japanese army during the Sino-Japanese war in World War II.
- Yang guizi (洋鬼子; pinyin: yáng guǐzi; lit. 'Western/overseas devil') or xiyang guizi (西洋鬼子; pinyin: xiyáng guǐzi; lit. 'west ocean devil') - used to refer to Westerners.
However, xiaogui (小鬼; pinyin: xiǎoguǐ; lit. 'little ghost') is a common term in Mandarin Chinese for a child. Therefore, some argue that gui (鬼) in Mandarin is just a neutral word that describes non-expectable or something hard to predict.
Laowai (老外; pinyin: lǎowài; lit. 'old foreigner/outsider'), is the word most commonly used for foreigners, and is a less pejorative term than guizi. Although laowai literally means "old foreigner", but depending on context, "old" can be both a term of endearment and one of criticism. The pejorative aspect of the term laowai comes from conjoining the words old and outsider, suggesting the described person to be a visibly aged and unfamiliar, characteristics usually associated with apparitions or ghosts.
In popular culture
- Larry Feign's Lily Wong comic stories, about the buildup to the handover of Hong Kong to China, frequent uses the term, often in a derogatory sense used by Lily's father.
- In Big Trouble in Little China (1986), James Hong refers to Kurt Russell as a gwai lo.
- In Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), Bruce Lee (played by Jason Scott Lee) is told to not teach martial arts to the Gweilo anymore; however, Lee wants to teach whoever wishes to learn.
- In The Final Option (1994), Special Duties Unit instructor Stone Wong (played by Michael Wong) warns his trainees against calling him gwai lo for his having spent a long time abroad and often speaking English. In real life, Michael Wong himself was born and raised in the United States.
- In Out for a Kill (2003), Steven Seagal's character is frequently referred to as the "gweilo professor".
- In Balls of Fury (2007), Randy Daytona is often referred to as a gweilo as he is the only Caucasian player in the ping-pong school (George Lopez's character, though, attributes the term the wrong meaning of "round eyes" instead of a more generic term for foreigners with supernatural undertones of "ghost" or "devil").
- In Outcast (2014 film), Jacob (Hayden Christensen) is referred several times as white ghost or white demon by several Chinese characters while in medieval China.
- In the video game Alpha Protocol (2010), the main character Mike Thornton is referred to as "gweilo" by the Chinese triad leader Hong Shi.
- In the computer game Deus Ex (2000), when the player embarks on the Hong Kong mission he is often disparagingly referred to as "gweilo" by locals when attempting to talk to them. The phrase is also used by the harvester leader and a weapons merchant in the 2011 prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution (other characters in the China chapters use laowai).
- In the video game Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb (2003), Kai's Chinese men often say 'Kill the Gwai lo!' when they see Indy.
- In the video game Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (2010), some Shanghai gang members refer to Kane or Lynch as gweilo.
- In the video game Mafia II (2010), the protagonist Vito is derogatively referred to as "gweilo" by Chinese characters.
- In the video game BioShock Infinite (2013), Booker DeWitt is called a "gweilo" by a Chinese prisoner in Finkton.
- In Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (2009), the main character is referred to as a "yang guizi" by a Chinese employee as he manages a factory in futuristic Bangkok.
- Martin Booth's autobiography, Gweilo: Memoirs of a Hong Kong Childhood (2004) discusses the author's childhood in Hong Kong and applies the term gweilo as a racial epithet for Caucasians (as in white ghosts).
- Use of the term gwei to refer to Westerners is frequently referenced in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1975).
- Gwei is used as a collective term for the Old Ones in Anthony Horowitz's The Power of Five (2005–2012). Gwei is the Chinese name for the Old Ones, and means "evil spirit" in the series.
- In Geoffry Morgan Pike's novel Henry Golightly (1974) the main character is referred to as a "gwai lo" as he works on his boat in Macau and other parts of Asia.
- In NYPD Blue (Season 5 Episode 13. "Twin Petes",a Chinese store owner refers to shooter as gwai lo..
- CFMT-TV in Toronto had a cooking show named Gwai Lo Cooking (1999) hosted by a Cantonese-speaking European chef, who was also the show's producer and the person who named the show. In response to some complaints, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that
... While historically, "gwai lo" may have been used by Chinese people as a derogatory remark concerning foreigners, particularly European Westerners, the persons consulted by the Council indicate that it has since lost much of its derogatory overtone. The Council finds that the expression has also lost most of its religious meaning, so that "foreign devil" no longer carries the theological significance it once did. Based on its research, the Council understands that the expression has gone from being considered offensive to, at worst, merely "impolite."
According to CFMT-TV, "Gwei Lo" was used as "a self-deprecating term of endearment". Others, however, particularly foreigners living in Hong Kong, and non-Chinese subjected to the term in Vancouver and Toronto, find it to be demeaning or racist.
- In the HBO drama Deadwood (2004–2006), Chinese settler Mr. Wu frequently applies the term gwai lo to various white men.
- "Gweilo: The rite of passage of a golden boy in colonial Hong Kong" was the title of the one-man show performed by Micah Sandt in Hong Kong (2016) adapted from the memoir by Martin Booth.
|Look up gwailou in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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