Tongzhi (term)

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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 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]

In contemporary Taiwan and Hong Kong, the term mainly referred to the LGBT people instead of the traditional political usage.[2]

Usage in Party Politics[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").[3]

In October 2016, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued a directive urging all 90 million party members to keep calling each other "comrades" instead of less egalitarian terms.[4][5]

Military usage[edit]

The word comrade is in the regulations of the Chinese Armed Forces as one of three appropriate ways to formally address another member of the military ("comrade" plus rank or position, as in "Comrade Colonel", or simply "comrade(s)" when lacking information about the person's rank, or talking to several servicepeople.)[6]

Usage in contemporary Taiwan and Hong Kong[edit]

Since the 1990s, the term is, however, increasingly being used to refer to sexual minorities mainly in Taiwan and Hong Kong and increasingly in Mainland China, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.[7] This way of using the term was first adopted by Michael Lam (林邁克), a columnist writing in Hong Kong magazine City Magazine (號外), and popularised by the inaugural Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 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 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.[8] The use of tongzhi over tóngxìnglìan roughly parallels the replacement of "homosexual" with "gay" in the Western discourse.

Although it initially referred to gay (male tongzhi, 男同志) and lesbian (female tongzhi, 女同志) people, in recent years, the term gradually covers a wider range of meaning including "LGBTQIA". For example, Taiwan LGBT Pride parade (台灣同志遊行), Asia's biggest LGBT pride parade, can be literally translated as "Taiwan Tongzhi Parade." 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chou Wah-shan, p. 2
  2. ^ Leap, William (2013). Globalization and Gay Language. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 560–561. ISBN 978-1-4051-7581-4.
  3. ^ 凝聚黨內團結 謝長廷:我決定留到五二五 Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Blasco, Dennis J (2011). The Four General Departments. The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century (2nd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-0415783224. According to regulations, members of the PLA address each other: (1) by their duty position, or (2) by their position plus surname, or (3) by their position plus the title "comrade" (tongzhi). When the duty position of the other person is not known, one service member may address the other by military rank plus the word "comrade" or only as comrade.
  7. ^ Lixian, Holly Hou. "LGBT Activism in Mainland China". Solidarity. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  8. ^ Luchkina, Tatiana (2015). "Social deixis in motion: The case of 'COMRADE' in Russian and Mandarin Chinese". In Terkourafi, Marina (ed.). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Im/politeness. AILA Applied Linguistics Series. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 14. ISBN 9789027205322. While tóngxìnglìan may be perceived as a clinical term with pathological connotations, tóng zhì presents a more colloquial and euphemistic way of communicating the same meaning.

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[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]