As we mentioned last week, the Chinese word tongzhi is the generally accepted word for “homosexual.” But don’t expect to see that definition in the 6th Edition of the Chinese Contemporary Dictionary.
“We know homosexuals call each other tongzhi. You can use the word whichever way you like, but we won’t put it into a standard dictionary because we don’t want to draw attention to these things,” argues Jiang Lansheng, a lead linguist on this edition’s revision.
AIDS activist Nan Feng is having none of it: “It’s unacceptable that the ‘gay’ meaning of tongzhi was excluded from the dictionary, a reference book written for all, simply because of the compilers’ own preferences and values.”
Tongzhi is an off-shoot of tong xing lian– meaning “same-sex love” or homosexual—but without the clinical or sexual connotations. But the term’s literal definition, “comrade,” may too politically charged for the communist regime.
From a distance, this whole lexicographical tug of war seems just plain queer.