China moves to reclaim the term 'Comrade' from gay community

'Tongzhi', used to describe LGBT people since the 1980s, will once again be used to greet all members of the Communist Party

China moves to reclaim the term 'Comrade' from gay community

alesperson sits near posters of the late communist leader Mao Zedong on display for sale at a shop near Tiananmen Square in Beijing [AP Photo/Andy Wong, File]

China’s ruling Communist Party has decided to restart using the revolution-era greeting ‘comrade’, listing the term in a newly published set of guidelines. The party, which has more than 90m members, wants to bring back the greeting in order to recapture the revolutionary ideals of equality and fraternity that are being tested in an era when mass commercialism has seen the country’s economy become the envy of many western countries.

“All cadres should now greet each other as comrades within the Party,” the guideline reads.

But for China’s gay community, which the country’s leaders have yet to embrace with either equality or fraternity, the term tongzhi, or comrade, has become a frequently used term of endearment, after years during which it was used as a derogatory slur.

When the term fell out of fashion in mainland China the 1990s, it was reclaimed by LGBT Chinese, following the lexical trends first scene a decade before in more liberal Hong Kong and Taiwan. These days tongzhi is used to show friendship and community among members of a minority in a society that prides itself on uniformity.

Some political analysts argue that the push to recommence using comrade as a greeting, which now only occurs at the highest levels of the Communist Party, is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attempts to strengthen his control over the other members of the party.

“It’s a retreat to stressing faith in Communism, going back to Chairman Mao’s era of unified thinking and control,” Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian, told the South China Morning Post. “We can’t simply go back to that period given the current age of diversity. Only Lenin would use such greetings. Only those from secret societies would address each other that way. No modern political party would do this today.

“They lag so far behind, that’s why there is so much strange stuff. It looks like an absurd farce of looking back.”

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