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Chinese dictionary refuses to turn 'comrades' gay

By Molly Gray, for CNN
updated 9:17 PM EDT, Tue July 24, 2012
In a picture taken on March 8, 2011, a gay couple kiss during their ceremonial 'wedding' in Wuhan, China.
In a picture taken on March 8, 2011, a gay couple kiss during their ceremonial 'wedding' in Wuhan, China.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A popular Chinese dictionary has left out the "gay" definition of a word used to describe homosexuals
  • The term "tongzhi" traditionally means comrade but has evolved to refer to gay men and lesbians
  • Compilers of the dictionary said they didn't want to encourage that use of the word
  • Activists and linguists are angered at the omission saying it's not right to leave out a widely-used word

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A newly published edition of an authoritative Chinese dictionary has come under fire for leaving out the homosexual definition of a word commonly used to refer to gay men and lesbians.

The word "tongzhi" traditionally means "comrade" and has been widely used by the Communist Party. But in recent decades the word has evolved to refer to homosexuals.

The committee charged with revising and updating the dictionary said they chose to leave out the definition because they didn't want to encourage its use, the director of the committee Jiang Langsheng told Chengdu Business Daily.

Coming out of the closet in China

The dictionary, which had its sixth edition published July 15, is one of the most renowned sources of information in China. According to CNTV this latest edition contains 69,000 entries -- an increase of 4,000 from the fifth edition published in 2005.

"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," Nan Feng, a gay rights activist told the state-run news agency Xinhua.

"Tongzhi" serves as a substitute for "tongxinglian," which is the formal Chinese term for homosexuality. The 2005 edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary defines "tongxinglian" both as same-sex love and as a psychosexual disorder, according to Xinhua.

Homosexuality's classification as a mental disorder was removed in China in 2001, despite the dictionary's definition.

Video: Mom in China advocates for gay son

Like activists, linguists are also unhappy with the decision to leave out a term that is widely used in daily Chinese dialogue.

"There have always been good words and bad ones," Cui Yan, a planning editor for Science and Technology Document Press, told Beijing Business Daily. "But they are all linguistic phenomena. Just because the dictionary doesn't include them doesn't mean they don't exist."

Across the web, people have spoken out about the lack of the colloquial definition of "tongzhi."

One user on China's microblogging site Sina Weibo, who calls himself "Yves Hugo" said "Tongzhi are there. They are a group of people. Whether you 'encourage or not.' Tongzhi means gay people. The definition will be in dictionary at some point."

CNN's Corinna Liu in Hong Kong contributed to this report

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