"comradess" (RE: Ceding ground to capitalist ideologues)
furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Fri Dec 17 19:29:46 MST 1999
>Wanted to write 'comrades', talking of 'Hoov' and Yoshie; after a
>very hard day's work, my fingers make their blunders sometimes. I
>am not sexist, Yoshie; if anything, I am excessively anti-sexist
>(can this be possible? there may be some cases...).
>A now deceased feminist friend of mine, and excellent poet and
>revolutionary militant, used to talk of 'Nestor, a woman among
>men' (though she referred to a different Nestor -Paulucci, Julio,
>you remember him?- more than once she told me she was at last
>prone to include me in that honorific cathegory). Nothing
>furthest from my intention than both twisting English out of
>itself and putting Yoshie, my NEUTER comrade, out of her usually
>good humored mood.
>Both of us would carry on OK in the dungeon, IMHO.
Who's Paulucci? Enlighten me!
Anyhow, I should have followed my own counsel & exercised self-discipline.
When I saw "comradess," it just reminded me of a recent NYT story on China:
***** The New York Times November 28, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section 4; Page 5; Column 1; Week in Review Desk
HEADLINE: The World: Modern Chinese;
Hey, Mister! You're No Comrade.
BYLINE: By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
AS a greeting, it seems peculiarly unsuited to the themes of life in modern
urban China. Imagine this: "Comrade, do you like Starbucks' caffe latte?"
Or this: "Comrade, how did you do on the G.R.E.'s?" Or even this: "Comrade,
did your stocks go up today?"
And so it was perhaps no surprise that the latest edition of China's
dictionary of record, Cihai (The Sea of Words), narrowed the definition of
the word tongzhi -- or comrade -- out of everyday life, concluding that it
could no longer be regarded as the greeting among China's citizens.
In the 1979 "Sea of Words," "comrade" was "a general form of address among
the citizens of our country." At the time, comrade was China's universal
salutation. In the 1989 revision of the dictionary, "comrade" was "a
general form of address among the citizens of socialist countries."
But the newest edition, published last month, drops all such descriptions,
noting: "In the era of reform and opening up, 'comrade' is no longer the
only form of address among ordinary people. The Chinese words for Mister,
Ma'am, Master and Miss have returned as terms of respect and cordiality."
In fact, it is very rare to hear the word "comrade" today in ordinary
conversations; when it appears, it sounds like a blast from the past, like
those Little Red Books of Mao's sayings that are sold as curiosities in
street markets. Even among the Communist elite, the term appears to be
"For everyday use, I've basically stopped using the term," said Dong Yuyu,
a editor at the Communist Party-run newspaper, Guangming Daily. "But, of
course, on official documents and official meetings it's still employed."
Asked when they were last referred to as "comrade," many people can only
think of only one recent example: when they saw President Jiang Zemin on TV
last month, wearing a Mao suit and addressing his countrymen to celebrate
the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
The shrinking sphere of the word has, of course, directly paralleled the
shrinking relevance of ideology to everyday life in this still nominally
Last week, it was hard to find any "tongzhi's" around. Bring up the word
'comrade" with young people and you are likely to get a bemused smile, as
if you were suggesting the use of an ancient greeting like "squire" or
"Comrade?" said a 17-year-old with the surname Nie. "No I've never thought
of calling anyone that."
Over the last 10 years, the Communist Party has intermittently struggled
against the waning use of "comrade," endeavoring to insure at least its
In 1991, in the wake of the crackdown on student pro-democracy protests in
Tiananmen Square, the Standing Committee of the Politburo decried the
emergence of terms like Mister and Miss, saying that "comrade" was the best
salutation for use among ordinary people, according to one scholar. "Miss"
was too reminiscent of prostitutes in pre-revolutionary China, the
Just last year, an essay in the People's Daily, the Communist Party
newspaper, said that "comrade" should be preserved as the greeting at least
among party members. And it bemoaned the fact the some party members were
addressing others with decidedly un-socialist greetings, for example
referring to their immediate supervisors at work as the "lao ban," or boss.
Nonetheless, usage has declined steadily, although there remains a bit of a
generational divide regarding the term. Older Chinese still sometimes fall
back on "comrade" to greet peers with good Communist histories, and in
formal situations at work.
"In social situations I just use Mr. and Mrs., but at the university we
still use 'comrade' for official documents or meetings," said a senior
philosophy professor and Communist Party member.
The word now translated as comrade originated some 2,200 years ago in the
early Qin Dynasty, when it was defined as pertaining to people who have the
same ethics and ideals. In the years before the Communists took power in
1949, it took on a more modern cast: The version of "Sea of Words"
published in 1936, when "tovarich" was well established in Moscow, defined
"comrade" as "a mutual form of address among people with the same
It soon became the principal salutation of the rigidly egalitarian
Communist state, where even soldiers were forbidden from acknowledging
their rank, calling each other "comrade."
How to address a friend or stranger is an issue that looms large in China,
where first names are rarely used and polite sentences often start with a
surname and an identifying salutation.
And the gradual loss of the all-purpose "comrade" has created something of
a void, now filled by a large variety of options that emphasize the
stratification and many social distinctions of today's China. Comrade Zhang
of 1976 has become General Manager Zhang, or teacher Zhang, or Miss Zhang
or Classmate Zhang.
"I don't call people comrade," said Wang Bing, a salesman, who was
strolling on Beijing's Jian Guo Men Wai Street, under a large array of
billboards advertising Internet sites and computers. "I call young girls
Miss. And men I call Mister. Or other times I use their titles, like
Director or Manager. Why? Because everybody does."
GRAPHIC: Photo: Chairman Mao, who peers out of a museum diorama in Beijing
these days, might be shocked to hear that comrade is passe. (Agence
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