In "Call me comrade … party requires members to resurrect Maoist term to signal equality: Outdated greeting seen by analysts as a distraction and unworkable in today’s world" (SCMP, 11/13/16), Sidney Leng writes:
A written guideline requiring Communist Party members to once again address each other as “comrade” is an outdated resurrection of Maoist rhetoric and unworkable in today’s world, analysts said.
In the latest guideline on cadres’ political conduct issued earlier this month, the Party brought back an old political etiquette that used to be closely associated with the country’s revolutionary period, when calling each other comrades created a sense of equality and closeness similar to that of siblings.
“All cadres should now greet each other as comrades within the Party,” the guideline states.
In modern times, however, such outdated greetings could lead to confusion, since the term comrade, or tongzhi in Chinese, is also used to refer to homosexuals.
Politically, analysts said, the revival of the term was just another sign of Xi’s continued push to centralise his authority.
See also Amy Qin, "Xi Jinping Wants to Be ‘Comrade.’ For Gay Chinese, That Means Something Else." (NYT, 11;15;16)
As tóngzhì 同志 ("comrade") faded away as a term of address among communist cadres during the 80s, it was being appropriated for a similar purpose among the gay community. By the end of the 90s, it had become so closely associated with the latter that it would have been potentially awkward for one member of the communist party to call another by that name.
This usage has been around for a long time. How could President Xi not know it?
For previous discussions of tóngzhì 同志 ("comrade") on Language Log, see:
- "The Base, Al Qaeda, and gays in China " (8/12/13)
- "Mr. and Ms. in Chinese " (8/25/13)
- "Glass Rabbit " (2/2/11) — especially the last three paragraphs
[h.t. Mark Metcalf and John Rohsenow]