The language of homophobia on a Chinese campus

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Banner displayed on the main campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, by members of the women’s basketball team:

The banner reads:

wéihù Zhōnghuá mínzú chuántǒng lúnlǐ
hànwèi shèhuì zhǔyì héxīn jiàzhí
dǐzhì xīfāng fǔxiǔ sīxiǎng qīn shí
ràng tóngxìngliàn yuǎnlí dàxué xiàoyuán


Maintain the traditional morals of the Chinese people,
Defend the core values of socialism;
Resist the corrosion of decadent Western thought,
Keep homosexuality far from our university campus

When a photo of the students holding the banner was posted online by the team's coach, there was widespread opposition.

"Furor in China Over Team’s Banner: ‘Keep Homosexuality Far From Campus’" (NYT, Javier C. Hernández, 4/20/17)

"Mothers united to fight against a homophobic banner unfurled at a college in China" (Mashable, Yi Shu Ng, 4/20/17)

bié ràng kǒngtóngzhě shānghài wǒmen de háizi!


Don't let homophobes harm our children!

If only China could have such open debate of opposing opinions on other pressing social and political issues!


  1. AntC said,

    April 20, 2017 @ 10:09 pm

    I notice each line on the basketball team's banner is exactly ten characters; and your pinyin gives exactly ten syllables (apart from the last).

    The 'words' (between spaces in the pinyin) are nearly all two-syllable. (Again the last line rather breaks that up.)

    Does a five-by-two-syllable phrase have a particular scansion or propaganda value? Does the last line's having a slightly different scansion help emphasise its propaganda message — 'the closer'?

  2. Marnanel said,

    April 21, 2017 @ 1:01 am

    This is filed under "neologisms": what's the neologism here? I speak no Chinese, so I'm wondering.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2017 @ 6:06 am

    "what's the neologism here?"

    kǒngtóngzhě 恐同者 ("homophobes")

  4. xyloph said,

    April 21, 2017 @ 7:16 am

    Interestingly enough, the word 恐同 follows well known and quite logical Chinese word forming rules, taking one character for each component, much like 彩电 is drawn from 彩色电视机. Homophobia, on the other hand, is a terrible neologism.

  5. StephenL said,

    April 21, 2017 @ 9:03 am

    The old escape route if an unsuspecting parent found your university LGBT society membership card while doing the laundry was to claim it stood for "lady's and gent's basketball team".

  6. Guy said,

    April 21, 2017 @ 3:35 pm


    What's your objection to "homophobia"? It follows a pattern similar to "Francophobe". Is it just that the "homo" part is only one morpheme from the neoclassical compound "homosexual"? Incidentally, one criticism of the word "homosexual" I've heard is that combines a Greek root with a Latin one.

  7. xyloph said,

    April 22, 2017 @ 4:37 am

    With the word "francophobe", which I didn't even know existed, the two things combined in the word make sense the same way "hydrophobic" makes sense because something hydrophobic fears the water and a francophobe fears the French. With "homo-", I would expect a homophobe to fear "the same", which is of course not what the word means. The defining part of "homosexual" is left out when adding the "-phobe". Now I don't know how to make up a better word, but that has nothing to do with my dislike for the word "homophobe".

    To contrast this with the Chinese word, I think it's very common to leave out the defining parts of words when making new shortened compounds. 电 is not the defining part of 电视机, or at least for me it isn't. There's 电脑, 电话, 电报 among others, so I feel like shortening it to the first character can lead to ambiguity. Combining it with 彩 reduces it of course. So 恐同 is essentially a direct translation of the English word, but in Chinese I am more accustomed to words that don't inherently make sense.

  8. Pan Huiqiong said,

    April 22, 2017 @ 7:15 am

    In this passage, two groups of people with opposite standpoint came into view by the banner they hold in the pictures. One of them regarding homosexuality as decadent Western thought holds that it goes against Chinese traditional morals and the core values of socialism so that it should be prevented from university while the other one think that homophobes is not supposed to harm homosexuality. From my perspective, it is a mistake for us to discriminate against homosexuals, or with the reason of loving children, force misery and fear onto those people.
    Sexual orientation is not a multiple-choice question, there are A、B、C for none of us to choose. Those who exclude homosexuality are in a position to accept heterosexuality but refuse homosexuality on the basis of thinking they are normal people comparing to those who are “off normal”. Students in university may be affected by those remarks and hold different ideas on this issue.
    University students are somehow not an adult. They have no much experience about society and at the same time are able to believe others easily and hurt by other comments. You will not understand what means to third sex when they are repelled and teased by their classmates. They are students, in this point, nothing different form others and they absolutely have the right to obtain education.
    Homophobia just like racism and sexism, resisting homosexuality blindly is not fair and responsible. It is very easy to contact discrimination but it is very difficult to be discriminated against. If they cannot be treat with objective view in such a place with enlightenment, what they will face when they graduated from university. Racism and sexism is not as seriously as before. Similarly, we will be glad to make progress on supporting homosexuality.

  9. maidhc said,

    April 22, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

    Homophobia could be fear of milk and hydrophobia fear of electricity (depending on where you live).

  10. Michael Watts said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

    Hydrophobia wasn't a great example of a word that makes sense compositionally, since its usual meaning is "rabies".

  11. Carmel Lin said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    There is a story illustrating some changes happened on a checkout guy, making him into her, without knowing how to react, the author finally decided to see her as a totally different person. After communicating with his friends about the story, the author received similar ones as "preferred gender pronoun".
    On the one hand, according to these phenomena, we are in the midst of a profound cultural shift. Indeed, when it comes to issues associated with gender, especially homosexuality and transgender, there are always negative comments alongside. Under the pressure of religion, social comment, and discrimination, it is of great difficulty for these people to be treated as equal as those "normal people". However, with the openness of human's mind, people have become more civilized and rational towards the gender issues, which symbolized significant changes in our culture.
    On the other hand, since it is impossible for everyone to understand and accept such changes, people need to learn to adjust themselves to the current situation. No need to be supportive, but at least their existence as well as their human rights should be admitted.
    To sum up, living in a different era requires constant adjustment to every single change. Meanwhile, both homosexuals and transgender are the same as those who are not. We should seek common ground and reserve differentiation in this case.

  12. Eunice huang said,

    April 29, 2017 @ 3:38 am

    From above, It is obvious that we can see two pictures expressing two opposite views.One point held by the students conveyed the idea of keeping homosexuality far from Campus while mothers united fight against by showing a homophobic banner,hoping to protect the homosexuality.From my point of view, I fiercely against the former view of anti-homosexual.
         To be honest, I was so surprised when I read  the remark from the first banner as we are in such a society with freedom and liberty now. With a history of discriminating homosexuality in the past, there were so many evidence that many people were harmed deeply by anti-homosexuality, being considered as abnormal man, which is unequal to them. As I know, for some homosexuals, homosexuality existed when one was born.This is natural and we should try to understand them and show respect to them.
         What’s more, I can’s stand the fact that  the students are not others but college students who are educated. As a college student, we are supposed to have our own discretion to discern the true or false rather than follow the mainstream. Just try to be perspective-taking, the homosexual also have their right to be a person, choosing what they want instead of disobeying their desire which do no harm of other people.
         I maintained that everybody can treat homosexuals as equal, believing that they are minority but not the abnormal people. They should be well respected as we are all the same.

  13. YuX1666 said,

    April 29, 2017 @ 7:35 am

    Today a hot topic being discussed by an increasing number of people is homosexuality. Due to the efforts of lots people, more and more people accept it now. But homophobia is still exist. The first picture shows a stronger prejudice homoertism. But the second is nicer. Homosexuals are not supposed to live under others prejudice.
    In western, more and more people accept homosexuals, it’s just a human nature and love is equal beyond gender. In China, due to the limited of traditional culture, homosexuality is unacceptable for some people and the percentage of this groups is much more. In my opinion we shouldn’t be prejudice to homosexuals. It is just our human nature and we shouldn’t be prejudice to it or deny it. In America, The federal Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that any laws motivated by homophobia (or other bigotry) are unconstitutional. It shows that our society starts to accept them. There is a interesting thing recently. Most people may hear that. Because somebody discriminate men holding hands and then all the man in Holland started to hand in hand in public to show their support to homosexuals, even they are not gay at all. So warm-hearted they are! And the people of the second picture are also warm-hearted. Don't let homophobes harm our children.
    In a words, all men are created equal. We can not wear blinkers to see a person and let them live under fears of discrimination.

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