“White left” — a Chinese calque in English

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I had never heard of “white left” until two or three days ago when I read this article by Chenchen Zheng in openDemocracy (5/11/17):

The curious rise of the ‘white left’ as a Chinese internet insult“.

It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece, followed by a stimulating discussion among the commenters who come from many perspectives and venture into all sorts of relevant areas (e.g., immigration, race, social constructionism, deregulation, privatization, healthcare, and so on, but even more purely philosophical questions as well).

What I find particularly interesting about the issues swirling around “white left” is that they were initially broached in the context of China, which means that both the advocates and detractors of “white left” thinking were outsiders critiquing the West, yet wondering what implications the “white left” critique of the social, political, and economic situation in the West hold for themselves.

Here’s the epigraph:

Meet the Chinese netizens who combine a hatred for the ‘white left’ with a love of US president Donald Trump.

And here’s the bulk of the third paragraph (out of sixteen):

Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

Almost forgot this:  báizuǒ 白左 (“white left”).

The debate over “white left” in China has been surprisingly vigorous, especially considering the fact that the PRC government censors the internet so heavily.  I suspect that the debate has not yet been squashed (or maybe it already will have been by the time I post this) because the authorities haven’t yet made up their mind on whether to foster “white left” rhetoric or to denounce and ban it.

READINGS

1.

The White Left” (spandrell, Bloody shovel, 5/15/17)

Here’s the first paragraph:

So this article is doing the rounds. Chinese netizens have synthetized a very powerful compound which has the Cathedral in complete terror. What is it? The word 白左, the White Left. This means that some people in China understand that progressivism is a foreign conspiracy against the Chinese nation. And they see this is in overt racial terms. It’s not “Western left”. It’s the “White left”.

2.

A Handy Loan-Word From Chinese: ‘Baizuo’, Meaning ‘White Left’” (John Derbyshire, VDARE, 6/16/17)

[You may have to turn off a splash page by clicking on the X in the top right corner of what shows up first.]

Derbyshire is an admitted Sinophile (“with qualifications”), so he knows what he’s talking about.  Here’s the conclusion of his piece:

The notion that you can love your own country without hating others — even while admiring and respecting some of the others — is not much in evidence on Chinese comment threads, any more than it is in the effusions of our own left intellectuals, though the conclusions drawn in the two cases are different.  This could be a real hindrance as we get the Arctic Alliance up and running.

Still, even with those elements of arrogance, ignorance, and insecurity, Chinese attitudes overall are healthier than the pathological altruism and sickly ethnomasochism of our CultMarx elites — the baizuo.

You can never have enough scornful terms for your enemies.  I hope baizuo will take off among English-language users.  We have way too few loanwords from Chinese, most of them from coastal dialects (sampan, ketchup).  Heck, if they can borrow “LGBT,” why can’t we use baizuo?

Cultural appropriation? Ptui, I spit.

(When mentioning loanwords, by the way, I can never resist adding that “loanword” is a loanword: from German Lehnwort.  Wikipedia splits hairs and says it’s actually a calque, a loan translation, so only a sort-of loanword … but the hell with Wikipedia.)

I have a feeling that this is one Chinese calque that not only is going to stick in contemporary English vocabulary, but that is going to resonate in social and political discourse, unlike a number of others promoted by the Chinese government that never gained any traction outside of Chinese propaganda / soft power outlets.

Chinese loans in English” (7/10/13)

[h.t. Bill Bishop and John Rohsenow]



48 Comments »

  1. Bob Ladd said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 4:21 pm

    John Derbyshire should find some amusement in the fact that loanword is a calque and calque is a loanword.

  2. Eidolon said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

    I don’t think this term will stick. The reason being is that radical progressivism in the West, particularly the US, is not limited to the “white” population, but is embraced perhaps even more so among many racial minority groups. This fact will prevent it from becoming synonymous with “liberal” in the derogatory sense, but may eventually be used by right-wing commentators as a “race-traitor” type of insult, similar to how the Chinese use “hanjian”.

  3. JPL said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

    On a superficial and frivolous level, I say that “the white left” is indeed a bit of a problem, but what are ya gonna do? (But the denotation of the category ‘white left’ as I understand it is definitely not identical to the denotation of the category ‘baizuo’ as used by these Chinese netizens.)

    On a hopefully deeper level, I don’t think you can think seriously and effectively about social problems, social and political popular movements, social psychological and cultural phenomena, political parties and movements, arguments about economic practice, popular political commentary in the global public square, economic and political philosophy as done by academics, ethical principles and systems, etc. with categorical labels such as ‘baizuo’, ‘white left’, ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘liberal’, conservative’, etc. and all the rest of it. There’s always the problem of “what are you talking about?”, “What exactly are you referring to?” from one use of the term to the next, especially from one user to the next. You need to have an -etic vocabulary to be able to describe the phenomena out there in the world using terms other than the problematic categorical terms, in order to keep open the possibility of understanding the phenomena in different ways. Whatever unity the term ‘baizuo’ has, it may not correspond to any significant unified phenomenon in reality, just like the term ‘populist’, for example. The discourse presented in the article indicates a manner of thinking that is familiar from other geographical and historical contexts. It’s part of the data, not part of the conversation about how to understand the socio-political currents swirling about these days.

  4. JB said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 9:19 pm

    The corresponding term in English is ‘SJW’ – ‘Social Justice Warrior’.

  5. Ryan Paltor said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 9:40 pm

    Yes, because these United States – the inheritors of the enlightenment – need political advice from a civilization that seems to only care about buying property, fast cars, and handbags.

    I suspect that the same people throwing about “white left” in China also think blind activists deserve to be tortured WITHIN china. This country is great because people marched in the streets at great personal cost. The so called SJW’s might be an extreme manifestation of this but I’d rather deal with them than the alternative. To quote David Starkey, this is why China remains a political Pygmy.

  6. RobW said,

    May 17, 2017 @ 10:40 pm

    I’m pretty sure the only thing “sinophile” Derbyshire likes about the Chinese is Chinese nativism. Or ethno-nationalism, if you prefer.

  7. J. Goard said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 12:22 am

    @JB:

    I’m pretty sure that “baizuo” encompasses a whole lot of people that you or I wouldn’t call “SJWs”. The former concept, as I’ve understood it, includes the naive, monocultural, MLK-justice sort of Westerner that we’d describe as a moderate liberal.

    These Chinese netizens aren’t angry about SJW threats like speech codes on campuses or star chambers for rape accusations. They’re angry about Western majorities who superficially express love for the world without caring to understand anybody else.

  8. Johan P said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 4:51 am

    The rhetoric mirrors with complete exactitude the nouvelle droite/alt-right/cultural right rhetoric that exists from Putin’s Russia to Modi’s India to Erdogan’s Turkey to Trump’s America – every single one of the accusations in the definition you stated exist in other contemporary right-wing movements as well, down to very specific details and wordings.

    It’s interesting how something so purportedly nationalistic uses such global language in each case.

  9. David Marjanović said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 6:07 am

    Maybe, maybe, the term will catch on among neoreactionaries* like the two quoted sources; but elsewhere I think it’ll be 10 to 20 more years before any such Chinese terms, no matter how useful, will catch on in the West (perhaps not including Japan and South Korea this time).

    * That word isn’t a joke. Well, actually it is, but by definition the people who use it to describe themselves haven’t understood that.

    BTW, loanword has undergone one of the usual meaning shifts upon calquing. German terminology distinguishes Fremdwörter (“foreign-words”), loanwords that are still recognizable as such to native speakers who haven’t learned etymology and aren’t polyglots, from Lehnwörter, those that aren’t recognizable as such to most people, mostly because they came in long enough ago.

    It’s interesting how something so purportedly nationalistic uses such global language in each case.

    Isn’t it! The EU’s xenophobic parties cooperate so much these days that satirists have long concluded they don’t want to destroy the EU at all, just replace it by their own version; add Putin/Dugin, Trump/Bannon and now apparently Chinese internet nationalism, and it’s an Internationale.

  10. V said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 7:02 am

    Johan P Indeed, there’s practically an Internationale of the far-right. BTW, Russia’s far-right equivalent of “SJW”, “liberast”, “tolerast”: made up by combining liberal or tolerant with a homophobic slur, are used in the same rhetorical contexts, against the same imagined opponents, down to very specific details.

  11. V said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 7:10 am

    BTW, I should have mentioned — to the extent that it has been borrowed by Bulgarian far-right Internet agitators* in the last few years, although it took about took about ten years.

    *I don’t use the term trolls, because it has slightly shifted in meaning since the 90’s.

  12. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 7:55 am

    I don’t use the term trolls, because it has slightly shifted in meaning since the 90’s.

    That’s an odd decision. Do you in general refuse to use words whose meaning has changed?

  13. V said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 8:26 am

    I feel slightly uncomfortable with it, because I’m not sure which meaning will be understood: in fora focused on things other than politics, it might be understood with the older meaning, while on those focused on politics it will probably be understood with the recent, (more) politics-focused meaning.

  14. Alyssa said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 8:30 am

    It’s hard to imagine the term sticking in the West. Here it’s liberals who call things “white” when they want to denigrate them (“white male” in contexts where race is not relevant, “white feminism”, etc). Generally it carries an implication that the thing being referenced isn’t liberal enough. Conservatives object to this usage, on the principle that it’s, well, racist.

    So while liberals may or may not be bothered by the implication that their ideas are particularly “white”, conservatives can’t really call them the “white left” without a certain amount of irony.

  15. V said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 9:02 am

    To clarify: by calling them trolls, it sort of trivializes them — they’re people who say outrageous things for the thrill of it. While the new brand of explicitly political “trolls”, while they might also have that motivation or not, definitely have more sinister motivations.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 9:49 am

    From MC:

    [VHM: LLog-style transcriptions and translations, plus a link, added by me; BTW, in case you were wondering, the author of this lengthy comment is very much an authentic Chinese person]

    I feel compelled to say something…. Before my Weibo account was forcibly shut down, I was constantly called “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) by the Chinese right-wingers, even though for the past 12 years since I have been eligible to vote in the US, I’ve never voted for candidates from the right or the left….

    This term has been around for years, even before Trump’s rise to power. “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) was first a term used to distinguish from “Máozuǒ 毛左” (“Mao Left”) — as both are “leftists” — but whose theoretical outlooks are profoundly different in many ways. What “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) stands for and how Chinese netizens and the “non-white left” perceive it has shifted meanings throughout the years… enough to write a short socio-political essay about it.

    But, in short, before the ascendancy of Trump, the left vs. right divide in China had been clear-cut…. The so-called “right-wingers” were naturally fǎn dǎng fǎn Zhōngguó 反黨反中國 (“anti-Party anti-China”), but now that Trump is the president, the “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) vs. everybody else divide has since been taken to a whole new level and intensity. The opposite of “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) isn’t “Báiyòu 白右” (“White Right”) or anything like that, it’s “gāoděng Huárén 高等華人” (“advanced Chinese”) or “gāo-Huá 高華” for short, “alt-right” in the Western sense) — like those idiots who held up the “Chinese Americans LOVE Trump sign” behind Trump on national TV (I assume you’re not a Trump supporter, if you are, my bad :)

    I’ll give you another example. There is the universal nǚquánzhǔyì 女權主義 (women’s rights, feminism, whatever). You’d think that this term would be enough to describe the women’s movement in China, right? Wrong, the “authentic” nǚquánzhǔyìzhě 女權主義者 (“feminists”, whatever) often distinguish themselves from “Zhōngguó shì” nǚquán zhǔyì “中國式”女權主義 (“‘Chinese style’ feminism” or whatever) by calling the camp of the others “tiányuán nǚquán 田園女權” (“pastoral feminism”, i.e., those who support women’s rights but who simultaneously support “jJìshēng 計生” (“family planning”).

    “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) has many layers of meaning, depending on the contexts and who’s using it.

    Occasionally, there are audiences calling from some mainland shěngchéng 省城 (“provincial capital”) [VHM: to the national radio station where the commenter works as a talk show host] who go into a non-stop rage about Muslims and about how Trump has done the “right thing”, and that Muslims should be banned from entering China too. I usually don’t respond with any facts (since many of these “gāo-Huá 高華” (“advanced Chinese”), though educated, are entirely ignorant of *real* facts), my response will usually be something like this, speaking in a calm tone:

    =====

    Gòngchǎndǎng jiàoyù xià shǎo yǒu zhèngcháng rén… Yīqún yóu xì dào dà chōngmǎn dòuzhēng jiàoyù, zhǐ qiú chūréntóudì de rén. Shénme jiào láng nǎi nán tǔ, nǐ jiùshì yīgè hěn hǎo de lìzi. Cóng wèi zài shèhuì lǐnglüèguò shénme jiào “zhèngzhì zhèngquè”, jiù xiān lái gè “fǎn zhèngzhì zhèngquè”. Rénxìng de chǒulòu, bùguò rúcǐ.

    共產黨教育下少有正常人。。。一群由細到大充滿鬥爭教育,只求出人頭地的人。什麼叫狼奶難吐,你就是一個很好的例子。從未在社會領略過什麼叫“政治正確”,就先來個“反政治正確”。人性的醜陋,不過如此。

    “There are few normal people under Communist Party education…. [What you get is just] a bunch of people, from little to big, who are full of this ‘struggle education’ and who seek only to stand out from the crowd. And how may we illustrate ‘wolf’s milk is hard to spit out’? Well, you’re a good example. Before [such people] have grasped what is called ‘political correctness’ in society, they come at you with ‘anti political correctness’. The ugliness of human nature is but so.”

    =====

    The “gāo-Huá 高華” (“advanced Chinese”) are actually too stupid to merit a direct, serious response… so this kind of “script” is the best way to end an argument with the “Chinese alt-right”.

    —–

    [VHM: the following was added fifteen minutes later]

    In my previous email about the same topic, I mentioned that originally “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) was a term used in distinction to “Máozuǒ 毛左” (“Mao Left”). That’s how use of the term “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) got started. There are also other terms, such as huáng É 黃俄 (“yellow Russians”), that are used in these debates from time to time.

    I also mentioned that originally, the antithesis of “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”), the so-called “Chinese right-wingers”, were anti-CCP, anti-China, and pro-USA. But now that there is this whole new breed of pro-CCP / pro-regime / pro-authority people who are *also* pro-USA (or Trump specifically), thus the “original Chinese right-wingers” have run into a sort of dilemma — being lumped into the same group with the pro-CCP people. So you now see many of these “original right-wingers” often join forces with “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) to fight gāo-Huá 高華 (“advanced Chinese”, i.e., the “Chinese alt-right”).

    I admit that “Báizuǒ 白左” (“White Left”) or “white left 2.0” (aka, “SJW”) sometimes can be a pain in the butt, but I think we all agree that this world needs a little more compassion and humanity than more hatred and alienation.

  17. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 9:56 am

    Thanks for that long and informed comment; it makes things a little clearer.

    By the way, I will bet anything you like that “baizuo” is not going to be borrowed into English, now or ever (barring, of course, a Chinese takeover of the US), and I find it very odd that anyone could think that possible.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 10:07 am

    @languagehat and several others who join him in doubting that “white left” will stick in English.

    We all have to remember to check in again after one year to see if it’s still around.

    Meanwhile, since languagehat said he’d “bet anything” on this, I’ve got to start thinking about what I want to bet that “white left” will still be here a year from now.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 10:11 am

    I know! A new MacBook Air!

    The way I bang on mine I’ll probably need one a year from now.

  20. tsts said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 10:13 am

    “We have way too few loanwords from Chinese, most of them from coastal dialects (sampan, ketchup).”

    Is this actually true for ketchup? I have read about this, but I have also heard from other people who strongly disagree. Certainly the Cantonese work ke2 zap1 is very close, but which directions did it travel?

  21. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 10:14 am

    Oh, you were talking about “white left” — that’s more reasonable, though I still doubt it (I don’t see any semantic space to be filled in English). I thought you were talking about “baizuo,” as I said in my comment.

  22. Roscoe said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 10:27 am

    Sounds a bit like “SWPL,” which you’ll sometimes see used as a descriptor (“the SWPL crowd,” “more SWPL nonsense”). It’s short for “Stuff White People Like” – per Wikipedia, the name of “a blog that takes a satirical aim at the interests of North American ‘left-leaning, city-dwelling, white people.'”

  23. Johan P said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 11:13 am

    The more important the Chinese cultural sphere becomes, the more loanwords will appear in English, surely. Just look at the dozens of contemporary loanwords we have from Japanese, many related to arts or popular culture, whereas most borrowings from Chinese still relate to food or older Chinese culture.

  24. BZ said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

    There are two points to understanding this. First, do the Chinese see themselves as non-white? Because if so, “white left” would easily be a synonym for “western left” with no racial overtones whatsoever, since most of the West is white. If not, I don’t understand how the term could exist.

    Second, presumably China is looking at any Western political group from the left. As such, the default assumption is that the “white left” is not *really* left to them. If so, who would be using this term in the West? Leftist fringe groups? I don’t see how the term is relevant in Western discourse.

  25. JB said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 12:21 pm

    The contractions “libtard” or “shitlib” also spring to mind.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 1:05 pm

    “Baizuo” will almost certainly not be accepted into English, but “white left”, with all of its maddening — and also somehow liberating — ambiguities, might well be. This whole post was about the calque.

  27. MC said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

    @BZ, when “white left” was first used, it really just meant “western form of leftism” in distinction to “Chinese form of leftism” (aka, Maoism) without any racial overtones. In the Chinese mind, a person who has a “white left” tendency is taken to be “overtly naïve” and being “too kind” to strangers. The term already had a wide circulation among Chinese netizens before the “alt-right” movement gained a foothold in the US. When Trump became president, Chinese right-wingers just conveniently used “white left” as a substitute word for “libtard” (as JB rightly pointed out). This “white left” distinction is critical for the new breed of Chinese right-wingers, as they are often pro-CCP (ironically, it is a “leftist” regime), so it’d be awkward that they are pro-communism and pro-capitalism at the same time.

    What these people are essentially, is that they don’t really fall on the right or left in the strictest political sense — they just worship absolute power (this is why they are so dumb…the only thing they are capable of doing is to hold up banners).

  28. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

    “white left”, with all of its maddening — and also somehow liberating — ambiguities, might well be.

    In what context? How do you see it fitting in? I can see its usefulness in the Chinese context, but I am hard put to see why it would be attractive to people who have available a vast number of expressions from “social justice warrior” to “libtard” and beyond, not to mention the fact that in an American context “white left” can pretty much only be read in its literal sense as “non-minority leftists.”

  29. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

    Which is easier to say, “white left” or “non-minority leftists”? And which is more specific?

    Anyway, we’ll revisit this issue a year from now and see how things stand.

  30. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

    Well, now I’m totally confused. Of course it’s perfectly possible to call people “white leftists” meaning “non-minority leftists” — my whole point was that this is the obvious sense of the phrase in English, so why and how would it be borrowed in some complicated Chinese sense? If all you’re saying is that the actual phrase can be used, in any sense whatever, then I am not in disagreement. Just confused.

  31. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 4:44 pm

    Trying to help you out of your confusion with some logic: there’s the “white left” and there’s the “rest of the left” (the part that’s not white). The “white left” and the “rest of the left” are different.

  32. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

    Obviously I understand that. What I don’t understand is whether you expect the phrase to be borrowed in the complex Chinese sense you originally posted about (ending by saying “I have a feeling that this is one Chinese calque that not only is going to stick in contemporary English vocabulary, but that is going to resonate in social and political discourse,” which certainly seems to me to imply the Chinese sense) or simply to be used in its existing English sense of “white people on the left,” in which case I’m not sure what you meant by the “Chinese calque” business.

  33. JPL said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

    We already have, especially in American English, the term ‘white left’ (my use of the term in the first sentence of my comment above was an instance of that, with a sense sort of like what Roscoe said above), but this has nothing to do with a possible calque on the Chinese term ‘baizuo’. Probably if English- speaking people want to talk about what Chinese netizens are talking about using the term ‘baizuo’, they will borrow the word ‘baizuo’ to do that. The expression ‘white left’ as used by native speakers of Chinese using English is indeed a calque.

  34. V said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 6:23 pm

    languagehat: it just occurred to me, in case it was not clear: I mean the shift from someone who posts outrageous statements in order to cause outrage, to a political actor spreading disinformation. It did not even occur to me that you might have thought of the mythological creature?

  35. Bathrobe said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

    “overtly naïve” and being “too kind” to strangers

    Someone might like to correct me, but I was under the impression that this is how many Chinese view Westerners. Chinese seem to be selective about who they are kind to — there are blood ties, group affiliations, an awareness that you have limited resources, and an ever-present calculus of whether you can benefit. People who are kind to everyone end up getting taken for a ride and squandering their resources. This is indeed a very canny and hard-headed view of the world. Perhaps one reason why Chinese dissidents have a hard time of it.

    Then there is 白求恩 (Norman Bethune), who seems to me the perfect 白左 in a Western sense. He is glorified by the party, but perhaps only because he was committed to the Communists and thus one of “their own”.

  36. Bathrobe said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 6:38 pm

    When I say 白求恩 was 白左 “in a Western sense”, I mean that he was probably a left-leaning liberal who decided to put his money where his mouth was — although he was a doctor, not a fighter. Under the ideology of the CCP, he would presumably have been a 毛左.

    The whole terminological problem in China seems to me to be due to the fact that the term ‘left wing’ has been preempted by the CCP and the Chinese government. Apart from ultra-leftism (Maoism), everything by definition stands to their right. The way China is now, of course, the CCP looks pretty much right wing (strong state strong army, jingoistic nationalism, defence of entrenched interest groups, marginalisation of the poor), so defining left and right becomes an exercise in contortions.

  37. languagehat said,

    May 18, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

    languagehat: it just occurred to me, in case it was not clear: I mean the shift from someone who posts outrageous statements in order to cause outrage, to a political actor spreading disinformation. It did not even occur to me that you might have thought of the mythological creature?

    No, no, I understood what you meant, and I know what you mean (English is a funny language!); I’ve been well aware of the “troll” problem for some years now and have seen much discussion of it. I just found it a little odd that you put it originally in terms of not wanting to use a word whose meaning had changed, which… well, they pretty much all have.

  38. Ray said,

    May 19, 2017 @ 1:50 am

    I wonder if “white” in chinese carries the same ideas of “purity” and “cleanliness” that it does in the west. and if what’s being expressed in “white left” is a kind of pure, unassailable lockstep adherence to leftist ideology (that often excludes women of color or millennials or fringe groups or sanders supporters, for example) while claiming to be tolerant and inclusive and moral. when I hear “white left” the image that immediately springs to mind is hillary clinton. someone (white) who claims to be pure, well intentioned, especially for women and children, but who simultaneously (wearing white pantsuits) was responsible for the deaths of thousands of women and children as secretary of state. someone who claims to be a victim, post-election, but whose campaign was anything but innocent. someone who appeals to white suburban establishment voters who believe, misguidedly, that they’re progressive. maybe there’s a kind of scrubbed, face-saving hypocrisy involved in “white left” that’s being captured and expressed in chinese, that goes beyond race? but which was experienced racially?

  39. nick m said,

    May 19, 2017 @ 4:10 am

    Isn’t it plausible that “white left” could catch on among the relatively sophisticated alt-rightists, who would delight both in the “Stuff White People Like” spin they could give the phrase and in its exotic Chinese right-wing provenance? And from them spread to the more overtly racist among the MAGA hoi polloi, who would deploy it more crudely as a version of “race traitor”?

  40. Procopius said,

    May 19, 2017 @ 6:44 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments, and I certainly haven’t read the Chinese threads and comments, so maybe somebody already suggested this. It’s been a lot of years since I studied translations of Chinese newspapers and the language has changed since I studied Mandarin, but back in the ’50s my first thought on seeing ‘bái’ along with a clearly political term such as “left’ would be that it’s a political designation, as opposed to ‘red’. I would not think it was a racial designation. The racist terms I learned about didn’t include colors. Probably many people here are better educated in that aspect of the language, but the racist terms I learned about were things like “Eastern dwarves” (Japanese) and “foreign ghost.” I wonder if the immediate conclusion that ‘white’ is being used in a racist sense is because of Derbyshire, who is widely known as a racist.

  41. V said,

    May 19, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

    Chinese “trolls” seem to use the word “educated” quite a lot. What does that correspond to in MSM?

  42. Brian Dell said,

    May 21, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

    The Chinese authorities have decided to “foster ‘white left’ rhetoric”. I’ve seen multiple articles in official media lately, with a typical title being that the term constitutes “a rebuttal to West’s moral superiority”

  43. JPL said,

    May 22, 2017 @ 1:27 am

    Is that what they said? How can there be a “rebuttal” to X’s moral superiority?

  44. Victor Mair said,

    May 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

    “Chinese baizuo gibe a rebuttal to West’s moral superiority”

    By Zhang Yi Source: Global Times Published: 2017/5/22

    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1048021.shtml

    [Global Times is an English-language Chinese newspaper under the People’s Daily.]

    Must read if you’re interested in what the Chinese government thinks about this term.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    May 23, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

    This too:

    “Chinese derogatory social media term for ‘white left’ Western elites spreads”

    By Qu Qiuyan Source: Global Times Published: 2017/5/21

    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1047989.shtml

  46. Louis Xun said,

    May 26, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

    The word “bai 白” has multiple meanings, in addition to “white,” including “futile,” “to no purpose,” and “for nothing” and “báizuǒ 白左” as used by many Chinese social media commentators is likely intended to mean “futile left” without the racial connotations referenced in many of the quoted articles and comments.

  47. languagehat said,

    May 27, 2017 @ 7:11 am

    Thanks, that’s extremely important to know!

  48. Victor Mair said,

    May 28, 2017 @ 7:31 am

    But that does not negate the fact that those racial connotations were present in the use of the term from its inception and in countless articles and comments about it thereafter. It would seem that, since it is an embarrassment to “many Chinese social media commentators”, they have attempted to reinterpret the bái 白 (“white”) of báizuǒ 白左 (“white left”) to mean “futile,” “to no purpose,” and “for nothing”. Indeed, believe it or not, I just received the following note from one of them this morning, and I quote: “A typical Baizuo would be Obama”!

    The lengths to which progressives will go to occupy the moral high ground!

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