"People's Re-fu*king of Chee-na"

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The following video was posted to YouTube on 10/11/16:

The speaker is Yau Wai-ching, a newly elected member of Hong Kong's Legco (Legislative Council).  We have already met Ms. Yau in this post:

"A Sanskrit tattoo in Hong Kong" (10/4/16)

While taking the oath of office, Yao repeatedly refers to the PRC as the "People's Re-fu*king of Chee-na".

When asked by reporters whether she thought it was acceptable to use profanity, she said, “That is just my accent” and explained English wasn’t her first language.


As for "Chee-na", that is an idiosyncratic romanization of the Cantonese pronunciation, Zi1naa5, of the Sinitic transcription 支那 (MSM Zhīnà) of Sanskrit Cīna चीन, which is ultimately derived from the same name as English "China" (most likely referring to the Qin Dynasty [Qín 秦; Old Sinitic *dzin]).  Zhīnà 支那 has become a sensitive word in the PRC because that is how the Japanese (pronouncing 支那 as Shina) referred to China (!) before and during WW II.  The tangled history of Shina / Zhīnà 支那 has been discussed at length in the comments to this post:

"The transcription of the name "China" in Chinese characters" (6/17/12).

See also here and here.


  1. AntC said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

    I'm curious why LegCo's business would be carried on in the language of the former colonial power.

    Could Yau not choose to swear the oath in Cantonese? (Given her politics, she presumably wouldn't use putongha, the language of the current colonial power.)

    What is the position on using regional topolects for official business in other regions of PRC?

    (And given the vast opportunities for wordplay in Cantonese,Yau could surely have been just as offensive.)

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 5:06 pm


    She knew she was on the world stage, and she wanted the whole world to hear what she said.

    So far as I know, the official language of courts in Hong Kong is still English.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

    In Jichang Lulu's comments to the "Sanskrit tattoo" post, he gives evidence that Yau Wai-ching knows how to swear in Cantonese.

  4. Ken said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

    Upon first watching, I thought she had made an honest mistake, because it sounded more like, "People's Re-puck-in of Cheena" in some places, and the man administering the oath was being condescending to her because of her youth. But upon further reading about her politics, I noticed the giant "HONG KONG IS NOT PART OF CHINA" banner she spread on the table. She also made sure to repeatedly rush through "the Special Administrative Region" to emphasize the ridiculousness of that phrase. Rhetorically, she was implying, "It's so hard to say all these long words, Mister. Wouldn't it be easier just to say 'Hong Kong'?"

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

    There has been considerable discussion on the actual pronunciation of 支那 by Yau Wai-ching and another newly elected colleague, Sixtus "Baggio" Leung Chung-hang, during the swearing-in ceremony.

    Here's a sampling of what I've picked up from various sources:


    If intentionally Japanese (and so particularly offensive?), it would be 'Sheena'. If based on Cantonese, the Cantonese of “支” sounds like Pekinese 'ji', not 'xi'.

    Yau says it twice as 'Theena' (am I hearing wrong? Greek 'Thīna' ?) and once as 'Jeena'.

    Leung says it three times, once as 'Cheena' and once as 'Zheena' ( as in 'Brezhnev'): Anglophonic understandings of Wade-Giles 'ch' and then Hanyu Pinyin ? And note the rising (uptalkish [or hesitating, questioning]) second syllable each time.

    "Lawmaker Sixtus Leung Chung-hang says he will serve 'Chee-Na' at Hong Kong Legco"


  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    Also receiving attention has been the special pronunciation of the word guó / gwok3 國 ("nation; state; country") by Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

    Various commentators have noted that every time when he pronounced this word in the Chinese name for the People's Republic of China, he drew it out and raised the pitch to an abnormal height.

    For typical comments, see here and here.

    He starts to do it 1:36 in the video of his oath.

    It's very noticeable even for someone who doesn't know Cantonese. Perhaps by that extreme rising tone he intends to question the legitimacy of the PRC as a nation / state / country.

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 10:18 am

    At a fairly-recent time in the history of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein candidates would be elected to the UK Parliament from certain constituencies, but then not be seated in Westminster because they would decline to take prescribed oath of allegiance to the Queen. I guess they didn't think of the stratagem of taking the official oath but pronouncing it so oddly one might suspect they had some different agenda?

  8. Simon P said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 11:45 am

    I am in love. Yau Wai-ching is my new favorite person. It's clever, it's funny, and she can just barely get away with it.

    Listening to Leung take the oath (also saying "Cheena"), I get a distinct impression of going through the motions. He seems to be demonstrating his not taking the oath seriously. (Is there a word for this? I want to say he's "yada yada-ing" the oath.)

  9. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

    @Simon P

    These three words just popped into my mind:


  10. AntC said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

    @Simon P … she can just barely get away with it.

    But Yau didn't get away with it: her affirmation was rejected by the official. (Whether that has any practical consequences, for a toothless body, remains to be seen.)

  11. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

    From an anonymous colleague in Taiwan:

    「支那」 is used in Taiwan as an anti-China lexeme. It is has the feel of 'nigger', 'kike', 'chink' etc.

    Do a Google search for 「火烤支那豬」(this in reference to some tourists from the PRC who died in a fire) or 「支那賤畜,外來種滾」.

    For transitions from neutral term to a pejorative of some degree or another, there is also: 'Chinaman' (vs 'Dutchman' or 'Frenchman') or possibly 'Negro'. Or, bizarrely, in Ireland, use of the word 'Gaelic' to refer to the Irish language.

  12. George said,

    October 16, 2016 @ 4:27 am

    @Victor Mair
    Maybe somebody else might have a different take on this – mollymooly or Madhc perhaps – but I wouldn't go so far as to say that 'Gaelic' is necessarily pejorative in Ireland. It comes across as odd, as 'not the right term', but if it is interpreted as a pejorative the use of the term in itself is not what triggers that response. In other words, it depends on who says it and on what we already know about that person's attitude to the Irish language or to 'Irishness' in general. It certainly isn't in anything like the same league as the use of 'Éire' when speaking or writing in English.

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