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.

  14. Lily Zheng said,

    April 30, 2017 @ 9:55 pm

    There has been a public debate on the issue of whether the homosexuality should stay in our university campus.Those who hold negative attitudes displaying the banner believe that homosexuality may exert an adverse effect on us, which disobeys Chinese traditional morals, so that homosexuality should be kept away from campus to defend the core values of socialism.Additionally, those advocates also claim that their children couldn't be harmed by homophobes.As far as I am concerned, I approve wholeheartedly of the idea that we should view homosexuality equally.
    As homosexuals themselves, they have no choice to what they to be, just like we have no choice to choose who can be our parents.What they are lack of is our respect.
    What's more, with the development of the society, more and more people open their minds to homosexuality.Many western countries have formulated the bill for legalizing homosexuality marriage, which could demonstrate the idea that gay have the right to pursue their happiness.Homosexuality is a natural selection, rather than an illness need to be cured, or a crime need to be punished.
    When It comes to university students at a higher education level who displayed the banner, It is really ridiculous that the banner was displayed on the main campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology where exists liberty and freedom.A college student is supposed to have the ability to tell what is wrong and what is right, and what they did can be described as a discrimination.Yes, everyone has his right to demonstrate his idea, however, not on the basis of harming others.
    In conclusion, we needn't support, nevertheless, what we need to do for them is to show respect to them.

  15. Sylvia Yang said,

    May 1, 2017 @ 4:25 am

    It’s quite normal in China that topics or banners concerning homosexuality sometimes go viral through the social media, which, on one hand, indicates that the acceptance of the whole society may still in gestation and a quantity of people are trying to fight for the rights of homosexuals on the other hand.
    In my perspective, the reasons why Chinese society, compared to some western countries, seems to possess more prejudices against gay people are as follows: first of all, conventional morality. The idea taught by our forefathers that love among the same sex is called “friendship”, while between the opposite one is “relationship”, still takes strong root. “Homosexuality” remains a fresh challenge to people’s belief and we all need time to remove biases. Secondly, lack of scientific knowledge. For decades, homosexuals are diagnosed as abnormal groups and are isolated by the society. Even today, a large number of people fail to know that homosexuality is inborn in most of the cases.
    Though there is a long way to go, it is no denying that progress have been made, especially in recent years. An increasing number of homosexual celebrities stood out acknowledging their sex orientation; overwhelming nice comments emerged on some related topics instead of baleful abuses. And I sincerely congratulated my friend on his marriage with his Mr. Right for I know it is not gender matters but, love. Those who hold the banner in the first picture are unable to represent all the Chinese and they should feel regretful to do such a stupid thing when they put themselves in others’ shoes .
    It may take several generations, even dozens of generations’ efforts to achieve equality for homosexuals. So what? We will never give way to homophobia.

  16. Grace said,

    May 1, 2017 @ 6:28 am

    Homosexuality, the other type of relationship, should be treated and respected by the same way as well as heterosexuality.

    What makes me so shocked is that those homophobes called homosexuality as"decadent Western thought". Nowadays, although mainstream society still does not accept homosexuality, we should work hard to transform our views of homosexuality, instead of being afraid of it.

    The question "Whether the homosexuality is a disease or not?" had been raised in Sweden in 1979, then many people asked for sick leave and said "If homosexuality is a disease, let's all call in queer to work." At the end of October the same year, Sweden became the first country which moved homosexuality out of the disease lists, and this made a great difference in the world.
    Why discriminate it? It's just the other type of relationship, not a big deal.

  17. Ryan Lee said,

    May 3, 2017 @ 6:21 am

    Since ancient years, homoerotism is always a conspicuous topic. In the old age, the gay who was found would be punished to die.
    However, with the time passing, people minds are changing. There are more people all over the world who can accept the gay, even more countries have recognized the legalization of the gay marriage, so why shouldn’t we?
    The banner stands a point that” Maintain the tran….”, I just want to ask them a simple question, is it any of their business? Do the gay do sth to them? hurting people, destroying the campus? If there is ,ok, I agree with them. But if not, please drop off the banner and stop making a stupid show.
    More ridiculously, there is anything about the traditional morals of china, the core values of socialism? University students, who have received the advanced educations, having more feudatorial minds than the people who haven’t. What have they learned in University? Not be a gay? It is their rights to express their opinion, but may be they can try it in a not aggressive way.

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