Hong Kong anti-China graffiti

« previous post | next post »

Graffiti painted by protesters in the Liaison Office of the PRC in Hong Kong:

This is mighty powerful stuff, and I don't think it has been explained anywhere else, so we will go through it bit by bit.

First of all, we can dispense with the writing on the yellow banner which is attached to the metal barricade shown along the bottom edge of the photograph, since it just means "xíngrén tōngdào 行人通道" ("walkway; passageway")

The place pictured here is Zhōngyāng Rénmín Zhèngfǔ zhù Xiānggǎng Tèbié Xíngzhèngqū Liánluò Bàngōngshì 中央人民政府駐香港特別行政區聯絡辦公室 ("Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region"); for short, it is referred to as "Zhōng liánbàn 中聯辦" ("Central Liaison Office").

The protesters changed "Zhōng liánbàn 中聯辦" into "Zhī liánbàn 支聯辦", in order to humiliate the Chinese government. Here "Zhī 支" stands for "Shina 支那", as in "Zhīnà rén 支那人" (Japanese pronunciation "Shinajin"), an offensive and derogatory word for Chinese people.

Although the first one is partially covered, I'm pretty sure that the three characters on the right are "diǎo Zhīnà 屌支那" ("penis / cock / prick / dick / screw / f*ck Shina").

Now we have to look more closely at the sensitive word "Shina":

Shina (支那, pronounced [ɕiꜜna]) is a largely archaic Japanese name for China. The word was originally used neutrally in both Chinese and Japanese, but came to be perceived as derogatory by the Chinese during the course of the Sino-Japanese Wars. As a result, it fell into disuse following the Second World War, was replaced by chūgoku (中国), and is now viewed as an offensive, derogatory label.


By calling the PRC “Zhīnà / Shina 支那” or "Zhī / Shi 支", the people of Hong Kong strongly refuse to be considered as a part of mainland China and try to be culturally independent. There was a song called "Huángchóng tiānxià 蝗蟲天下" ("Land / World of Locusts"), calling mainland Chinese tourists "huángchóng 蝗蟲" ("locusts") and calling mainland China "Zhīnà / Shina 支那."  The lyrics went, "Chóngguó huàmíng jiào Zhīnà yīzǎo chǒu biàn Dōngyà 蟲國化名叫支那一早醜遍東亞" ("Insect Country, under the alias of Zhina / Shina, soon disgusted the whole of East Asia".  Now, it is widely used in Hong Kong's political movements.  The whole song with English translation may be found in "The Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese" here.


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

"Xina" (11/26/18)

Joshua A. Fogel, "New Thoughts on an Old Controversy: Shina as a Toponym for China", Sino-Platonic Papers, 229 (August, 2012), 25 pages (free pdf)

Geoff Wade, "The Polity of Yelang (夜郎) and the Origins of the Name 'China'", Sino-Platonic Papers, 188 (May, 2009), 26 pages (free pdf)

[h.t. Claudia Rosett; thanks to Chenfeng Wang and Lin Zhang]


  1. David said,

    July 26, 2019 @ 2:59 pm

    Note that "支那" in Japan is still quite frequently used as part of a word for ramen / 中華そば. It's quite frequent to see shops with 支那そば on the menu, and I don't *think* it's perceived as derogatory in that context.

  2. Josh Fogel said,

    July 26, 2019 @ 3:29 pm

    Wow! Heady stuff. Never thought I would see such a thing.

  3. Keith said,

    July 26, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

    And wasn't the term "Zhīnà" used by a woman elected to LegCo during her swearing-in ceremony, leading to her exclusion on the grounds that she had not really pronounced her swearing-in correctly?

    I think it was Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎).

  4. Jichang Lulu said,

    July 26, 2019 @ 5:10 pm

    Yau's oath has indeed been discussed on this Log, as has the gender agreement of the dhīra tattooed on her arm.

  5. MURAWAKI Yugo said,

    July 27, 2019 @ 5:16 am

    I find Joshua A. Fogel's 2012 article in the reading list far better than his 1989 article on the same topic although I think he still underestimates the role of Dutch Learning 蘭学 in popularizing the term Shina.

    Despite the Buddhist etymology, this term was more Western than Buddhist. It cannot be a derogatory term unless you believe that Japan must pay special tribute to China that European nations don't pay. "China" in European languages was routinely translated as "Shina". By following the Western way of referencing, Japanese people implicitly rejected the notion of China as the center of civilization. After all, the equality of states is a concept that was absent from China, was forcibly imposed on China by Western powers, and is now challenged by China as a re-emerging superpower. It is interesting that Anglophile Hong Kongers follow the Japanese way in rejecting Chinese superiority.

  6. Rodger C said,

    July 27, 2019 @ 8:23 am

    @Murawaki Yugo: I learned long ago, from already decades-old textbooks, that the Japanese said "Shina" for exactly this reason. They were 1930s-era books, though, so maybe the word came to sound nationalistic in the bad sense (supposing there's any other).

    And my memory certainly doesn't go back to WWII, but every American of a certain age can remember this:


  7. jin defang said,

    July 27, 2019 @ 2:13 pm

    when I went to Japan in the late 1960s, as a student. I used "chugoku," since that was the literal translation of zhongguo. I was corrected, told that since there was an area of Japan known as chugoku, I should use shina instead. I think shina must have come to be used pejoratively somewhat later.

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 27, 2019 @ 11:46 pm

    Apologetics for Shina 支那 are weird; it's a slur because it's experienced as such for reasons and as with all slurs, arguments from etymology, first occurrence, etc., that "they ought not feel that way" are perverse and, one would have thought, outmoded.

    The irony as far as the thread topic is concerned is that one wonders whether HK's deeply ugly chauvinism vis-a-vis mainlanders is indispensable fuel to a truly just cause…

  9. MURAWAKI Yugo said,

    July 28, 2019 @ 9:42 am

    Those who use "Shina", especially in post-war political discourse, intentionally do what the Chinese don't want. But the term's peculiarity is that according to the referent's world-view, she was superior to the referrer, neither equal nor inferior. Japanese is a different language from Chinese, and Japan had the right to call China in the same way as Western nations. That was the reasoning behind the Japanese government's decision to officially refer to the newly established Republic of China as Shina Kyōwakoku 支那共和国 in the Japanese language while using Zhonghua Minguo 中華民国 in the Chinese language. No wonder that even today, the ban on the term is perceived as the rejection of the autonomy of the Japanese language.

    I guess protesters in Hong Kong simply see the term as a slur, but I hope those who have Anglicized names and sing a Christian hymn realize that the term symbolizes the adoption of the Western model in addition to the rejection of Chinese superiority.

  10. Eidolon said,

    August 1, 2019 @ 7:07 pm

    The perception that 中国 in Japanese is a symbol of the referent's superiority is, however, a peculiar historical perception not intrinsic to the term itself. After all, the semantic connotations of a word are ultimately subjective, and are not necessarily derived from its etymology. I would regard the present situation between Japan and China, with regards to country names, as a matter of political etiquette. "Shina" is not officially used in Japan because it is considered offensive in China. In the same way, "Wa" is not officially used in China because it is considered offensive in Japan.

RSS feed for comments on this post