"'White left' — a Chinese calque in English", part 2

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A little less than four years ago, I wrote a post about the subject of báizuǒ 白左 ("white left").  It was a difficult post to write, because the topic was sensitive, controversial, and recherché.  The post provoked an enthusiastic discussion, with much of the emotional investment being about whether the term would stick in English a year or two later.

I filed it away far in the back of my mind, thinking that I might never have to deal with it again because, in truth, it had given me a lot of headaches, trying to make sense of its ideological and political implications in China and in the West (which are by no means the same), its relationship to SJW (Social Justice Warriors), and so forth.  I was happy enough not to have to think about báizuǒ 白左 ("white left") for four years.

Last week, as I  perused our site's statistical charts, I was surprised to see the "white left" post popping up in significant numbers.  I wondered to myself what in the world might have caused that to happen.  However, so long as it didn't impinge on my day-to-day life and didn't call for any sort of rebuttal or explanation from, I would refrain from getting involved in this new eruption of "white left".  But then people began to write to me and ask me if I were aware of what was happening.  I told them that I was only subliminally aware of it.  When they told me the details, I realized why "white left" had once again become a hot topic.  Furthermore, as several colleagues encouraged me, I decided that I had to compose another installment on the ticklish, if not thorny, topic.

It seems that, after Tucker Carlson explained the term baizuo 白左 on his show last Friday (March 19), it's started to appear in WSJ (and other?) comments.  Tucker refers to such folks as "baizuo" (he provides the characters) and gives the rough translation as "white liberals"). The baizuo comment begins at about 7 minutes.  Alternatively, this link starts at the relevant section.

There's no mention of me or Language Log in the brief segment, but there are over 9,000 YouTube comments associated with the Tucker Carlson clip, And many commenters are gleefully using the term baizuo. That said, my LL post is the first reference in the English language Wikipedia article on baizuo. My guess is that's where the increase in hits for the LL post are coming from.

Interestingly, even ultra nationalist tabloid, Global Times, posted on it the first time around:

"Chinese derogatory social media term for ‘white left’ Western elites spreads", by Qu Qiuyan, Global Times (5/21/17)

Baidu (China's online encyclopedia) says that baizuo means “leftist white people” who propagate hypocritical ideas without practicing them, such as environment protection (returning to primitive life), sympathy for the weak (without acting), promote gender equality (with fake female rights), love for animals (being more worth than human life). And these people believe that their moral standards are the highest, so that they can criticize all other people.  The article mentions Tucker Carlson's poor pronunciation of baizuo and makes fun of Greta Thunberg for her arrogant hypocrisy.

So much for Baidu's take on baizuo.


Selected reading

 

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf, Pat McGovern, and Peter Kupfer]

 



8 Comments

  1. John Rohsenow said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 7:34 pm

    Very minor point in first line of the Wikipedia entry:
    "Baizuo (/ˈbaɪˌdzwɔː/, /baɪˈzwoʊ/; Chinese: 白左; pinyin: báizuǒ, Mandarin pronunciation: [pǎi.tswò].." I assume that last 4th tone mark is a 'typo' error, but I don't know how to go about correcting it. -JSR

  2. Robert Irelan said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 8:21 pm

    The tone marks are not wrong – they are using IPA tone marks, which use ` for low tone and ´ for high tone. Mandarin tones are (1) ´ (2) ˇ (3) ` (4) ^

  3. John Swindle said,

    March 23, 2021 @ 3:37 am

    Unpleasant stuff. What struck me about the Baidu page, though, was the link to a piece suggesting that Disney's recent "Raya and the Last Dragon" may have been a satire on the "white left."

  4. John Swindle said,

    March 23, 2021 @ 4:26 am

    Louis Xun in commenting on your earlier "White left" post suggested that the "white" in "baizuo" could mean "futile" instead of "White." Your sources make it clear that "White" is in fact intended. But it remains that "baizuo" and "White Left," like many translation pairs, call to mind different ranges of possible meanings, a potential source of confusion in trying to understand the theory of Chinese political superiority that's being promulgated.

  5. Terpomo said,

    March 23, 2021 @ 2:13 pm

    Interesting, the term has made its way into somewhat common Esperanto usage in the form 'bajzuo', which seems to have a sense close to the colloquial use of 'social justice warrior' in English. Those who can read Esperanto can see the comments here:
    https://tubaro.aperu.net/v/ytb_aEfO4Flid1Q/
    This entry in Esperanto 2.0 Vikio, which is sort of to the Esperanto web what lurkmore.to is to the Russian web, even directly equates it to 'social justice warrior'.

  6. Terpomo said,

    March 23, 2021 @ 2:13 pm

    Brain fart- didn't actually link the entry.
    https://neo.fandom.com/eo/wiki/Bajzuo

  7. SusanC said,

    March 24, 2021 @ 4:14 pm

    I would have thought the term is unlikely to catch on in any country where a lot of the people who might otherwise use the term think of themselves as white.

    Trump supporters might agree with much of the implied critique of a certain kind of leftist, but I somehow don't imagine Trumpists accusing the Democrats of being too focused on white people issues.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    March 25, 2021 @ 6:33 am

    From Peter Kupfer:

    I think that a very close parallel is the German “Gutmensch”, which seems to be used even in English. Here's the Wikipedia definition:

    =====

    Gutmensch (literally good human in German) is an ironic, sarcastic or disparaging cultural term similar to the English do-gooder. Those who use the term are implying that Gutmenschen have an overwhelming wish to be good and eagerly seek approval—further suggesting a supposed moralising and proselytising behaviour and being dogmatic. In political rhetoric Gutmensch is used as a polemic term.

    =====

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutmensch

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