Be cautious when using the word “同志(tóngzhì)” (Beginner)

Aug. 28, 2012

Key learning point:

同志 (tóngzhì):  n.  comrade / gay or lesbian                                                      


One day, while studying the word “同志 (tóngzhì)," a foreigner suddenly declared to his Chinese friend, “我是一个男同志 (Wǒ shì yígè nán tóngzhì)." His friend burst into laughter. Let’s take a look and find out why.

In the early years when the People' s Republic of China was first established, people widely used the previously mentioned term, which literally means "comrade" in English. The title was used amongst strangers, or to show respect to Party members.

For examples:

Tóngzhì nínhǎo, qǐngwèn dōngdàjiē zěnme zǒu ? 
 同志      您好,     请问        东大街    怎么 走?


Hello, Comrade, can you tell me how to get to East Street please?

Xiàng léifēng tóngzhì xuéxí.
向      雷锋     同志    学习.


Learn from Comrade Lei Feng.

Qǐng Lǐ Yún tóngzhì jiǎnghuà.
请   李云       同志       讲话.


Please welcome our speaker, Comrade Li Yun.

So that’s the brief history of 同志 (tóngzhì)…but there’s a twist. You see, people don't walk around calling each “comrade” anymore. In fact,  “同志(tóngzhì)” is now used to say "homosexual”. For example, in the famous movie Brokeback Mountain, the two leading men were “同志(tóngzhì).” Nowadays when we use the term 同志 (tóngzhì), we need to be careful that we're using it correctly for the times.

Got questions? Take a Free 1-on-1 live online lesson with our professional teachers from China.


Dear Teacher,
xiex for the Word of caution.I must be very careful with my diction when it comes to “zongzhi” and “tongzhi”.
Cheerio :/)

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