In the translingual section, Wiktionary mentions that the Chinese character has a variety of meanings:

  1. to cover
  2. ignorant
  3. suffer
  4. fourth hexagram of the I Ching
  5. Mongolia - radical composition becomes 'grass(land) family'
  6. a surname

Are meanings 2 (or any other meanings) and 5 considered related?

I suspect that meaning 5 having a radical composition of grassland family would suggest not, but I don't know.

I also once read in a discussion on so-called "Mongolian beef" someone claim (without any references) that in Chinese, "Mongolian" can mean stupid, or just used as a derogatory term:

First no offense to anyone, esp. people from Mongolia.

Mongolian in Chinese can either mean a. people from Mongolia b. not smart, retarded

If someone is called a "mongolian doctor" it means that his medical practice is sub-par at best.

I believe in the case of mongolian beef, it simply means untasty beef - in a twisted sense of chinese humor. Although as a Chinese, I find mongolian beef actually not tasty.

Is this true?

Also, would I be correct in concluding any association between Mongolia and stupidity isn't because of Down Syndrome? The Chinese edition of Wikipedia has an article on Down Syndrome, and it mentions 「蒙古症」and「蒙古痴呆症」, but says that "国际人" is more common (though that doesn't sound particularly politically correct to me).

2 Answers 2


亚 means inferior, hence Asia is an inferior continent? No, it has to do with approximating sounds with characters, and of the six available for ”meng”, 蒙 was perhaps considered most appropriate, for the reason you hint (home of grassland). Note that it was the invading Mongol Yuan dynasty who created the Mongol empire from nomadic tribes such as Xianbei and Xiongnu, and the character is if not coined by the dynasty at least propagated and established by it.

The association between Mongolia and Down’s syndrome has nothing to do with character, but is all about similarity in appearance. Chance had likely everything to do with choosing Mongolian features rather than any of the others in the region.

A Mongolian doctor is a barefoot doctor, unskilled people who practiced basic medicine in the early People’s republic, not just in Mongolia but in all of China, althugh they were more common in the more undeveloped regions.

For the same reason, people can use Mongolian as derogatory term, pointing to the more unsophisticated rural habits on the countryside.


This is really an interesting question, so I looked up online and found an interesting explanation about the "mongolian doctor".

This word originated in Qing Dynasty. As you may know the governors of Qing Dynasty are Manchu(满族) or Jurchen(女真族,namely the ancestor of Manchu). And they had a subtle relationship with the Mongolians.

When they fought together, the Jurchen found that the Mongolian lose fewer horses than the Jurchen, which was because they had better vets. So the Jurchen invited these Mongolian vets to their army to train the Jurchen vets. And these vets were called Mongolian doctor from then on.

After that, when sometimes the war was fierce, when the wounded soldier couldn't find a military doctor around, they sometimes called the Mongolian vet for help. But vets are not doctors, their medical skill may not be so good. Therefore this word generally becomes a synonym of bad doctors.

I am not sure this is true, but it sure is a funny story.

I think The word 蒙古 comes from transliteration. The origin of 蒙古 should be the Empire of Mongolia, established by Genghis Khan in 1206.

The meaning 'ignorant' of "蒙" is extended from the meaning "coma or eyes almost can't see", which your dictionary has left out. The word "发蒙" means inspire someone(usually kids) from ignorance. “三子者,既得闻此言也於夫子,昭然若发蒙矣。" from《礼记》,written in Han Dynasty, which is much earlier than the establishment of the Empire of Mongolia. That's why I believe that this is really a coincidence. The character of Jurchen is 女真, but do you think that means the Jurchens are all women? It's just a transliteration.

The "Down Syndrome" is also called "蒙古症" because the doctor who find it think his patients looks like Mongolians. This is written in the Chinese version of Wiki but for somehow wipped out in the English version. This is interesting because as a Chinese I learnt "Down Syndrome" in my high school biography class, but yet this is my first time knowing that it's also called "蒙古症"。Usually in China we call this disease "21-三体综合症". I guess this term "蒙古症" is more popular out of China, maybe even out of Asia. So I guess only this doctor Down knows the answer of the last part of your question...

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