As far as I understand, the dog radical (犭) was used for all non-Han ethnic groups before the Chinese Communist Party took power on the mainland. Is there truth to that? If so:

  1. Why did the CCP stop the use of 犭?
  2. Why do we still see the the 犭 radical in some ethnic descriptors, like 犹太 (Jewish)?
  • 2
    Your observation for “犹太” is probably right. "犹太" as a phase appeared for the first time on <Eastern Western Monthly Magazine> edited by Karl Friedlich Gutzlaff (郭士立) in 1833. As a Christian, Gutzlaff intentionally chose "犹" instead of "尤" because of its derogatory meaning. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 3:14
  • The premise of this question is incorrect - most ethnic groups in China do not use 犭 in their character. Some major ones I can pull from the top of my head are 苗, 藏, 滿, 壯, 京, 蒙, 羌, 朝鮮, ...
    – dROOOze
    Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 4:29
  • 1
    Minor quibble: it certainly wasn't used for all non-Han ethnic groups. Off the top of my head, it's not used for the Uyghurs (维吾尔), Russians (俄罗斯), Koreans (朝鲜), Mongols (蒙古), Manchus (满)... I mean, I could keep going but you get the idea. It also wasn't used for three out of the four barbarian groups that surrounded early China. The dog radical seems to have been used haphazardly and mostly for weaker and more primitive ethnicities that China ran into in the middle ages.
    – lly
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 8:30

4 Answers 4


I can only provide a partial answer:

Many of the characters used in the names of non-Han ethnic groups were originally derogatory. After the founding of the PRC, the government conceptualized New China as a multiethnic state (多民族国家), and they changed many of the characters that were perceived as derogatory. I don't know if this process started under the KMT (国民党), as you suggest, and I also don't know why no one bothered to fix the one for the Jews.

Edit: The character for the Jews is a little different from those for other ethnic groups. For one, it was not an invented character. Rather, (in modern-ish times), existing characters were picked for the transliteration. Also, although it does have the dog radical, the other meanings of the character are not negative (or related at all to animals). The only extant meanings (besides being part of 犹太) are seem (好像;如同) and still (还;仍然).

  • this is pretty helpful. thanks. Looks like it was the PRC not the KMT that started changing the ethnic characters.
    – Kang Ming
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 2:55

Your question is totally wrong on itself!

“犭”(反犬旁/犬部) is a radical of Chinese Characters (Han-Zi,汉字) which is only for forming/making up some single Chinese Characters.

In the creating era aka ancient times, people used “犭”(a radical, the variant of 犬 i.e. dogs) to make some Characters which is with some relation to beast such as 猴(monkeys)、狮(lions)、狐狸(foxes)、猛(violent, adj.)...

The original design of Character “犹” which traditional form is “猶” is as follows:

犭 <---> 犬 ----> Dogs

酋 <---> 加时加料酿制的醇酒 ----> Doing a materials&time-consuming brew ---> 长时间精心培育 ---> Carefully nurtured for a long time

犭 + 酋 ---> 猶 ---> The dogs which were nurtured for a long time ----> Dogs/Something meet the target or template ----> 如同、相似 ---> be similar to

To sum up: 犹 = 猶 = be similar to

“犹” sounds yóu/Yew/Jew. So, in the word “犹太人”, the Character “犹” is totally Phonological-TRANSLITERATION for יהודים (Yehudim)!

Exactly NOTHING is with any relation to dogs/beasts/derogating/ethnic/political at the Character “犹” in the word “犹太”.

Please do not make an exceeding interpretation:)

  • 1
    The etymology of is like this. It originally had to do with breeding and training dogs:本义:经过远景规划和长期选育得到的良犬。转义:与选育设想和目标大体符合的犬崽。转义的引申:如同,相似. It's only the modern meanings that have nothing to do with dogs. Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 18:29
  • To Stumpy Joe Pete: Was I wrong? My etymological interpretation is same to yours, isn't it?
    – 0xB2CC
    Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 18:34
  • Initially I thought you were wrong. After thinking it through, I think you were just a little unclear. Bit more explicit would be A well bred dog (good result of careful breeding) => A well trained dog => Result similar to intended result => similar to. I agree totally with your assertions that 犹太 is a transliteration for יהודים (Yehudim) and that the use of was neither intended to be derogatory, nor it is likely to be taken as such. However, I would like to point out many old names for other ethnic groups are derogatory and transliterations at the same time. [cont] Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 20:58
  • For example, calling the Zhuang people the . The character picked sounds something like what the Zhuang people call themselves, and it has negative connotations. Hence the later move to change it. Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 21:02
  • This is very disingenuous. Of course, the character was picked up for its phonetic resemblance. The reason it was this character (and not, eg, 邮 with the same pronunciation) was precisely because of Han chauvanism, which is why the less bigoted PRC changed most of the similar characters.
    – lly
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 8:22

犭has nothing to do with dogs, it is often used in names of animals and its meaning can be rather neutral, such as 猛. Comparing human to animals may sound a little weird, but in modern Chinese, 犹 has four meanings and none of them is derogatory.

  • 2
    Maybe I'm completely wrong, but I thought 犭 has to do with dog just like 氵 has to do with water, 灬 has to do with fire or 忄 has to do with heart. It's not that the character takes on the full property of that radical, but there's some of that meaning in the character.
    – Kang Ming
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:53
  • 1
    I agree with Kang. The radical is a dog. That doesn't mean that the modern meanings of have anything to do with dogs, but to say "犭has nothing to do with dogs" is misleading at best. Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 18:31

Wow. Indeed the original 犭 boji was meant as a derogatory for non-Han nationalities up until the Communist take over. Only after Stalin and Mao watched the ethnic problems in Yugoslavia did Mao change the usage from 'nationalities' within China's borders to 'ethnicities' for non-Han Chinese in China. The dog radical was consciously removed to demonstrate the unifying effect of Communism in China.

  • Sorry you're getting downloads with no comments. It's certainly true that the dog radical was meant to equate non-Han with beasts and certainly true that the PRC changed the characters to show more respect. Do you have any basis/source for thinking Yugoslavia had anything to do with it? The Yugoslav ethnic wars mostly came long after Mao was dead.
    – lly
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 8:19

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