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Is it true that 同志 has some different meaning? Like gay (as in homosexual) or something? I know that during the 20th century in China and communist Russia it was very common to call people 同志 (товарищ, comrade). So is it wrong to call someone 同志 in China nowadays?

  • Short answer: Yes! I do not recommend calling someone a 同志 – Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 29 '12 at 18:48
  • For men, call 先生。For women, call 小姐 (But don't use this in mainland China.) – velut luna Apr 19 '16 at 7:37
  • TV series watchers know that policemen are often addressed as 同志,the traditional way of addressing party gatherings attended by some non-party members has been,同志们,朋友们! Comrades and Friends! – user6065 Dec 21 '16 at 4:01
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Yes it is true. The official word for somebody who is gay is 同性恋者 (tóngxìngliànzhě), but in recent years 同志 (tóngzhì) is frequently used as slang for somebody who is gay.

From Baidu:

1989年,香港人林奕华将自己筹划的首届同性恋电影节命名为《香港同志电影节》,这可能是这层意义的开端。(最晚是)从此开始,在中国大陆之外的中文地区,如台湾、香港、新加坡、马来西亚等,“同志”一词逐渐演变成对同性恋者的另一个称呼。用的时候并不是如“某某同志”这样作称谓用,而是“某某是一个同志”、“某某参加了一个同志团体”这样。这种用法起先在同性恋群体中使用,后来影响逐渐扩大,上述地区的社会各界都采纳了这个用法,例如台北市政府民政局就在《认识同志手册2001年版》中写道:“市长爱同志”。

The most relevant parts:

1989年,香港人林奕华将自己筹划的首届同性恋电影节命名为《香港同志电影节》,这可能是这层意义的开端

In 1989, the Hongkonger 林奕华 named the first edition of his gay film festival "香港同志电影节"

从此开始,在中国大陆之外的中文地区,如台湾、香港、新加坡、马来西亚等,“同志”一词逐渐演变成对同性恋者的另一个称呼。

From then on, in China and other Chinese speaking parts such as Taiwan, Hong kong, Singapore, Malaysia, “同志” gradually became the name for gays (and lesbians).

Further on the same page you can read:

近年进入大陆后,由于绝大多数年轻人已经不再使用“同志”这个词汇,使得这层含义反而后来居上。

In recent years after the introduction in China most young people stopped to use the word “同志” due to its implicit meaning.

and

尽管这一层新的含义在大陆地区也被越来越多的人所知晓并使用,不过中华人民共和国官方媒体和文件对这一外延含义基本不予采纳。

Despite its implicit meaning in China which is known and used my more and more people, the official Chinese media (in the mainland) and official documents don't accept this meaning.

  • As a side note, 同志 can also be used to refer to bisexual and transgendered people. – Krazer Dec 7 '12 at 15:11
  • 革命尚未成功,同志仍需努力!! – Tyler 十三将士归玉门 Jun 8 '14 at 10:11
  • Actually the CPC recently emphasized that the members should call each other 同志, rather than their official titles, to show the equality. In ordinary life, when you call someone 同志 out of this political context, they might think you are weird. – Huang Dec 22 '16 at 4:31
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Both meanings are in use now.

While President Hu reviews the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong in June this year. He shouted 同志們好 and 同志們辛苦了. (Thanks for the hard work comrade!)

In the Pride parade in Hong Kong last month. It is named 香港同志遊行. And artist HOCC came out by shouting 我係同志.

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    Well I guess it proves the part of @Bert post that official Chinese media (in the mainland) and official documents don't accept this meaning. – Denis Kucherov Dec 5 '12 at 8:11
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    In Hong Kong, 同志 means gay or the way the Chinese Communist Party members call themselves. – Lai Dec 5 '12 at 10:35
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I'm not sure in what instance you'd be using 同志 nowadays anyway. Are you in the army? Do you actually have comrades? Or is this purely hypothetical?

From my experience with the language, if you want to call someone gay, people would say:

他是个同性恋 - tong2 xing4 lian4 

Or, to say someone is not necessarily gay, but they're acting effeminate:

他很娘娘腔 niang2 niang qiang1, or simply, 他很娘

or, idiomatically:

断袖之癖 duan4 xiu4 zhi1 pi3

(Actually, this idiom has a pretty neat back story. Basically, Emperor Han Ai Di was in bed with his man lover Dong Xian, and had to attend a court audience that morning. Not wishing to awaken Dong Xian, whose head was resting on the emperor's robe's sleeve, he had to cut the sleeve off (断袖)).

  • I wouldn't say 'acting a bit gay'. Just effeminate. Gay people don't always act in a certain way. – deutschZuid Nov 29 '12 at 23:02
  • @JamesJiao Corrected. – Growler Nov 29 '12 at 23:26
  • I'm not a soldier. This was hypothetical question. Just to improve knowledge. – Denis Kucherov Nov 30 '12 at 6:51
  • what about between members of the party? – Matthew Rudy 马泰 Dec 3 '12 at 8:30
  • Also, I'd like to point out that 同志 gets plenty of use in referring to gay people. Google "同志网" to find many many gay community websites. – Stumpy Joe Pete Feb 3 '13 at 21:26
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People born in 70s or before won't consider this word the translation of gay. So be careful when you speak this word with young ones.

  • This should've been a comment to the question. – deutschZuid Nov 29 '12 at 23:03
  • ok. even though I don't really see situations when I can use this word. I will take this information into account. – Denis Kucherov Nov 30 '12 at 6:59
  • @baboonWorksFine: The age range you mention is a quite arbitrary. The people I know born in the 70s all seem to know the second meaning and very few people would still use 同志 in daily life with its original meaning. – BertR Nov 30 '12 at 11:00
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"同志" literally refers to someone else with a "common" purpose (with you). During the Maoist era, the connotation was "comrade," in the context of "Communist" or "party member."

Nowadays, the connotation may be that GENDER is what someone (and a lover) may have in common. That would translate into "homo" or "gay."

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I think people normally don't say that anymore, only if they work for the government. Ordinary people nowadays stopped calling others 同志 because now it has another meaning, which is gay or lesbian.

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If you say 同志 in a formal circumstances or talking to elder people, then it is totally appropriate and respectful. If you use it online or in a younger community, most people would think it means gay nowadays.

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