The Chinese Communist Party is facing derision after it called for members to refer to each other as “comrade”.
The term had been common in the country under Mao’s leadership, but has grown unpopular as the country has modernised.
Communist leaders’ calls for the term to become commonplace once more have fallen flat, as the term has come to mean something quite different.
The Chinese word for “comrade” is tóngzhì (同志), which used to be a common term of address in Communist China, used by everyone whether male, female, young, old, rural, urban, party official or peasant.
A literal translation of the term into English would be “same intent”.
It also shares the same first syllable as the word for same-sex love, which is tóngxìngliàn (同性恋).
It is for this reason that China’s LGBT community came to adopt the term, frequently using the term “tóngzhì” to refer to a fellow gay person.
The practice started in Hong Kong in the late 1980s as a way to defy the sexually repressive Communists.
Ever since the LGBT community in Mainland China adopted the expression, the bulk of people in the country have started to avoid it.
Beijing Gay rights activist and filmmaker Fan Popo told the New York Times: “Even the ticket-takers on the bus — the people who you would not really expect to know the modern lingo — don’t say ‘comrade’ anymore because they know what it means among young people.”
Meanwhile President Xi Jinping is still trying to turn the clock back and re-establish ‘comrade’ as a routine term.
After a meeting last month of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, leaders issued a directive urging party members to forego titles in favor of the revolutionary throwback to “comrade”.
They also want the Communist party’s more than 90 million members to refer to him as Party Secretary, not as president.
Typical Chinese now use forms of address like “mister” or “miss”, job titles, or familial terms like “sister”, “brother” or “auntie”.