The Zhongguoans Say No

On 31 March 2006, a user named Xingbuzelu (行不择路“Walking an unchosen road”) posted an angry article on a Chinese bulletin board, maintained by NetEase[1] The posting was entitled “A strong call for expunging the two [English] terms China [and] Chinese, which insult (侮辱) Chinese people.”

Xingbuzelu claimed that the word “China” meant “solidified dirt or mud” (坚硬的沾土和泥土, i.e. terracotta), while the “-ese” ending was used by the English for “races they saw as ‘inferior,’ ‘unimportant,’ ‘weak,’ ‘weird,’ ‘diseased,’ or ‘evolved from insects;’ they held such races in contempt and hated them. So, put together, a ‘Chinese’ is nothing but a tiny, insignificant, weird little thing made of hardened dirt or mud.” Xingbuzelu pointed out that Persians and even Eskimos have long been able to get foreigners to use their preferred name for them and their countries (Iran and Inuits). By the same token, foreigners must call China Zhongguo, and the Chinese Zhongguoans.

Xingbuzelu claimed to be writing from Lanzhou in Northwestern China. The personal information included in his posting identified him as a “fourth-year student”, with 970 points and ninety posts. In this post, Xingbuzelu used highly emotional, almost hysterical language: “Must China and the Chinese people, having been insulted for hundreds of years, not find a little justice? … Can the Chinese race still tolerate being abused by others as ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’?”

In the following days, the posting received dozens of responses. Most posters expressed doubts about Xingbuzelu’s etymology of “China,” but nonetheless thought that his suggestion to insist on using China’s self-designation in English was a good one. For example, Baiyunguanzhu (白云观主“Lord of the White Cloud Temple”) wrote that as far as he could tell from available sources, the English word “China” was based on the name of the Qin Empire in the 3rd century BCE, but “no matter how it is, I approve your opinion, they should be using the name we use for ourselves.” An anonymous poster seconded this view, while Guangdong Gemingjun (广东革命军“Guangdong Liberation Army”) suggested that China should simply be called “Centre” in English. Most of the posters admitted, at the same time, that they did not know English.

For some posters, the English name of the country did not seem to be the real issue. A poster identified only by the IP address 218.4.49.* “strongly demanded” that Chinese should be called “Han” – the name used for the largest ethnic group and a suggestion in obvious violation of the government’s emphasis on multiethnic harmony. Shuilangbing urged China to resuscitate “national learning” – a term used by Chinese politicians and scholars in the 1920s and ‘30s – because “only our national learning can let Chinese people know that China is China, that it is the master of the Orient (东方的主人). Such opinions, of course, go against the government’s line on peaceful coexistence, equal rights, and opposition to hegemony inside and outside China. [2]

Those who disagreed with Xingbuzelu’s suggestion did not take issue with his interpretation but merely suggested that names is not what is really important. Most argued that a country’s strength was not in its name; several posters said that once China was strong its name would no longer associate with terracotta but with glory, and that foreigners would then have to change their view of the country no matter what it was called. Zhuhero, for example, wrote “The real basis is the country’s strength!” And everyone seemed to agree that, as an anonymous poster wrote, “foreign countries” should “change their attitude” (改变看法).

But Xingbuzelu was not about to tolerate any dissent. He angrily rejected the questioning of his etymology and wrote: “Disagreeing opinions are not allowed in comments!!!! Discussing the origins of ‘China’ or whatever other unrelated matters are not allowed either!!!!” Not a single contributor reacted to this outburst.

Two years earlier, a similar posting had appeared on the BBS of Jiangsu Television University. On 17 March 2004, the poster emei23 (with a rank of five stars indicating his seniority on the BBS) called for the boycott of the popular portal, claiming that the name “Sina” was a pejorative term for China in Japanese. The posting received five responses, four of which were enthusiastically supportive, one, layue, writing: “When are we going to kill Tokyo? Let’s sink Japan, let’s make it a nuclear disaster zone!”

[Go to next chapter]

[1][2] Some sites, such as, promote a “great Han nationalism,” denigrate other ethnic groups, and demand that non-ethnic Chinese figures like Genghis Khan be expelled from China’s historical pantheon. A movement to adopt the “Han costume” as national dress has recently emerged. On mainstream Internet forums, such ideas are generally met with contention.

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