We all know that Chinese can be a little challenging to learn, and one of the reasons is cultural. Certain topics are not talked about openly by most Chinese, or at least not directly. Enter the euphemism, those delightful ways of subtly referring to a taboo topic without outright naming it (and befuddling all foreigners in the process!).
Below is a list of Chinese euphemisms (委婉语) for sex. These are all somewhat subtle, but they vary quite a bit in how modern or tactful they are. Just to be clear, if you use the words 做爱 (“make love”) or 性 (“sex, sexuality”) or 性交 (“sexual intercourse”), you’re not being subtle, and dropping those words in polite company is likely to cause some embarrassment.
OK, so here’s the list:
sex: This one needs no expanation, except that since it’s an English word, rather than a Chinese word, it loses a lot of its taboo flavor in Chinese (thus it’s counted as a euphemism when it’s really just a translation).
那个: Literally, “that.” You know… that.
ML: Stands for “Make Love.” So once euphemized by translation, and then euphemized once again by abbreviation. I asked native speakers if there is a “ZA.” You know… for 做爱. Of course there isn’t. (And at first, before the clarification, native speakers were even confused about what in the world I could be talking about. “ZA”? Zā?) This one is often used online.
happy: You may know this word as an innocuous English adjective, but in Chinese it can sometimes be a verb.
睡觉: This one is pretty easy to just translate, since the euphemism is directly analogous to the English “sleep with someone.” Just remember to use 跟 in Chinese: 跟……(somebody) 睡觉.
爱爱: So you know how in Chinese verbs can reduplicate, like saying 看看 for “take a (quick) look”? Well, in this particular euphemism, the same little grammar trick is used for the verb 爱. Only it’s pretty unambiguous in Chinese. Cute, huh?
嘿咻: This one is a little hard to explain if you’ve never heard it, but it’s the sound someone makes when engaged in some kind of hard labor. The kind where you’re breathing hard. So it’s essentially an onomatopoeia turned into a verb.
办事: This one is slightly problematic because 办事 is a little bit hard to nail down even in the non-euphemistic sense. It’s kind of like “get some work done,” or “handle some (official) business.” Perhaps the most (unintentionally) appropriate translation in this particular case is “handle affairs.”
发生关系: I love how spontaneous this one sounds. 发生 means “happen” or “occur,” and 关系 means “relations” or “relationship.” So sometimes “relationships happen.” The interesting thing is that this one is actually fairly formal; it can be used as an almost classy euphemism without the need for any additional chuckling or winking.
I first started hearing about Sir Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944) years ago from Brendan O’Kane and Dave Lancashire. A “self-made sinologist,” he was apparently fluent in Chinese and quite well connected, but was also later exposed as a magnificent fraud. A prolific diarist, he also dwelled quite a bit on the sexy details of the Qing Dynasty.
Anyway, it may at times be difficult to separate the fact from the fiction in Edmund Backhouse’s story, but it’s quite a story. So I’m really looking forward to reading a new book called Decadence Mandchoue: The China Memoirs of Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, which makes a lot of Backhouse’s memoirs available for the first time. From the Amazon page:
> Published now for the first time, the controversial memoir of Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse, Decadence Mandchoue, provides a unique and shocking glimpse into the hidden world of China’s imperial palace with its rampant corruption, grand conspiracies and uninhibited sexuality. Backhouse was made notorious by Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1976 bestseller Hermit of Peking, which accused Backhouse of fraudulence and forgery. This work, written shortly before the author’s death in 1943, was dismissed by Trevor-Roper as nothing more than a pornographic noveletteA” and lay for decades forgotten and unpublished in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Yet even the most incredible tales deserve at least a second opinion. This edition, created using a combination of the three original manuscripts held by the Bodleian, has been comprehensively annotated, fully translated and features an introduction by editor Derek Sandhaus, urging a reappraisal of Backhouse’s legacy. Alternately shocking and lyrical, Decadence Mandchoue is the masterwork of a linguistic genius; a tremendous literary achievement and a sensational account of the inner workings of the Manchu dynasty in the years before its collapse in 1911. If true, Backhouse’s chronicle completely reshapes contemporary historians’ understanding of the era, and provides an account of the Empress Dowager and her inner circle that can only be described as intimate.
Full disclosure: I’m friends with Derek Sandhaus, editor/author of the book. But that doesn’t make this book any less awesome.
But just to make everything clearer, you might want to check out this PDF calendar (Warning: traditional characters!). Some key vocab:
– 大年三十: Chinese New Year’s Eve
– 春节: Chinese New Year
– 初一: the first of the lunar month (never used more than around CNY)
– 初二: the second of the lunar month
– 初三: the third of the lunar month (see a pattern here?)
OK, now for the sexy part. 2011 is the year of the rabbit. (Really, I’m going somewhere with this; be patient!) I did a little searching for images on the Chinese internet and found this creative graphic:
Also, somewhat to my surprise, my innocent 兔年 (“year of the rabbit”) search turned up some rather sexy pics. The year of the rabbit only comes around once every 12 years, so I’m pretty sure it’s the first time this particular sexied-up CNY theme has appeared in mainland China (it’s referred to as 兔年美女):
And while not all of the Playboy bunny-esque photos floating around online now are actually specifically meant for Chinese New Year, the one above is, as evidenced by the golden thing in the model’s hands, which is a 金元宝 (a gold ingot, an ancient form of money which usually makes appearances in CNY decorations).
Most Americans are familiar with the “base system” baseball metaphor for physical intimacy. If you’re not familiar with it, you might check out this XKCD comic for the complicated version, or this excerpt from baseball metaphors for sex from Wikipedia:
First base is commonly understood to be any form of mouth to mouth kissing, especially open lip (“French”) kissing.
Second base refers to tactile stimulation of the genitals over clothes, or of the female breasts.
Third base refers to groping naked genitals (handjob or fingering), or oral sex.
Home run (or rounding the bases, scoring a run, hitting a home run, scoring, going all the way, coming home, etc.) is the act of penetrative intercourse.
I can understand that a country little love for baseball might be confused by this metaphor system. Apparently even Europeans are confused by it. However, some people in China have picked it up, but in the process changed the system (reference link removed due to malware at destination website]):
“First base” represents holding hands,
“Second base” represents hugging,
“Third base” represents kissing,
“Home” represents _____
Clearly, this is a whole ‘nother ballgame the Chinese are playing, and their playing field looks like this when superimposed onto the American field:
I’m not sure if the people in this picture are Chinese, but I found it through Baidu Images:
This reminded me of a similar funny photo I’d seen before. Turns out there are quite a few, if you look. Here’s one gallery, and another with more photos, and of a more international nature (but also more NSFW).
Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)
Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!
In early 2007 English First (an English training school) was running this ad in Shanghai:
What kind of message is that sending?
Apparently they later decided that they needed to make sure that the foreign teacher in the ad was more mature (and perhaps had better eyesight), and that the teachers they pimped provided equal bondage opportunities for both sexes. These are the ads they’re running now:
Conclusion: English First is a company with a progressive attitude towards advertising, based on the firm principles of purple backgrounds and bondage.
ChinesePod just did a lesson on condoms. It was an amusing dialogue. (You can listen to just the dialogue on the online player by clicking on “DIAL” and then the play button.)
Then in the comments someone posted a link to the largest collection of sexual vocabulary and slang in Chinese (and English and Swedish) that I’ve ever seen. Impressive. It’s called 牛X语言, and yes, you might find it obscene, so click at your own risk.
On Thursday I noticed three kinds of Trojan condom ads in the subway car I was riding*, and I’d never seen Trojan ads on the subway before. Trojan is getting into the market a bit late; the dominant foreign company is Durex.
What interested me was the content of the ads. One of them was a long horizontal ad which read 不只是神话…… (“it’s not just a myth”). Another was a rectangular ad which briefly recounted in both Chinese and English the Trojan War story, focusing on Helen’s role as the motivation for the war. The last was on the subway door, and it was a 9-by-9 grid of the Trojan condom logo in various colors. None of the ads contained anything about condoms or safe sex, with the exception of the inclusion of the Trojan China website: trojancondoms.cn (which only clues you in if you know English).
[I don’t think I misremembered it, but that URL gives me “Bad Request (Invalid Hostname),” and none of my searches (Google, Baidu) turned up a Trojan condoms Chinese website. “Trojan Condoms” is 特洛伊安全套 or 特洛伊避孕套, depending on which word for “condom” you like. Most of my searches did turn up this video on Chinese YouTube clones, which is pretty funny, but NSFW and not for kids.]
I know the Trojan subway ads could be a marketing tactic, but it doesn’t seem at all compelling. I doubt the typical Chinese commuter knows what Trojan makes, or will connect any of the ads with condoms, and they’re not interesting enough to get people asking what they’re for. So… What’s the point? I really wonder if Trojan knows what it’s doing in China.
> When stripped of all its historical and social baggage, however, ‘eugenics‘ can be used to describe two general philosophical tendencies: 1) the notion that human hereditary stock can and should be improved, and 2) that such changes should be enforced by the state (or other influential social groups such as cults or religions).
> These two concepts are not married to one another. Transhumanists tend to subscribe to the first point but not the second, leading to the charge that they are liberal eugenicists. China, on the other hand, engages in a form of eugenics that draws from both agendas; the state is actively involved in the ongoing biological re-engineering of its citizens for ideological ends.
As usual, the article was a good read. In case you’re unclear of what the author meant by China’s engagement in eugenics, here’s a summary:
> [In 1995], China adopted a new law on maternal and infant health care. The law mandates that all persons have a premarital medical examination to detect serious genetic diseases, some infectious diseases, and “relevant” mental disorders. If a detected disorder is deemed serious, the couple is not permitted to marry without committing to contraception or tubal ligation. Prenatal testing is enforced, and pregnancy is terminated if the fetus has a serious genetic or somatic abnormality. [China’s Eugenics Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care]
The thing is, since 2003 the Chinese government no longer requires premarital medical exams. That leads to this kind of situation:
> The abolition of the national system of compulsory premarital medical checkups one year ago has led to a rapid increase in the rate of birth defects in China, and if the government fails to take measures, it could lead to a still more serious pubic health problem within three to five years, medical experts warned. [ChinaDaily]
So where does the Chinese government now stand with regards to eugenics?
> Most believed that partners should know each other’s genetic status before marriage (92%), that carriers of the same defective gene should not mate with each other (91%), and that women should have a prenatal diagnosis if medically indicated (91%). The majority said that in China decisions about family planning were shared by the couple (82%).
You might be surprised that I’m writing about such a “political” topic. Actually, I’m not. I’m writing about a question of ethics, which is also related to a lot of the futurism discussions I’ve been reading a lot about lately.
Also, according to the prominent Chinese view, it would appear that if my Chinese wife and I have children, we’ll be engaging in a form of “personal eugenics,” since around here everyone knows that 混血儿 (“mixed blood children”) are “better looking” and “smarter” than most people. Hmmm.
If you’ve ever seen a “men’s magazine” like FHM or Maxim, you know that one of the main staples is “interviews” with buxom young females. In these multi-page features photographs figure prominently, words are squeezed in at the sides, and key quotations are carefully selected and displayed in big type next to the photographs. These quotations are usually sex-related, designed to get the reader’s pulse racing. (If you really need examples of this, you might try taking a look at NSFW-1 or NSFW-2.)
I haven’t really taken a look at the Chinese equivalents of these magazines, but I recently chanced upon the following picture of Chinese model 陈馨婷 (Chén Xīntíng):
The quote says:
> 我很期待穿婚纱的感觉。 (Wǒ hěn qīdài chuān hūnshā de gǎnjué.)
which might be (a bit awkwardly) translated as:
> I’m really looking forward to the feeling of wearing a wedding dress.
That funny feeling you’re left with is a special brand of men’s magazine culture shock. Maybe.
When I mentioned a presentation on homosexuals in the West for my critical discourse analysis class, I gave the Chinese translation of “metrosexual” as 都市玉男. That’s not the only translation, though. In his research, Pepe turned up quite a few other translations currently in use online. Here are the ones Pepe collected, along with their literal meanings:
1. 都市玉男 city jade man
2. 都市美型男 city beauty type man
3. 都市中性美男 city neuter beauty man
4. 都会美直男 city beauty straight man
5. 都市生活自恋者 city life narcissist
6. 花样美男 variety beauty man
7. 花色美男 variety beauty man
8. 雌性男人 female man
9. 后雅痞 post yuppie
1. 都市 means both “city” and “metropolis,” as does 都会.
2. 美 could also be translated “beautiful” in all instances above
3. The same word “variety” was used for both 花样 and 花色, even though they’re different words. When examined at the character level, both contain the “flower” character, but the latter also contains 色, which in other words can mean “color” or something close to “sex.” I’m not sure exactly how the use of these words impact the feel of the Chinese translation.
Translation into Chinese can be pretty tough. I do find it very interesting to see the variety of translation attempts when a new, diffult to translate English word appears in Chinese media. Usually a certain period of time is required while society settles on one or two, effectively pushing out the rest, which are then are mostly forgotten by society.
After several years of hype, the whole metrosexual fad seems to be dying, and the English word might just die with it. If it does fall out of usage, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean its corresponding Chinese translation will. The Chinese might decide to keep the word around for their own purposes. Time will tell.
My critical discourse analysis class is getting interesting. The professor has assigned small group presentation topics. All five topics are related to homosexuality. Pepe and I have “homosexuality in the West.” Yeah, pretty huge topic. Other topics are pretty narrow, such as “lesbians in China.”
Just as a reminder about what we’re going to be analyzing:
> Discourse analysis challenges us to move from seeing language as abstract to seeing our words as having meaning in a particular historical, social, and political condition. Even more significant, our words (written or oral) are used to convey a broad sense of meanings and the meaning we convey with those words is identified by our immediate social, political, and historical conditions. Our words are never neutral (Fiske, 1994)! This is a powerful insight for home economists and family and consumer scientists (We could have a whole discussion about the meaning that these two labels convey!). We should never again speak, or read/hear others’ words, without being conscious of the underlying meaning of the words. Our words are politicized, even if we are not aware of it, because they carry the power that reflects the interests of those who speak. Opinion leaders, courts, government, editors, even family and consumer scientists, play a crucial role in shaping issues and in setting the boundaries of legitimate discourse (what is talked about and how) (Henry & Tator, 2002). The words of those in power are taken as “self-evident truths” and the words of those not in power are dismissed as irrelevant, inappropriate, or without substance (van Dijk, 2000). [source]
It’s also important to note that discourse includes not only traditional language, but all forms of symbols contained in advertising, media, fashion, etc.
So my idea was to examine what’s going on with the term “metrosexual.” Here are some questions I think are worth exploring:
– Does the “metrosexual” style, by making stereotypical visual clues of homosexuality ambiguous, serve to bring homosexuals closer into society? (Is it a sign of greater tolerance?)
– Are the “sterotypical visual clues” just ridiculous or are they significant?
– How do homosexuals feel about the metrosexual phenomenon? How does it impact the gay community?
– Why is “metrosexual” strictly a male phenomenon? What’s going on there with the gender dynamic?
I’d be interested in hearing my readers’ ideas on this. Helpful links are also welcome. I haven’t really been in the US for most of the metrosexual phenomenon, and I don’t know how widespread it is either.
The presentation will be a mere 10-15 minutes long, so we don’t need to go super in-depth. We also need to provide visuals with a PowerPoint presentation.
I was never particularly interested in homosexual studies, but somehow discussing it in grad school in China makes it way more interesting to me. (By the way, Pepe says “metrosexual” in Chinese is 都市玉男. I’m a little disappointed that the -sexual (-性恋) got nuked in the translation.)
Note: Hateful, ignorant, and useless comments will never see the light of day.
Recently on ChinesePod we were developing a lesson that uses the expression 重色轻友. Literally it means something like “heavy sex light friendship.” The idea here is valuing one’s love interests over one’s friends. In translating this phrase, the immediate English translation that sprang to my mind was “hoes before bros,” a phrase I first heard a few years ago from Wilson (in an intellectual discussion on intersexual nomenclature, of course).
Obviously “hoes before bros” isn’t quite appropriate for our site. But really, it seems to be the only set prase for the phenomenon in English. Am I missing one?
Note 1: The word “ho” has always troubled me — and not just because it’s misogynistic in nature! As a shortened form of “whore,” “ho” just doesn’t look right to me. And is the plural “hoes” (which invites confusion with gardening tools) or “hos”? There are precedents for both.
Note 2: Another common example of the 重X轻Y pattern is 重男轻女, which refers to the cultural phenomenon of valuing males over females. Do you know any others?
A while back I mentioned a blog called Sex in Shanghai in which a Western guy tells about all his exploits with Chinese women here in Shanghai. (That blog is still #1 on the “hottest blogs” list on the CBL, but it now seems to be inaccessible.) Since then, the Chinese have found out about the blog, and they are (understandably) pissed.
> From time to time, Chinabounder uses his own experiences as a springboard to make sweeping generalisations on, among other things, the sexual frustrations in Chinese marriages, the failings of Chinese men, and the overly tradition-bound upbringing of Chinese girls which makes them rebellious and sexually adventurous. Chinese netizens have routinely been posting venomous messages on his blog in response to his pop-social commentaries — and his occasional outpourings on the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’s womanising ways.
> But last week, a professor of psychology at the prestigious Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences gave new direction to this hyperventilating when he called for an Internet manhunt “to find this foreign trash until we kick him out of China.” In a posting on his own blog, Prof. Zhang Jiehai said that Chinabounder, “an immoral foreigner”, had routinely used “obscene and filthy language to record how he used his status as a teacher to dally with Chinese women… At the same time, he did everything that he could to insult the Chinese government and men.”
> Giving sparse details about Chinabounder’s identity (he’s probably a 34-year-old Briton) Zhang called on “Chinese netizens and compatriots” to join this “Internet hunt for the immoral foreigner”. That message has found echo in numerous Chinese websites and blogs, which have resonated with calls for lynching Chinabounder.
Yikes! Real life consequences for licentious behavior in Shanghai? What is this world coming to?
> The middle-aged woman knocked on the dingy office door. “Shei ah?” an impatient man’s voice cried from within. “What do you want?”
> “I was hoping I could get a job,” the woman replied. “I have experience selling on the streets, and my friend Xiao Li told me you need DVD vendors.”
> The door opened and the woman was admitted. “Yeah, we do. Not just any DVDs, though. These are adult DVDs. You know how to sell adult DVDs?”
> “Well, I know how to avoid the cops, and I know I should target young men…”
> “No kidding, genius. But do you know the key?”
> “Well, I do have a baby…”
> “Yes! Perfect! That’s it! How old is the baby?”
> “Only 6 months.”
> “Great. We don’t need him talking and screwing up sales. You just need him on one arm while you push these yellow DVDs with the other. Lady, you and that baby of yours were destined to sell my porn DVDs.”
OK, this may seem like a bizarre dialogue, but it’s true that there is a trend in Shanghai of woman holding babies selling adult DVDs. In a group of three women all selling DVDs, all three of them will be holding a baby! I really don’t understand it. I rarely see any other kind of vendor with a baby.
If I were going to buy adult DVDs, (1) I wouldn’t want to buy from a woman, and (2) I certainly wouldn’t want to buy from a woman holding a baby! And yet, on the bridge that crosses Suzhou Creek at West Zhoushan Road, I regularly see these women peddling porn with their babies, and I see men buying them.
Is the Chinese male’s psyche really that different?
Danwei.org did a post on the “transsexual blogfest” almost two years ago. Why, then, does it still feel like transsexuals are all the rage here in China?
Last week I caught Korean transsexual superstar Harisu in China on TV doing some kind of Chinese gameshow. They just kept showering her with comments the whole time, going on and on about how pretty, sexy, and feminine she is. I wanted to hear her voice. I was curious what it would sound like. Unfortunately, they were doing this simultaneous interpretation thing, and Harisu’s voice was dubbed over in a female Chinese voice for the broadcast. (Harisu’s voice was just barely audible in the background, too soft to hear clearly.)
Then on Saturday a Western documentary on transsexuals was aired on Chinese TV. It was dubbed in Chinese, and a good source of vocabulary. The words 变性人 (transsexual) and 生殖器 (reproductive organs) got drilled into familiarity.
What I found most interesting were the voices used to dub the transsexuals featured in the documentary. In every case, the “transmen” were dubbed by women affecting a deep voice, and the “transwomen” were dubbed by men affecting high, feminine voices. One of the transwomen looked like a completely normal woman, and one of the transmen looked very masculine — you would never have pegged him for someone who had had a sex change. And yet they still got stuck with these voices in the Chinese dub. I couldn’t hear how their real voices sounded, so I don’t know how well the dubbing reflected the original voices.
I wouldn’t have expected the transsexuals in the documentary to be dubbed that way because Harisu was dubbed in a female voice, and the Chinese media in general seems very accepting/supportive of transsexuals. To me, using the feminine voice to dub Harisu sent a subtle “she is completely feminine” message, while the voices used in the documentary sent a subtle “they can never be the gender they’re trying so hard to be” message.
I’m always surprised by how many Chinese guys admit that they find Harisu beautiful/hot on these TV shows. I think homophobia would prevent the majority of American men from making any such public admission.