Sexist Chinese Characters Discriminate Against Women

chinese-character-female-woman-girlA recent internet post purportedly written by a lawyer named Ye Mantian rallied against the structure of many vulgar Chinese Hanzi characters as containing elements in reference to women. For example, the traditional character for rape is written as “姦”, or simply the three characters “女” [women] stacked together.

Ye Mantian called for the elimination of such sexist and offensive characters, and replacing them with more gender-neutral forms. However, many netizens believe Chinese characters are a part of history and that simply changing characters will not solve the core issue of gender inequality.

From Tianya:

The Fault of Several Hanzi characters: does it not only disrespect women but also mislead children’s perceptions?

First, I want to make my position known: Chinese language is my mother language; it is the most beautiful language.

For 5000 years, we rely on it to think, to record, and to communicate. In the hearts of countless people, Chinese language is the most refined aspect of Chinese culture; it composed the poems of the Tang and Sung and the myriad of classics, all worthy of our praise and pride. At the same time, Chinese language is easy to learn, it does not have any tenses, verbs, adjectives and comparatives in the English language, without the English language’s flow, the pronunciation is clear, and easy to read, it is the treasure left to us by our ancestors.

Today, the Chinese language remains the most concise language. It was said that every time the Chinese delegation at the United Nations pick up documents, they only pick up the thinnest ones, which would definitely be the Chinese version. This is just one example. Today, as China’s national status increase, the conciseness and elegance of the Chinese language, along with the rise of the popularity of learning Chinese in many countries, will heighten China’s influence, which is also a great contribution from China to the world.

We all know, our Chinese language was developed from one-of-a-kind pictographs, with the complex development of society transformed into logograms that at the same time have phonetic functions. For example, the character “雨” [rain], can make one think of the sentiments of the “endless rain of sorrow,” The character “田” [field] naturally conjure up scenes of the footpaths in the suburbs. One character can embody a whole poem, a soundless painting.

However, my purpose today is to not merely to sing songs of praise, but to tell everyone what is on my mind after many years of observing the Chinese language, and to discuss and analyze [this issue]. Even during my elementary school years, looking through the dictionary left me with many impressions – many dirty, wretched, negative meaning words contain the radical “女”[female], and this type of [character] structure is not fair to women.

These 16 characters are: “娱”[amusement], “耍”[playful], “婪”[greedy], “嫉”[envy], “妒”[envy], “嫌”[dislike], “佞”[to flatter], “妄”[presumptuous], “妖”[evil], “奴”[slave], “妓”[prostitute], “娼”[prostitute], “奸”[rape], “姘”[have an affair], “婊”[prostitute] and “嫖”[prostitute].

These 16 characters, contain a certain derogatory meaning, which make children during the course of their studies, and normal people during the process of writing and reading, to perceive these 16 characters to have fundamental connections to the female gender; unknowingly lowering their opinions of women.

Below are my analyses of three examples.

Firstly, “娱” [amusement] appears to be neutral, according to the Modern Hanyu Dictionary is defined as: “happiness and making one happy, for the sake of pleasure.” Commonly found in the word for “fun or entertainment,” along with the dominance of the [the term] “entertainment circle.” “娱” is a phonogram, the radical “女” [female] is the form, while “吴” [wu] is the sound, from the structure of the word, this character contain the meaning of “making women as a plaything or the object of men’s leisure in order for men to obtain happiness,” implying the mentality of disrespect towards women. I suggest changing it to “彳吴” [with the two person radical].

Secondly, “嫉” [envy] according to the Modern Hanyu Dictionary is defined as: “Grudge against someone who is better. “嫉”[envy] is normally used to describe being jealous. “嫉” [envy] the radical “女” [female] is the form, while “疾” [ji, meaning disease] is the sound. From the phonogram, it can be interpreted that “a women (女) with a disease (疾) is “嫉” [envy].” We all know one of the most famous idiom in Chinese history is “Zhou Yu has already been born, so why was Zhuge Liang ever born?”[envy developed out of the rivalry] “With two great men described in this manner, what is the reason to have the character “嫉” with the female radical “女”? This only means that at the time this character was created it existed prejudice against women. I suggest changing it to “彳疾” [with the 彳two person radical]; from the surface, we can already see someone having the disease of envy, who cannot stand having other’s being better.

Thirdly, “嫖” [prostitute] according to the Modern Hanyu Dictionary is defined as: the degenerate act of playing with harlots. “嫖” [prostitute] is a phonogram, the radical “女” [female] is the form, while the “票” [piao] is the sound. A common phrase includes “eat, drink, [play with] prostitutes, and gambling”, all describe a person without proper conduct, who only loaf about and engage in lowly behavior. It was the men who mainly reflect these disgusting behaviors, but how can one tarnish [the image of] women during the creation of these characters? Never mind the character contain the word “票” [ticket, note], most people today interpret it as the note in a bank note, thus putting women next to money. What kind of message does the character “嫖” send for the users of our language? What kind of culture does it want to project? This character can only be described as tarnishing the Chinese language. I suggest changing it to “彳不” [two person radical and the character for “no”], from the surface it revealed that these two people did something forbidden and not encouraged by society. I believe everyone who sees this [character] will receive an imperceptible education, which in the future will lead them to lessen this type of behavior.

On the same basis of changing “嫖” to ‘彳不’, I suggest change the radical for ‘奸’ [rape] to the ‘犭行’ [‘犭’ is the dog or animal radical]; so that it will show people ‘犭行’ is a bestial act. I believe changing this character will reduce rape by 20 percent.

Gender equality is an element of civic equality. At the same time, it is the fundamental principle of our national law based on the spirit of equality, and the goal of our national government and the greater society strive to. We all know that this world is composed of both men and women. To this day, all men and women are born, and raised by their mothers. How Mencius became a sage was inevitably tied to the story of “Mencius’ mother moving three times“. In Chinese history, there were numerous lines of gratitude such as “The thread in the hand of a kind mother, is the coat on the wanderer’s back” [a poem by Meng Jiao]. However, it is hard to understand, why do the creators of these characters at the time use the radical “女”[ female] to create a derogatory phonogram? I believe an important reason lies in ancient society, where the capacity of strength was important. Women, having weaker physical strength, were often ostracized, with no opportunity to become educated, and gradually the stage of society and culture became centered on men and male discourse. Language became a privileged tool for sexes. During the process of the creation and the adoption of language, the use of the other sex “女” to create some derogatory words also unwittingly appeared. Perhaps at the time, the designers of these characters did not have such malicious intentions.

These Hanzi characters not only disrespect women, but also give the future of China’s masters — the healthy upbringing of children — a negative impact. “People at birth, are naturally good. Their natures are similar, their habits make them different.” A baby enters this world and, from their naive and immaculate eyes looking at this new world, begins to understand the world through their heart, beginning to imitate other’s behavior and character, gradually forming the model of their development based on the social environment. Think about it. During this process, boys, by flipping through dictionaries, and newspapers, etc, will be exposed to these characters. Will they along with other boys ask why these characters are written this way? Will they innocently make fun of girls? Will it become the shadow in a girl’s life? Will it become the reason for their later preference of sons over daughters? What kind of moral and life values should we pass on to them? How can we tell them these phonograms like “婪” [greedy], “妒” [envy], “佞” [flatter], “妖” [evil], and “嫖” [prostitute] all have something to do with women?

Will the children be proud of our great culture?!

French thinker Simone de Beauvoir once said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one”, this phrase revealed the impact of family and society on a woman. Our nation’s women, in many areas succeeded in many achievements, but the prejudice and discrimination toward women remain deeply within some people. Many female college, master’s, and PhD students, when applying for a job, companies still require the woman to not get married or have children for numbers of years. These clear breaches of the ” Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests law” is common, and the basic reason for this lies in particular groups’ prejudice, developed through their upbringing, naturally leading their notion of lawfulness, equality, and respect to diminish.

Our hope that gender equality will become a universal virtue will require starting from the small things, from a healthy and equal childhood development. Along this process, adults need to set an example, nip evil in the bud, and ask ourselves, “Neither refuse to do it due to its little benefit, nor do it due to its little disadvantage,” to create a good environment and healthy atmosphere.

Maybe there are those who will say changing these 16 characters is purely nonsense, that women don’t even bring this issue up, that you, Ye Mantian, as a man, raised this issue to mind other people’s business. I believe, Chinese women are kind-hearted and intelligent, and they have long realized this problem. However, these 16 characters are very vulgar; and they [women] are like noble plum flowers who do not wish to be associated with these 16 words.

Maybe there are those who will say these 16 Hanzi characters are only a few in a thick dictionary, a millet in the sea [needle in the haystack], it is not a big deal. However, in the mouth of people with low qualities, it often becomes common phrases or hurtful words, giving the youth and the children bad influences.

Maybe there are those who will say these 16 Hanzi characters have been in use for thousands of years, changing it is too much of a hassle, a waste of people and material resources. However, I believe, from a technical standpoint it is possible, from the view of respecting women it is worth it, and should be done. The fault belongs to the men. Women hope that men will voluntarily correct their mistakes, and we should be grateful of their trust and tolerance, and not fail to live up to their expectation. This issue should be addressed sooner than later, for the longer it waits, more men will face a difficult dilemma.

To construct a egalitarian society where both men and women can mutually respect one another, we must respect our mothers, because she gave us nurturing kindness; we must respect our wives, because they and their husbands brings the household together, weathering through the highs and lows in life; We must love our daughters, because they are the future of our nation and people.

Comments from Tianya:


What did Hanzi characters do to you, why fuss over a couple of words?

[You must] have nothing better to do!


Lou zhu, I bet your family owns a brothel, right? If you dislike Hanzi so much, you should change your daughter’s surname.


There is no point and no possibility [for this the happen]. This is all bullshit.


Chinese characters’ culture influence existed for a long time, if you want to change it now, it probably will be difficult.


Respecting females is not something as simple as changing a few characters. The key is female self-respect and self-love.


Lou zhu’s mindset is commendable, but I feel there is no need to change it. Western societies also have similar words/phrases that treat women unequally. For example, masculine and feminine words; regarding people, men and women, etc.


In the past, the word for rape “奸” is written as 嬲 [female character between two male characters].

Does it have to be like this to be equal/fair?


What about the “楼”[house, building] in lou zhu? 木=living place, 米=food, 女=marriage, does it have any negative messages?


Lou zhu can be considered someone who does not understand the creation of the Chinese language. I do not want to scold him, but according to his view, our Hanzi characters formed from thousands of years all needs to be changed, because it all does not conform to today’s social development and circumstance. For example, the character “家” [family, home], today’s household contain people not pigs, why does it contain the character “豕” [pig]? This is just a simple example, but from this reasoning, can’t it all be changed? Big shot lawyer? Do pigs live in your house? I am skeptical about whether you are a lawyer, if so, how can you make such a contrived and logically-flawed mistake like this? In brothels men go to are prostitutes and his analysis of the structure of “嫖” [prostitute] is not wrong, but what is wrong is relating the character “女” [female] to all women! “嫖” [prostitute] represent the client’s prostitutes and not all women, don’t you agree that not all women are prostitutes? Therefore, not using the radical “女” [female], then what? According to your literal interpretations, “女” [female] and “子” [son, person] when put together, a male and a female standing together, is this vulgar too? Why does it mean “好” [good]? Do we need to change this too? Talking to you, I feel is like disrespecting myself. I hope there are less of your kind among lawyers.


I think this is progress. In the past, British feminist thinkers found that there are over 200 words regarding women messing around in the English dictionary, but only 20 words regarding men messing around. Finally, there are people in China who are willing to speak about Hanzi. I support LZ’s further research; perhaps it can revitalize the feminist movement in China! Hehe~


Lou zhu, your use of the radical for “man” and radical “彳” [two person or man] doesn’t it disrespect humanity? What if human rights activists want to change it? If you use the radical “犭” doesn’t it disrespect dogs, what if animal lovers want to change it? Don’t respect this, don’t respect that, lou zhu how long are you going to keep changing characters?


Take pants off and fart, completely unnecessary! According to your reasoning, the character “男” [male] has “田” [field] on top and “力” [strength] on the bottom, so doesn’t “男” mean to work in the field? This also treats men unequally, and according to your logic it should be changed as well.

This makes sense too, I suggest this lawyer go to the the Education Department to work!!


I on the contrary support LZ.


Hehe, there is some reason to it, but there is also no need to change, because it reflects China’s old history.

“娱”,”耍”,”婪”,”嫉”,”妒”,”嫌”,”佞”,”妄”,”妖”,”奴”,”妓”,”娼”,”奸”,”姘”,”婊” and “嫖”? chinaSMACK personals.

Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai


One Ping

  1. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *