That’s Comrade Faggot to You

The sixth edition of the “Modern Chinese Dictionary” has just been published in China and, even though it contains some 3000 new entries, criticism has already begun that it excludes too many current, popular expressions.

In particular, many Chinese netizens have pointed out that it does not contain the modified meaning of 同志, tongzhi.The main meaning of the word is ‘comrade,’ and it was the main honorific in Chinese society after the revolution and still is the honorific of choice for official Chinese Communist Party purposes.

It has acquired another meaning, however, which is ‘homosexual or homo or gay.’ This new meaning first appeared in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Because the first character and sound of ‘homosexual’ in Chinese, 同性恋, tongxinglian, is the same as the word for comrade, changing its meaning to homo or gay was a sly jab at the mainland’s political elite.

Imagine if the word ‘honourable’ also came to mean ‘homo’ because they both started with ‘ho’ and this would then change the Right Honourable Prime Minister into the Right Homo Prime Minister and you get the idea.

Once in China we saw a banner strung across a hotel entrance that said ‘Welcome Old Comrades.’ Because it could also be interpreted to mean ‘Welcome Old Homos,’ my friend insisted on taking a picture of me standing beneath it.

Just a final note, although homosexuality is still socially unacceptable in China and gay men and lesbians are struggling to find acceptance in a deeply sexually conservative society, one thing you do not often encounter is the kind of violent and aggressive homophobia often encountered in western democracies , Islamic countries, Eastern Europe or parts of Africa.  Personally, I believe this is partially due to the suppressed nature of religion in Chinese society, and I predict at that if religion, and particular Christianity, asserts itself more strongly in China, you will be see a rise in aggressive homophobia.

(Those who read Chinese might want to check out an article on the new dictionary and the controversy at http://preview.tinyurl.com/bsr67a8 )

Why Tanka? Why Now?

Before I answer the question posed in the title of this post, I should first clarify what I mean by Tanka, and before I do that I must warn all purists, nit-pickers and grammar-nazis that they would best just move on to another blog.

According to our trusted friend Wikipedia, Tanka is the modern name for an ancient form of Japanese poetry called Waka. Tanka consist of five units usually with the following pattern of syllables 5-7-5-7-7. Here is where the purists first take offence, pointing out that it is a pattern of onji, or Japanese phonetics, not syllables, but if they’ve taken my warning from the first paragraph, they shouldn’t even be reading this.

So, why Tanka? It is a fun and quick way to organize thoughts and observations as I roam about Montreal. Why not free-verse or sonnet? Those are all fine poetic forms, but free-verse is too easy and, as W.H. Auden said, Poetry is like a game; it is no fun if there aren’t any rules.  Sonnets are too complex for spontaneous composition. Tanka seems just about right, forcing a mental reworking of any ideas or observations, allowing that to be done while those occurrences are fresh, barely having fled the eye or mind’s eye.

Why now? Quite simply it is because I finally got a smartphone and have joined the Twitterverse. Previously, I was quite happy with my green Moleskine notebooks (Yes, they have to be green. I told you there had to be rules.), but technology now makes it possible and fun to move note taking into another form. There are still green Moleskine notebooks, but the real notebook can be found by following @TankaTweet.

Now, for the final affront to purists and nit-pickers, the form of Twitter itself made it problematic to maintain a full Tanka form of 5-7-5-7-7 and related hashtags, so instead I have opted for a form of Renga. Referring back to Wikipedia, we can see that Renga is a linked poem in which one poet recites or creates half of a Tanka (5-7-5), and the other finishes it off (7-7).  This Tanka-based poem game was invented in the Heian period (794-1185 CE).  So @TankaTweet tweets alternate between 5-7-5 and 7-7. Of course, since they are all mine, I am playing with myself, but do feel free to change it into a circle jerk by tweeting 7-7 replies to a 5-7-5 or vice-versa.