How Beijing’s Guardians of the Language Are Redefining Modern China

Worldcrunch translates an article from Die Welt on changes in the new eleventh edition of the Xinhua Zidian (New China Dictionary), and the social changes they reflect.

From the very first edition in 1953, it has mirrored social, political and economic changes in Chinese society and government. In this new edition, all terms that have anything to do with class struggle, and hence do not correspond to China today, have been deleted or somehow revisited. To take the example of the pronoun “Zanmen” (all together): in the 2004 edition, the sample given for its meaning was: “All together, we the poor have revolutionized our village.”

Seven years later that has been replaced by: “All together, we have become rich in our village.”

The word for slave (Nu) has also been given a new modern usage, one that has long been in use in spoken Chinese. The terms “Fang Nu” and “Che Nu” are used to mean slaves to one’s home or car, in the sense that someone is a slave to the debt they have incurred to acquire a home or vehicle ….

In a country where some half a billion people have Internet access, many new terms are Internet-related. Still, the dictionary has trouble keeping up, and many terms routinely used in daily life like “Weibo” (micro-blog) and “Xia Zai” (download) will have to wait until the next edition. Words like firewall and proxy server are taboo, however, for reasons having to do with Internet censorship.

If the term you’re looking for isn’t in there, try chinaSMACK’s glossary and our own Grass Mud Horse lexicon.


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