This article refers to the term "tongzhi". For the emperor who reigned China between 1861 and 1875, see Tongzhi Emperor

Tongzhi (同志, tóngzhì) is a term which literally means "same will" or "same purpose" in Chinese. Idiomatically, it means "comrade". It has taken on various meanings in various contexts since the 20th century. The term was introduced into modern Chinese by Sun Yixian as a way of describing his followers. Following the establishment of the People's Republic of China, "tongzhi" was used to mean "comrade" in the Communist sense. In recent years, however, this meaning of the term has fallen out of common usage, except within Communist Party discourse and among people of older generations.[1]

It remains in use in a formal context among political parties in both mainland China and Taiwan. In the Communist Party of China, the labelling of a person as a "comrade" is especially significant for a person who has been denounced or demoted, because it indicates that the party has not completely rejected the person as "one of its own". In Taiwan, it also remains in formal usage in party politics.[2]

Since the 1990s, the term is, however, increasingly being used to refer to sexual minorities in Greater China, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This use of the term was first adopted at the inaugural Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Hong Kong in 1989, with the aim of presenting same-sex relationships are positive and suggesting solidarity between LGBT people, while also providing an indigenous term to capture the Chinese experience of same-sex love.

Although it initially referred to gay and lesbian people, "tongzhi" is nowadays used to refer to all sexual minorities, including BDSM and transsexual communities.[3] In fact, according to Chou Wah-Shan, "tongzhi" is a very fluid term which can refer to all people who are opposed to or fall outside of heteronormativity. He views "tongzhi" as a means of signifying "politics beyond the homo-hetero duality" and "integrating the sexual into the social".[1]

It is preferred by LGBT communities over the term "tóngxìnglìan" (同性戀), the formal word for homosexuality, which is seen as being too clinical and having pathological connotations.[4] The use of "tongzhi" over "tongxinglian" roughly parallels the replacement of "homosexual" with "gay" in Western discourse. In recent years, Western terms such as "gay" and "LGBT" are also increasingly used within Greater China, particularly in Taiwan.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Chou Wah-shan, p. 2
  2. See, for example, the remarks of Frank Hsieh after losing the Republic of China presidential election in 2008: 凝聚黨內團結 謝長廷:我決定留到五二五: "很多同志希望我能夠留到五月二十五日" ("Many comrades hoped that I could stay to May 25". See 中國國民黨第17屆中央委員會第2次全體會議出、列席同志發言須知 ("Rules for speaking for attending comrades at the 2nd plenary meeting of the 17th central committee of the Chinese Kuomintang") for an example of its usage in the Kuomintang.
  3. Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies, Summary
  4. About Tongzhi, Institute of Tongzhi Studies


  • Chou Wah-shan, Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies, Haworth Press, 2000, ISBN 156023153X

See alsoEdit

de:Tongzhi (Kaiser) zh:同志

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