Don't call passengers 'comrade'
Published: Jun 01, 2010 02:07 AM Updated: May 25, 2011 01:29 PM

By Huang Shaojie

Bus riders are not comrades anymore, Beijing's bus company reportedly told its employees in an updated version of service guidelines, sidestepping the inconvenience caused by the political and gay implications of the word.

This "obsolete" form of address is to be replaced by nüshi (ma'am) or xiansheng (sir), titles that "better reflect the modern concept of public service," the city's transit authorities were quoted as saying in Monday's Beijing Youth Daily report.

On rare occasions while serving a senior citizen, the person may still be referred to as "an old comrade," it said.

"There is always something awkward, something dishonest about the overuse of 'comrade' as it doesn't square with the fact unless the person you call comrade does share your political ideal," said Wang Xuetai, a literature professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The word, together with its partisan significance, came to China in the 1930s from Soviet Russia, he said.

After 1949, everybody considered themselves a revolutionary and started calling each other "comrades," a verbal gesture indicating they shared the same revolutionary vision, Wang said.

The word accrued a different connotation starting in the 1990s when the Chinese mainland homosexual community kidnapped "comrade" for their particular use, creating yet more doubt about the politi-cally correct usage of the once-revolutionary word.

A publicity officer of the bus company declined to comment on the new service guidelines.

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