Mandarin Chinese (or simply Mandarin) is the world's second-most spoken language with more than one billion speakers. Masculine-feminine gender appears in Mandarin in many different ways. Often the gendered distinction exists only in writing, as in the case of the pronouns 他 'he' and 她 'she' (both pronounced [ta˥]), which queer speakers have neutralized with the inclusive pronouns TA (pinyin) and X也.
Chinese script is comprised of pictographic characters called radicals which bear or connote meaning and are often standalone characters themselves. These radicals can also be combined to form characters. While Mandarin is not a grammatically gendered language in the way that Romance languages are, it carries gendered meanings in the radical system (as in the case of 女, meaning 'woman') as well as in the positive or negative connotations associated with terms that refer to a binary gender system.
PARTIAL GENDERED LEXICON AND INCLUSIVE FORMS OF MANDARIN CHINESE
by COOPER BEDIN, CHELSEA TANG & IRENE YI
This lexicon is broken up into general categories of words in Mandarin on which gender are marked—for example, personal pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘they’; terms used to refer to family members or romantic partners; terms used by and for the LGBTQ+ community; etc. Most sections have three columns, where the leftmost column contains male-specific terms, the middle column contains female-specific terms, and the rightmost column contains neutral or gender-inclusive terms. In general, words in the same row can be expected to differ only in gender, and not, for example, in politeness or formality. For this reason, there are many blank cells—each table also has an attached note highlighting blank cells that would need to be filled to make the language gender-inclusive.
Notes: There is no gender-neutral or non-binary terms for parents and siblings in Mandarin. ‘父母’ and ‘兄弟姐妹’ each describe groups of people—“both of my parents” and “all of my siblings” respectively, and there is no gender-neutral way to refer to a single parent or sibling. Additionally, the character-by-character constructions of ‘父母’ and ‘兄弟姐妹’ are based on the gendered singulars and so still assume binary gender.
lit. ‘father and mother’
xiōng dì jiě mèi
lit. 'brothers and sisters'
lit. 'husband and wife'
nán péng yǒu
nǚ péng yǒu
‘significant other’ (informal)
lìng yí bàn
‘father's older brother’
‘father's older sister's husband’
‘father's younger brother’
‘father's younger sister's husband’
‘father's sibling's son’ (older than you)
‘father's sibling's son’ (younger than you)
‘father's older brother's wife’
‘father's older sister’
‘father's younger brother's wife
‘father's younger sister’
‘father's sibling's daughter’ (older than you)
‘father's sibling's daughter’ (younger than you)
‘mother's older sister's husband’
‘mother's younger sister's husband’
‘mother's sibling's son’ (older than you)
‘mother's sibling's son’ (younger than you)
‘mother's brother's wife’
‘mother's older sister’
‘mother's younger sister’
‘mother's sibling's daughter’ (older than you)
‘mother's sibling's daughter’ (younger than you)
‘older brother's wife’
‘younger brother's wife’
‘older sister's husband’
‘younger sister's husband’
‘older sister's wife’
‘younger sister's wife’
wài sheng nǚ
TERMS RELATED TO THE QUEER AND TRANS COMMUNITY
yì xìng liàn nán
abbreviation for ‘heterosexual male’
yì xìng liàn nǚ
abbreviation for ‘heterosexual female’
yì xìng liàn
Notes: ‘基佬’ is often used to tease people or used derogatorily, while ‘百合’ is often romanticized by heterosexual male. The LGBTQ+ community sometimes uses these terms for the purpose of self-mockery.
nán tóng xìng liàn
abbreviation for ‘gay/homosexual male’
‘gay guy’ (slang)
the action of being gay (v.)
nǚ tóng xìng liàn
abbreviation for ‘lesbian/homosexual female’
lit. ‘lily plant’
gǎo bǎi hé
the action of being lesbian (v.)
tóng xìng liàn
tóng xìng bàn lǚ
Notes: Terms for sexualities are very limited in Mandarin Chinese, most sexualities do not have Chinese translations.
shuāng xìng liàn
wú xìng liàn
fàn xìng liàn
TRANS and INTERSEX PEOPLE
Notes: People outside of the LGBTQ+ community almost never use these terms in informal settings or on the internet. Instead, they use the more derogatory terms in the following sections.
nǚ kuà nán
nán kuà nǚ
kuà xìng bié zhě
biàn xìng zhě
shuāng xìng rén
SLANG AND INSULTS USED TO REFER TO TRANS AND GENDER-NONCONFORMING PEOPLE
Notes: All of these terms are quite derogatory and are frequently used by cisgender people to ridicule people that present themselves differently from the traditional gender roles of their biological sexes.
There are no known slangs for trans men because trans men who are assigned female at birth or women in general are extremely underrepresented in Chinese-speaking LGBTQ+ communities.
‘女汉子’ is now also used and taken as a compliment because people think that women that have more “masculine traits” (e.g. being brave, independent, hard-working, and successful) are better than those who behave like “traditional women.”
‘伪娘’, ‘人妖’ and ‘女汉子’ are frequently used to refer to people that are not even transgender, but are just not manly or feminine enough.
‘trans woman’ (slang)
lit. ‘fake woman’
‘lady boy/trans woman’ (slang)
lit. ‘human.monster’ or ’human.evil alluring woman’
nán rén pó
‘manly female’ (slang)
lit. ‘man woman’
does not refer to trans women—no slang term for trans women seems to exist
nǚ hàn zi
‘manly female’ (slang)
biàn xìng rén
‘transgender people’ (slang)
bù nán bù nǚ de
‘neither male or female’ (adj., insult)
yīn yáng rén
‘intersex people’ (slang)
lit. ‘yin yang people’
GENDER-MARKED RADICALS IN WRITTEN CHINESE
WITH MALE RADICAL (‘亻’)
WITH FEMALE RADICAL (‘女’)
No direct translation