Why is Chinaman considered a slur?

We say Irishman, Dutchman, Frenchman, Scotsman and Welshman without offending the PC-police, but ‘Chinaman’ is automatically considered an ethnic slur. Why is this?

My grandfather, who I guess was of the later part of the ‘Great Generation’ (he served in Korea), uses the terms ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Oriental’ regularly.

My father, a late baby boomer, would never think about saying ‘Chinaman’ and considers ‘Oriental’ to be slightly outdated.

He claims that Chinaman was always used in a derogatory context, but I insisted this wasn’t true (like ‘Negro,’ I think it’s a term that is maybe outdated but not inherently offensive.) I just like the sound of ‘Chinaman’ and like to use the term as much as possible. Why must I suffer the wrath of the PC warriors for it?

I’ve never considered Chinaman or Oriental to be a slur per se, but it seems to me a lot of Chinese people prefer the more generic “Asian” to either term.

The trend these days is for minority groups to decide for themselves what they want to be called. Once they’ve so decided, any other term for them becomes offensive simply because they don’t like it. It has nothing to do with anything inherent to the word itself.

Note that I’m not criticising this; it seems logical to me to let people decide what they should be called. If your first name was actually Paulus but you hated that name, it would be pretty rude for me to insist on calling you that, wouldn’t it? Even if I happen to think it’s a perfectly nice name.

Irishman, Dutchman, Frenchman, Scotsman and Welshman all use adjectives, so are the equivalent of the phrase “Chinese man”. (Irelandman, Netherlandsman, Franceman etc would equate to Chinaman.)

My hunch is that the word was used in a bygone era and for some people has connotations of the racist, white-supremacist, imperialist or insensitive attitudes of that time, so people are uncomfortable with it. A bit like “negro” or “colored”.

I’m reminded of a grade 8 teacher who was a Scotsman taking great exeption to being referred to as Scotch although he had a great reputation for favouring it.

I see this sort of thing breaking down into a couple categories.

An ethnic term will be perceived as derogatory if:

(a) it actually has been used as being intentionally derogatory, e.g. yellow peril.

(b) it was not originally derogatory, but was used during a time when there was a general climate of prejudice or derogation, e.g., Chinaman, Negro, redskin.

And it’s not just between one race and another. Germans probaby find such terms as Huns and Jerrys to be offensive too.

I think terms such as Irishman, Frenchman, and so forth are long established constructions that date from the Middle Ages. They all relate to nations that were closely tied to England as well (we don’t have “Poleman”, “Russman” or “Greekman” either.)

“Chinaman” seems to be a much later term made in imitation (perhaps mockingly) of those terms.

And yet they make such good ice cream…

Its been such a long time since the head tax, and the Chinese segment of the North American continent have done quite well for themselves generally that I no longer view the term “Chinaman” as more derogatory than Yankee, which many Americans cherish with some pride today. Perhaps someone of genetic heritage associated with residence on the east coast of Asia over the last several millenia can set me straight.

In the Cleveland area, Yankee is a hated “race” and fighting words. :smiley:

I used to work with a guy who used the word “chink” to describe any Asian, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin. He even used the term to described Hawaiians.

I think there are still people who use the word “Chinaman” the same way as this guy used “Chink,” and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being offended.

It’s no good to simply say “people shouldn’t find it offensive”. If they perceive offence, then it’s offensive.

If you limit my speech to what others are not offended by, aren’t you being fairly linguistically niggardly?

What gives you the right to decide what is and is not offensive?

I suppose it is a waste of time to suggest that people have manners in this world these days, but I still believe in them. If a group such as the Chinese American Citizens Alliance finds the term to be a racial slur, and they do, then that is all you need to know. If you decide for your own reasons to be rude, that is your choice.

Or if they just claim its offensive. Now that I’ve checked with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance position, any further use of the term on my part would be offensive. But at this stage I would say that the responsibility for the characterization of the word as offensive rests primarily on the Chinese American Citizens Alliance for providing the vehicle of offence. Perhaps I should check with the group representing Chinese Canadians or the group representing English speaking Chinese.

By the way, I’m of Dutch ethnicity and there is nothing you could call me that I would find offensive even though we are the most maligned ethnic group in the English language.

It’s purely a matter of perception. “Oriental”, as far as I can see, is actually a slightly more useful term than “Asian”, beacause at least it indicates a direction. Asia is a huge continent, and it’s got Arabs, Persians, Indians, Turks, Central Asians, Han Chinese, Southeast Asians, Mongols, Siberians, etc., etc. How does “Asian” become the preferred term, when it’s useless from a conceptual standpoint? Well, because back in the day when “Oriental” was in common use, so was gook, chink, slope, Jap, dink, yellow bastard, etc. It was probably the most polite term available in common parlance, but those weren’t polite times. As a holdover from a bigoted era, it’s associated with that bigotry, and has been lumped in with the other insulting epithets.

My maternal grandfather was truly a piece of work. At his core, he was a good man, but sometimes his behavior was appalling. I remember vividly a short jaunt to a worksite I took with him as a little kid (he was a contractor in a relatively rural part of Maine, and it was circa 1976):

“Steve you Polack son-of-a-bitch, what the hell are you doing up there on my house?”
“I’m finishing up the goddamn roof, you fuckin’ Frog, and on a Saturday, too! Don’t want the rain comin’ in when all those fuckin’ drywallers come down from Quebec! Weatherman said thunderstorms tomorrow.”

After this exchange, they laughed a bit then had a perfectly cordial, reasonable conversation, settled up whatever matters needed to be settled, and my grandfather and I drove on. I remember distinctly asking my grandfather “Pepe, are you and that man angry at each other?” “Angry? Jesus Christ, no! He’s saving me a lot of money working today, and I really owe him…I don’t give a shit what people say about the Polacks, they’ve always done good work for me, and they work hard. Christ, the only reason I bring those guys down from Quebec to do the drywalling is because they’re so cheap. I’d hire all Polacks if I could.”

Well, it’s not the 70s anymore, and even then my grandfather would have gotten horrified looks if he spoke that way out of the company of friends who knew him. Intent means nothing. It’s what you say, not what you mean. Whatever the PC police tell you to use, just use. Making sense of it is beside the point. The polite thing to say is what society dictates, and that’s all that matters.

That’s a pretty sad rule to follow. I guess thinking for ourselves is just too tough nowdays.

Because it’s simply not the preferred nomenclature… man…

Asian-American, please.

Because the terms are not equivalent. Chinaman is not the same as Irishman. Would you say Ireland man? The equivalent term would be Chinese man, which isn’t offensive.