Why is Chinaman considered a slur?

Is there a better rule out there? If there is, please share, because I prefer thought to a herd mentality. What I prefer more, however, is not being misunderstood, and not inadvertently insulting people. If a term I might use is insulting because I’m behind the times, I’d much prefer somebody say “use this, NOT that” so as no harm comes to me or those I wish to address.

This is all fine and well when the Chinaman in question is living in America, or has American citizenship. But clearly, Asian-American is inappropriate for the non-American Chinaman.

I think I have found the solution:




Interestingly, the Mainland-born Taiwanese dissident Bo Yang chose to call his essay on what he perceived as the universal nature of Chinese attitudes and behaviour “The Ugly Chinaman”.

Here’s an example of how the word “Chinaman” tended to be used, taken from an Agatha Christie short story published in 1924, The Adventure of the ‘Western Star’. Poirot has just been consulted by a movie star, Miss Marvell, about letters she has recieved, threatening to steal a diamond that her husband gave her:

Miss Christie uses “Chinaman” and “Chink” interchangeably. Given that “Chink” is so clearly a slur, “Chinaman” appears to have the same baggage.

Oh… you must be talking about baseball!

Here I was thinking “Ohio… it’s in the north. People from up north = Yankees. Why would they care?”

Whether it is considered offensive may be a regional matter. I once on Usenet in a post referred to “Orientals”, and some guy in the NG from that region took it as offensive. Another poster in the NG responded that by using the word “Orientals” I just mean “those people for who are from ethnic groups known to eat with chopsticks.” He then pointed out that anyone in the US (I am) who actually wanted to use an ethnic slur would have instead used “gooks”. :wink: I can’t ever think of hearing an American use “Oriental” as an ethnic slur. Also, at least where I live their are restaurants run by Asian-Americans that use the word “Oriental” in the business name, or on the menu somewhere. I wouldn’t expect that if they considered the word offensive that they themselves would use it.

It is possible outside the US this term may have a negative connotation. Note the way I was using it was to refer to the people in that region in general. Thus I couldn’t have have used say “Chinese” because I meant it much more broadly.

Oriental is a rug. I’m Asian. The poster that made a comparsion with names, is how I see it. It’s just plain courtesy. I’m not going to call John, Johnny or Jack, if he doesn’t like it or prefer it.

“Oriental” rugs are actually Persian.

Hey, people can be offended if they want to be. But I’m not changing my lifestyle for them or anything, especially if they are offended at such terms as “niggardly”. Some people just be wack.

It’s not like I don’t try to use the preferred term most of the time, but someone’s going to be offended by almost any human subcategory you choose to describe someone. Some people don’t like the term black because it has a bad previous histry and is technically inaccurate, while others don’t like the way the term african-american is used sometimes as it is culturally inaccurate not to mention somewhat patronizing, they say.

Similarly, some dislike the term Indian because it is inaccurate while others dislike Native American because in their opinion Amerigo treated the natives harshly.

I, personally, try to avoid using human external quasi-racial descriptors whenever possible, but I don’t take a poll if I am forced to use them. (FWIW, I sometimes use Black and sometimes A-A, but definitely use Native American, since the confusion with the people from the country of India is too common. But I try to use the specific tribal designator if possible.)

The offence at oriental was explained to me some years ago as having to do with its origins - the word describes a Eurocentric view of the world, in which China is “The East.” Of course, China calls itself the center of the world - but didn’t have the privilege of making that perspective dominant. The easiest way out of the mess? The less romantic, clearer, undeniably accurate East Asian, with only one more letter and the same number of syllables.

Thing is, when you look at a map of Eurasia, China is the East. Somebody in China would have to agree, I think. Wait for the sun to come up. Walk in about that direction. Do that every day until you run out of land. You could easily wind up in China.

Actually, the Chinese did not refer to Europeans as “Occidentals” or the Chinese equivalent. They sometimes did (and still do) call them things like “gweilo” (in Cantonese, roughly “ghost man”, but understood to mean “foreign devil”). For Africans “hagwei” (“black devil”). Seems everybody non-Chinese is some species of devil.

And if I decide that it isn’t a racial slur,then why is their opinion more important then mine?Telling people not to use a word because someone somewhere possibly might get offended is just brainwashing.Whatever you use,someone somewhere will get offended.Hell,there’ll even be some kicking up about the use of the word ‘niggardly’ later in this thread…does ‘African-Americandly’ sound better?Nope.Thought not.

I think you’ve nailed it here. The use of the term “Chinaman” in the Western U.S. during the 19th century is associated with the racist attitudes towards the Chinese at the time. It seems like the term was used to describe a different species of people, as if there were Hu-mans and China-men.

China is east of what? Describing Asia as Oriental makes as much sense as a New Zealander declaring the US is oriental because it lies to the east of NZ, the centre of the universe.

Besides which, it’s outdated and clumsy.

Yair, fight the power, dude. :rolleyes:

What makes other’s opinions more important than yours (on this matter) is that the word is applied to them, not you. Just as you may reasonably ask us not to call you poopyhead–even if I may deludedly think that’s a perfectly fine word–others get to decide what you call them. It’s not about brainwashing, it’s about respecting others.

I doubt there will be be any kicking up over “niggardly” because most SDMBers know that this word is not related to “nigger”.

And a more accurate, less Eurocentric view is simply to look at the same map and say East Asia, which is unromantically correct no matter where you are standing.

Loopydude, I’m not sure where you are, but as an American I can tell you that I when I go to China I travel west, until I run out of land, and then keep going across lots of water. China is not “The Orient” from my perspective - except to the extent that I’ve culturally inherited a traditional European perspective, in which China is The Orient, The East, The Mysterious East, what have you. That’s the point of the objection - “the Orient,” as such, is accurate only if your perspective is from Europe, whereas East Asia is simply descriptive.

I think you’re oversimplifying. I’m sure most Chinese people have no trouble being identified as Chinese; the irritation (or so I gather from Asian friends of various origins) is the equation of Asian and Chinese.

Yeah! Think for yourself! Use offensive racial slurs! Hey, if you don’t mean to be offensive, why should they care? They’re just being hypersensitive.

Fortunately, we can save ourselves a lot of argument by realizing that anyone who feels the need to defend the usage of ethnic slurs is just attempting to protect the weapons they use on groups they don’t like.

I don’t see what “thinking for ourselves” has to do with it. If someone has a name they like to be called, or a name they don’t like to be called, why can’t we just respect their wishes? I don’t think improvisation is appropriate when choosing how to address someone.

By the way, I think the “PC Police” are unfairly criticised. What’s so bad about wanting people to use language that is respectful of each other’s feelings? Or is being polite simply “too tough nowadays?”

Tyranny of the offended coalition is just as bad as tyranny of the racist majority.

The word “Chinaman” was usually used in a derogatory sense, so it acquired derogatory connotations. As a Chinaman myself, however, I’m a bit annoyed with the prevalance of the amusingly-broad term “Asian” to refer to East Asians.


My point was precisely that, from a Eurocentric point of view, “Oriental” made slightly more sense to me than “Asian”, since the term connoted a portion of the continent instead of the entire continent. I never said I preferred using it. I just find it curious that “Asian” became the “accepted” term when it’s essentially uselessly unspecific.

I do admit to wondering why “Eurocentric” is, apparently, in all cases, equal to “bigoted”. My ancestors came largely from France. I live in the United States, which is comprised of former colonies of England, France, and Spain. A degree of Eurocentricity is pretty much built in to my world view by default, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary for me to flog myself over that. I don’t see too many Chinese flogging themselves over “gweilo”, quite frankly. I have it on good authority it’s still a commonly-used word in some parts (my entire group at work, besides myself, is comprised of Mainland Chinese ex-pats;my boss is from Hunan; his boss is from Malaysia but is of Chinese extraction; all my peers speak Mandarin as their first language). Hey, if a couple-hundred-million people to this day don’t lose any sleep over calling me a white-ghost-devil-man, I’m not going to be wracked with guilt over the fact that my ancestors were also racist. My understanding is that you’ll find racism wherever you look, and ironically more of it in some of the places that would still object to “Eurocentricity”. I don’t espouse Eurocentricity. I’m not an exponent thereof. Alors, s’il vous pait, mordez-moi.

I actually prefer referring to the individual by their country of origin. Hence, I’d rather call somebody “Korean” than “East Asian”. Thing is, then I have to figure out if somebody is Korean, or Chinese, or Japanese, or whatever. Maybe I’m just a dunce, but I actually can’t tell with 100% accuracy just by looking at somebody. They need to reveal their country of origin to me. If they don’t, I guess I have to use “Asian”, or “East Asian” if I want to talk about them behind their backs without being accused of bigotry. I don’t like Asian, because I think it’s too vague. But hey, the PC police tell me that’s the way to go, and that’s what I do, because I value politeness in at least certain situations.

Sometimes, when engaging in open discoures of an intellectual nature, it’s nice to eschew some of the politeness so as to, in a manner of speaking, cut through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. It helps when accusations of vulgarity and/or bigotry merely for finding some things curious don’t taint the experience. But hey, I’m just a whitey-ass Eurocentric froggy-fool-devil, you needn’t worry about my feelings.