Love is in the air on Sina Weibo this weekend, especially since the Blued gay dating app and Taobao online shopping platform have launched a unique Valentine campaign: they will award ten lucky gay couples with an arranged trip to the United States in order to get married and celebrate their honeymoon. In the campaign video, Blued founder Geng Le poses with a rainbow flag. “We have to support all kinds of love,” he says: “For all those gay girls and guys out there, let’s celebrate your love. Let’s go and get you married in a place where you can.” This campaign can be seen in the light of a larger online gay revolution that has been going on in China for the past few years. Geng Le is one of the instigators of this ‘revolution’. He is both a smart businessman (a ‘pink economy’ pioneer) and an advocate for China’s gay emancipation: a true rainbow warrior.
Founder of gay app Blued and Danlan website Geng Le (耿乐) was once threatened for openly being gay and publishing about the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) scene. Luckily, much has changed over the last decade. Geng Le’s company is a remarkable success story. Not only does its gay app Blued currently have around 15 million users, the company maintains good relations with the Chinese government and is worth an estimated 300 million dollars. The success of Geng Le’s company and its products has shown two things: that the Chinese ‘gay market’ is a very profitable one, and that online platforms can help promote the emancipation of homosexuals in China. A win-win scenario.
Blued: A Success Story
Blued is a social network app for gays. Geng Le, who originally was a police man, started his website Danlan eight years ago. It is a platform for Chinese homosexuals that translates a huge amount of foreign news on LGBT issues and discusses local gay activist groups. Social media app Blued was later added to the site. Blued can be compared to gay dating app Grindr. Users can look for other users based on their location. Through the app, they can connect through chat and arrange a date.
Geng Le and his associates launched Blued in November 2012. It was the perfect timing: not just because China’s mobile market was exploding, but also because of a growing demand for social media apps aimed at gays who would otherwise mainly meet in gay bars or nightclubs. Homosexuality only became legal within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997, and over the last decade, it has gradually become less of a taboo. The coming-out of Apple CEO Tim Cook in 2014 was an important moment for Blued. After Cook publicly announced he was proud to be gay, homosexuality became a much-discussed topic on China’s social media. One week later, an American company invested 30 million dollars in Geng Le’s company.
China’s ‘Pink Economy’
According to Paul Thompson, founder of LGBT Capital, the Chinese ‘gay market’ is currently worth around 300 billion dollar: a macro calculation of the estimated spending power of China’s* LGBT market (a ‘GDP’ for the gay market). This makes China one of the top three most profitable ‘pink economies’, together with the US and Europe. Thompson believes that the financial power of gays (which he calls “pink dollar” power) cannot be ignored; not just because of the opportunities it offers for businesses, but also because serving the needs of LGBT consumers is a way of creating equality and promoting acceptance. This is commercially and socially important for the Chinese market; there is enormous potential in gay-related products and services such as apps, datingsites or news platforms.
By now, there are multiple social media platforms for gays in China. There are many organisations and individuals that speak out for homo-emancipation through Weibo and Weixin. Besides the official accounts of Geng Le, Danlan and Blued, there are others such as the Gay Support Group, the Gay Rights Movement, the Gay Voice or the Beijing ‘Comrade’ Center*. These platforms translate foreign gay news, share the stories of the Chinese LGBT community, provide support in ‘coming out’ and organise events or offer possibilities for gays to get in touch.
Being gay: not about politics
“Chinese society is experiencing a gradual process of tolerance towards gays,” CBN Weekly writes in an article about Blued: “Although they often joke about it, younger generations are really starting to openly discuss homosexuality.” Geng Le’s app and website (danlan.org) are not blocked by Chinese authorities. In an online environment that is heavily controlled, the allowance of these gay platforms is somewhat surprising. One of the reasons Geng Le has managed to keep them unblocked is because he convinced the government that openness about homosexuality is crucial in the prevention of HIV. This is an important issue in China, where 100,000 new HIV infections were reported over the previous year; a 15% increase from 2013. Danlan and Blued spread information about safe sex, but also warn users against the use of drugs.
Screenshot of the Blued smartphone app, that allows users to 'explore' users based on location or other preferences, scroll through news, or chat. Blued shows users a warning, saying: "Cherish life, stay away from drugs. Blued wants to promote healthy friendships together with you" (Image: What's on Weibo).
For Geng, the emancipation of gays should not become a political issue. He argues that LGBT issues are not about politics, but about human rights. “We should let gay people in China live in dignity,” says Geng, who does not necessarily want to strive for same-sex marriage in China: “Gay marriage is a legal concept – the general improvement on gay issues in China does not lie in marriage, it lies in anti-discrimination. This is what we focus on.”
“Two guys in love, so what?”
China still has a long way to go concerning the emancipation of gays. Until 2001, homosexuality was still defined as a mental disorder. The court case against a Chongqing medical center for ‘conversion shock therapy’ continues; the clinic gave electric shocks to homosexuals in order to ‘cure’ them. Many homosexuals are still afraid to come out of the closet. This is also one of the reasons why Blued is such a succes: although coming out ‘in real life’ might be a big step, the Blued community is only one click away. Through the app, gays can freely talk to each other from behind their smartphone screens.
China ‘online gay revolution’ has promoted the growing acceptance of homosexuals in China. This has also become visible offline. Last month, a gay wedding proposal in the streets of Shanghai drew the attention of bystanders. The pictures became trending on Sina Weibo. Although some Weibo netizens mocked the couple, others found it romantic or did not care about it too much. One user said: “Two guys in love, so what?” China’s gay emancipation might still have a long way to go, but the first big steps have been taken.
The Shanghai gay proposal that became a trending topic on Sina Weibo.
The initiative to send ten gay couples to the US to get married is another breakthrough in China’s online revolution. The campaign received lots of attention on social media, where users can vote which couples they would like to win. The fact that the campaign is also endorsed by Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce platform, speaks volumes; supporting homosexuality has become a marketing tool. As a business man and gay right activist, Geng Le is in the right spot. “I still see a long road ahead,” he says. I bet it’s paved with rainbows.
The Valentine campaign by Taobao and Blued: ten of these couples will win an arranged trip to California to get married and celebrate their honeymoon (Image: Weibo).
– by Manya Koetse
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* In this calculation, Thompson speaks about ‘Greater China’, which includes Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
*Although ‘comrade’, tongzhi, originally is a Communist term, it is now used as slang for members of the LGBT community.
– Chinese CBN weekly article about Blued (link).
– Live event about gay pride in China with Geng Le as one of the speakers, blogged by What’s on Weibo (link).
– Another version of this article was previously published in the Dutch 360 Magazine (link).
– On Geng Le, also read: Interview with Geng Le by Vice magazine (link).
– On gay markets, also read: “A look at Brazil’s Booming (Yet Closeted) Multi-Billion ‘Pink Dollar’ Gay Market” (link).
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What Are Weibo’s “Super Topics”?
Explaining Weibo’s “Super Topics”
Over the past year, Weibo’s so-called “Super Topics” (超级话题) have become more popular on the social media platform as online spaces for people to connect and share information.
Weibo’s “super topic” function has been around since 2016. The function allows Weibo users to create and join interest-based content community pages that are online groups separated from the main Weibo space. One could perhaps compare these Weibo Super Groups to ‘mega-threads’ or ‘subreddits’ on Reddit.
These are the most important things to know about Weibo’s Super Topics:
#1 A Super Topic is Not the Same as a Hashtag
Similar to Twitter, hashtags make it possible for Weibo users to tag a topic they are addressing in their post so that their content pops up whenever other people search for that hashtag.
Different from Twitter, Weibo hashtags also have their own page where the hashtag is displayed on top, displaying how many people have viewed the hashtag, how many comments the hashtag is tagged in, and allowing users to share the hashtag page with others.
A Super Topic goes beyond the hashtag. It basically is a community account where all sort of information is shared and organized. People can ‘follow’ (关注) a Super Topic and can also ‘sign in’ (签到).
On the main page of every Super Topic page, the main subject or purpose of the super topic is briefly explained, and the number of views, followers, and posts are displayed.
A super topic-page can be created by any Weibo user and can have up to three major hosts, and ten sub-hosts. The main host(s) can decide which content will be featured as essential, they can place sticky notes, and post links to suggested topics.
#2 A Super Topic Is a Way to Organize Content
Super Topic pages allow hosts to organize relevant content in the way they want. Besides the comment area, the page consists of multiple tabs.
A tab right underneath the main featured information on the page, for example, shows the “sticky posts” (置顶帖) that the host(s) of the page have placed there, linking to relevant information or trending hashtag pages. Below the sticky notes, all the posts posted in the Super Topic community are displayed.
One of the most important tabs within the Super Topic page is called “essential content” (精花), which only shows the content that is manually selected by the host(s). This is often where opinion pieces, articles, official news, or photos, etc. are collected and separated from all the other posts.
Another tab is the “Hall of Fame” (名人堂), which mainly functions as a reference page. It features links to the personal Weibo pages of the super topic page host(s), links to the Weibo pages of top contributors, and shows a list of the biggest fans of the Super Topic. Who the biggest fan of the page is, is decided by the number of consecutive days a person has “checked-in” on the page.
#3 Super Topics Are a Place for Fans to Gather
Although a Super Topic could basically be about anything, from cities to products or hobbies, Super Topics are often created for Chinese celebrities, video games, football clubs, or TV dramas.
Through Super Topic pages, a sense of community can be created. People can be ranked for being the most contributive or for checking in daily, and comment on each other’s posts, making it a home base for many fan clubs across China.
The host(s) can also help somebody’s page (e.g. a celebrity account) grow by proposing them to others within the group.
Super Groups are ranked on Weibo based on their popularity. This also gives fans more reason to stay active in the group, making their Super Topic top ranking within their specific category (TV drama, food, photography, sports, games, etc).
What makes the Super Topic group more ‘private’ than the common Weibo area, is that people posting within the Super Topic can decide whether or not they also want their comment shared on their own Weibo page or not. If they choose not to, their comments or posts will only be visible within the Super Topic community.
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Why Trump Has Two Different Names in Chinese
Why does ‘Trump’ have multiple names in Chinese?
First published , updated version published March 7, 2019
Donald Trump has two most commonly used different names in Chinese. In Mandarin*, they are Tèlǎngpǔ (特朗普) and Chuānpǔ (川普). Both names have been used by Chinese mainstream media and netizens for years.
*(Due to the scope of this article, we’ll just use the Mandarin pinyin here.)
In the Chinese translation of Donald Trump’s autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987), the ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ transliteration is used, whereas the translation of the George Ross book Trump-Style Negotiations (2008) uses ‘Chuānpǔ’ as the Chinese name for Trump.
Considering that Trump is making headlines every day, more people are wondering why Trump has two Chinese names, and which one is the correct name to use. There are even discussions about the topic on Chinese social media.
Why are foreign names translated?
Why are non-Chinese names actually translated into Chinese at all? With English and Chinese being such vastly different languages with entirely different phonetics and script, the majority of Chinese people will find it hard to pronounce a foreign name that is written in English.
Writing foreign names or terms in Chinese script has a long history and practical reasons which won’t be further elaborated on here. At present, aside from being standardized, it does not just help Chinese speakers to pronounce these words, it also makes it easier to remember them. Most Chinese names usually consist of two or three characters; the first character is the surname, and the last character(s) is the given name.
Translating a name to better adapt to the culture in which it is used does not only happen with English names in China; you often see the same happening with Chinese names in foreign countries.
In that case, the first character (surname) is moved to the back, and the given name changed into an English one. Alibaba’s Ma Yun, for example, has become globally known as ‘Jack Ma.’ Film star Zhao Wei is called ‘Vicky Zhao’, Tencent’s Ma Huateng is known as ‘Pony Ma,’ and the popular actress Lin Yun is called ‘Jelly Lin.’
The right way to translate a foreign name in Chinese
There are multiple ways to translate a foreign name to Chinese. Most commonly, a name is translated into Chinese characters that are phonetically similar to the original name, without necessarily being very meaningful. The transliteration of ‘Hillary’ (Clinton), for example, is ‘Xīlālǐ’ (希拉里). ‘Bush’ is translated as ‘Bùshí’ (布什).
Another option is to choose a name purely based on meaning rather than phonetics. One example is Elvis Presley, who is called ‘Cat King’ (Māo Wáng 猫王) in Chinese, which stays close to his nickname “The Hillbilly Cat.”
The best option when translating a foreign name into Chinese, however, is to make sure it stays close to its original pronunciation while also using elegant characters. In other words; it is nice when a name’s translation makes sense both phonetically and semantically. Marilyn Monroe’s last name in Chinese is Mènglù (梦露), for example, which sounds like ‘Monroe’ and has the characters for ‘Dream Dew’ – a perfect transliteration for such a dreamy actress.
Even when the characters used for a foreign name in Chinese are not necessarily intended to convey a certain meaning, it is important that they do not have any negative connotations. Nobody wants a character in their name associated with divorce, disease or death – it is believed to bring bad luck.
Another thing is that it is considered helpful for foreign names in Chinese is to maintain a ‘foreign flavor’ to it, to make it clear that the name is actually a transliteration. To give an example raised in this Nikkei article: President Reagan’s name is generally translated as Lǐgēn 里根 in Chinese – the characters being somewhat uncommon for a Chinese name.
The same name could also be written with the characters 李根, very common for a Chinese name, but then it would be difficult to know whether a media report is talking about Reagan the President or just a local Chinese person by the same name. Transliterations of foreign names, therefore, are often easily recognizable as foreign names on purpose.
Trump, Tèlǎngpǔ, and Chuānpǔ
In the case of Trump, his Chinese names are mainly chosen for phonetic reasons, with different sources using different characters. Part of the challenge in deciding the right Chinese translation for his name, is the fact that Chinese does not have consonant cluster ‘tr’ as one sound.
The Chinese-language Nikkei newspaper dedicated an op-ed written by Chinese scholar Ke Long (柯隆) to the matter, who argues that although it may all seem trivial, it is actually quite confusing and unpractical for president Trump to have more than one name in Chinese.
The Chinese media in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most overseas Chinese-language media, refer to Trump as ‘Chuānpǔ’ (川普).* According to the World Journal, the biggest Chinese-language newspaper in the US, it is the only proper way to translate this name, yet most Chinese state media and Chinese-language UK media (such as BBC) all use ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’
* (The Chinese version of The New York Times 纽约时报中文版 is an exception, as ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 is generally also used in this publication.)
Author Ke Long explains that Chinese translations of foreign names try to stay as close as possible to the pronunciation of a name in its original language. This is why the name of the city ‘Paris’ is pronounced ‘Bālí’ (巴黎) in Mandarin Chinese, staying close to the French pronunciation, and ‘Amsterdam’ being ‘Āmǔsītèdān’ (阿姆斯特丹), which follows the city’s Dutch pronunciation.
If the British would pronounce ‘Trump’ as ‘te-lan-pu,’ then it would thus perhaps be more understandable why media such as the BBC would write Tèlǎngpǔ. But they don’t pronounce it like that, Ke Long argues, saying that the use of ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ thus does not make sense, and is actually closer to the Japanese way of writing Trump’s name (‘トランプ’: to-ra-n-pu).
More so, the author writes, it does not make sense for Chinese media to take over the British transliteration of the Trump name. Considering Trump is American, Chinese media should follow the translations made by American media. He also notes that if it would be about the Prime Minister of Britain, the Chinese transliteration should follow the one used by the media in the UK.
Although the Nikkei author seems to advocate for a singular use of ‘Chuānpǔ’ by all media, no Chinese media are necessarily ‘wrong’ in their transliteration of the name Trump. The ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 translation follows the example of outlets such as the BBC, while Chuānpǔ 川普 follows that of other media.
Some Chinese bloggers argue that Chuānpǔ 川普 is the best way to write Trump’s name, because the first character, that actually means ‘river,’ is commonly used in Chinese, making the name sound more ‘natural’ and easy to pronounce than ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’ Moreover, they argue that the Mandarin ‘chuan’ sound is more appropriate to convey the pronunciation of ‘tr’ than the ‘te-lang’ way.
In the end, the reason why Trump has two names most commonly used in Chinese is just a matter of media, with various mainstream outlets adopting different names since Trump first made headlines, and without there being any clear consensus on which Chinese name to use across all these different Chinese-language media platforms around the world.
Chuángpù and Chuángpò?
On Chinese social media, President Trump even has more than two names. There are also netizens referring to him as 床鋪, 闯破 or 床破 (Chuángpù/Chuángpò); these are all transliterations that contain strange or negative characters, making the name unrefined and harsh-sounding on purpose to make the name ‘Trump’ look and sound bad.
Although there have been online discussions on the right transliteration for the name Trump, it is unlikely that there will be one official Chinese name for the US President in the near future. Xinhua News, China’s official state-run press agency, has consistently been using Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 for years, and will probably continue to use it.
Many netizens simply use both versions of his name in one post to avoid confusion, and some news reports have even started using both names in its headlines (image below).
Despite the somewhat confusing situation at hand, there are also those who do not seem to mind at all. “Who cares if it is Tèlǎngpǔ or Chuānpǔ anyway?” one netizen says: “In this day and age, we all know who it is we are talking about.”
This article first appeared in 2017 and has been republished with various corrections:
– The first version did not properly convey the argument made by author Ke Long in his Nikkei piece, which is more clearly laid out in this version.
– This version has added some extra information coming from sources after 2017.
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