'Sexist' entries in MOE's online Chinese dictionary revised after criticism

12/02/2022 06:59 PM
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The Revised Mandarin Chinese Dictionary website.
The Revised Mandarin Chinese Dictionary website.

Taipei, Dec. 2 (CNA) The Ministry of Education (MOE) said it had revised 301 entries in an online Chinese dictionary it maintains this week following criticism that they contained outdated or sexist language.

Lawmakers, including the New Power Party's Claire Wang (王婉諭), have repeatedly called on the MOE to revise two online dictionaries -- the Revised Mandarin Chinese Dictionary (for adults) and the Concise Mandarin Chinese Dictionary (for children) -- to address the use of sexually discriminatory language.

The MOE's National Academy for Educational Research (NAER), which maintains the lexicons, has gradually introduced changes to both.

In the concise dictionary, for instance, it previously revised the entry for a traditional term for maternal grandparents -- literally "outside grandparents," based on the old notion that a wife marries "into" a family -- to note that they are now typically just called "grandparents."

On Wednesday, the academy announced a broader selection of 301 words in the revised dictionary with amended definitions following a gender equality-based review.

Among the changes was the entry for the word "hymen," which now uses more "medical" and "neutral" language to define it as: "a circular soft tissue (rather than "thin membrane") on a female's (rather than "woman's") external vaginal opening."

Meanwhile, the idiom shuǐ xìng yáng huā (水性楊花), which means "fickle" but with a connotation of sexual promiscuity, kept an explanation stating that it is "mainly used in reference to women" but tagged it as a "pejorative term."

Yè chā pó (夜叉婆), originally defined as a "fierce woman or wife," was revised to say that it was "formerly used to describe a fierce woman, or to jokingly refer to one's wife."

In many cases, the changes involved expanding definitions that had previously only referred to people of one gender.

For example, the entry for sè (色), or lust, was revised to not specifically refer to "a man's" strong sexual desire, while the definition of fēng mǎn (豐滿), meaning voluptuous, dropped the word "woman" from "a description of a woman's curvy physique."

Similarly, the entry for yù (慾), or desire, supplemented one of the original definitions -- "the desire for sexual intimacy between people of opposite sexes" -- by adding "or the same sex."

Meanwhile, the definition of "comfort women" was adjusted to refer to women who were forced "or tricked" into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in occupied territories before or during World War II.

This change was made as "a supplementary explanation based on historical fact," according to the NAER.

Lin Ching-lung (林慶隆), director of the academy's Research Center for Translation, Compilation and Language Education, told CNA that the revisions, expected to be the latest in a line of many, were the product of more than 30 meetings with gender equality experts, and lexicographers.

Lin noted, however, that the changes were made to the Revised Mandarin Chinese Dictionary, which is primarily a historical dictionary and thus needs to preserve how words were used in the past.

As a result, many of the changes made this time were in the form of notes or addendums, he said.

In the case of the Concise Mandarin Chinese Dictionary, which is intended for use by junior high and elementary school students, the academy often makes a decision whether to retain or remove words that are no longer in common use, he added.

(By Chen Chih-chung and Matthew Mazzetta)

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