Debate Over New Gender Neutral ‘They/Them’ Chinese Character

By Rakini Bergundy, July 27, 2021

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At the end of June, Zipeng Zhu, an art director based in New York, announced that he had created “The first non-binary they/them pronoun in Mandarin” via Instagram. 

He further explained in the caption, “This is a combination of the character 无 (none) 他 (he) and 她 (she). Hopefully one day this could be added to our dictionary.”

zzdesign.jpg
Screengrab via @zzdesign/Instagram

Zhu was born and raised in China and originally wanted to be a manga artist. After years of practicing, he developed his Photoshop skills and started carving an interest in poster design while studying biochemistry in college. 

He eventually switched paths and now has his own studio called Razzle, serving clients like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Netflix, The New Yorker, Refinery29 and Chobani.  

Many were quick to praise Zhu, but of course, there were detractors. One commenter pointed out that the original Chinese pronoun 他 was “always gender-neutral and therefore inclusive.” They then suggested that the public needs to stop using the female pronoun 她 in written form, “which was only introduced 100 years ago.”

We asked Claire Jiang, a Guangdong-based Chinese teacher at AOE ChinEase, for her thoughts on the post. Jiang remarked that while the character is “creative and interesting,” it is also “necessary, [as] each [new character] represents a new ideology that can enrich humanity.” 

In 2015, a new pronoun ‘X也’ was introduced as a gender-fluid pronoun. Another commonly used pronoun by gender-fluid, gender-queer, or nonbinary people is the pinyin romanization ‘TA.’ 

The folks at Radii sum up the history and current pronouns that queer Chinese people use in this article.


[Cover image via That’s, @zzdesign/Instagram]

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