“Hello comrades! You’ve worked hard, comrades!”
When Chinese president Xi Jinping repeated this to soldiers during a Chinese military parade in Hong Kong on June 30, a Facebook livestream of the event erupted with a flood of rage (😡) and rainbow flag (🏳️🌈) emoji. The former makes sense given the tension leading up to the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover on July 1, but the latter is a cheeky response to Xi’s comments—specifically the term “comrade”—which happen to coincide with Pride month. (Facebook had just started rolling out the rainbow flag emoji this month for the occasion.)
The term comrade, or tongzhi, became a common form of address within the party during the Communist Revolution but fell into disuse after China’s market economy opened up in 1979. The Chinese gay community, however, began appropriating “comrade” as a common greeting in the 1980s, likely taken from the Chinese name of the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival—its name in Chinese is the Comrade Film Festival—leading the term to spread to the gay communities in Taiwan and mainland China.
That hasn’t stopped the Chinese Communist Party from trying to revive the term though, even issuing guidelines for its use in November. That month, after a party central committee meeting, Xi Jinping told his fellow members: “Don’t call me president. Don’t call me party secretary. Call me comrade.”
Read Quartz’s complete series on the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover.