'Chinaman' is bad, what about 'China woman'? (revised)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by comeandgo, Aug 28, 2014.

  1. comeandgo New Member

    [Note: I posted a similar thread on this topic yesterday. However, because of the way it was written, the thread was judged to be in violation of forum rules and was closed. After explaining the situation to moderators, I was given permission to post a new thread on this topic, with more contextual infornation. Thanks by the way to Keith for responding to the other thread.]

    In 2008, I read an article in Straits Times, a national newspaper of Singapore (which is a a peripheral English speaking country). The article was titled: "Drinking binge killed China woman". The story was about a woman from China who died in Singapore after drinking too much alcohol beverages. The article began with this sentence "A China woman had so much to drink at a pub that she died of acute alcohol intoxication, a coroner's court heard on Tuesday..." (emphasis mine). The story can still be viewed here: [I tried including a link, but was told new members are not allowed to].

    The death was unfortunate, but equally shocking to me was how they used the term "China woman" to refer to a female Chinese citizen. To my non-native eyes/ears, this phrasing seems to be patterned after the familiar pejorative "Chinaman" (or at least reminds one of it). If that is the case, then the phrase "China woman" would acquire the racist connotations attached to "Chinaman". I wrote to the editor of this newspaper to seek clarification on the usage of this phrase, but never received a reply. And I just forgot about it.

    Recently, I was having a discussion with someone about political correctness and racism in Singapore, and I was reminded of this phrase, and I decided to seek opinions from experts here. It is not at all clear to me whether the journalist of that article intended any offense when using the term "China woman" to refer to a woman from China. My guess is that, in the Singapore context, "Chinese woman" (which to an international audience would refer to a woman from China) would be understood as "a Chinese Singaporean woman". The writer perhaps felt a need to differentiate these two groups by adopting a different phrasing. It must also be noted that Singapore is not noted for its political correctness. Country of origin is not considered a protected category here. Therefore, there is no law against discrimination on the basis of national origin (unlike some other places such as the US).

    Regardless of whether any offense was intended, there is still the question of using the right words in a national and international newspaper. There is a reason for example, why journalists in the core English speaking world (perhaps especially the USA) no longer use the word 'niggardly' unless to discuss the usage of this word - even though the word itself does not carry pejorative connotations. The perceived negative connotations for this word come purely from similarity in form to the controversial racial slur.

    Given the above, I was wondering if native speakers of English might help me with this question on "China woman":

    Even though you probably have not heard this term, if you encounter "China woman" such as in the example given above, would the usage itself conjure up (some) negative connotations for you, by virtue of its apparent link to the familiar "Chinaman", despite the fact that the writer/speaker may not have intended any offense by using the term?

    Thank you!
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2014
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    It's not the outdated English word Chinawoman. It's two words and is the normal way to describe people from a city; for a country it sounds rather strange: :thumbsdown: China woman = a woman from China, like Singapore man = a man from Singapore, Beijing woman = a woman from Beijing, but :thumbsdown: Japan man = a man from Japan. It's allowable in headlines, which need short ways of referring to people, but it is not very natural for any country in the running text of the article. 'A Beijing woman' and 'a China woman' have the same grammar, but we just don't really say it with country names (Singapore is an exception for the obvious reason).
  3. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Given the context, and the space between "China" and "woman," I would not be upset in any way. I cannot think of a better way to describe a woman from China, especially in a place where there are many people of Chinese descent who are not from China.
  4. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    The "country" comment made me think of "Hong Kong woman" – although Hong Kong is now a city, I suppose – so for fun I looked up the List of sovereign states on Wikipedia and read through them to see which names I might use with "woman." Here is a partial list:

    New Zealand woman ... etc. I'll spare everyone the complete list.

    I think other people's lists will be different, but I could read any of those in a headline and not think it unusual.

    It was an interesting exercise. Thank you. :)
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Well yes, there are countries where the noun is more acceptable in that position because the adjective is less familiar. I was pondering that just an hour or two ago, at work, wondering whether to let pass 'its Indonesia office' (or 'its Indonesia assets' or something). The more familiar the adjective, the less right the noun sounds in that sort of position (?its Germany office, ??its Japan assets), but further down the list a Zimbabwe office is fine.
  6. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Yes, I noticed it's mostly about familiarity and how readily any alternative term comes to mind (said the Vanuatu man).
  7. comeandgo New Member

    Thanks everyone for the replies. The gist seems to be that 'China woman' is barely acceptable in a headline, and decidedly worse in the actual text of the article (whether any offense was intended). Indeed, even in headline contexts, I myself have never encountered such usage in international publications.
  8. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    China woman immediately tells us the woman is from China; Chinese woman simply tells us her race – she could be from anywhere, including Singapore.
  9. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    I think "China woman" is just as acceptable as "New York woman" and this is not a problematic usage. However, this general type of usage (whether it involves New York or China) is more usual in a headline than in the text of an article, because it's kind of an abbreviated expression, more suitable for a headline. In fact, I think "China man" in a headline would be okay too.

    As an addendum, I would pronounce "China woman" differently from "Chinawoman" just as I would pronounce "English man" differently from "Englishman" and "China man" differently from "Chinaman." I would put the accent on the first word when it is a two word phrase and on the last syllable if it was all one word.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014

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