Around February, we start to hear a lot about Chinese New Year. In New Zealand, it’s often used as a general name for Lunar New Year celebrations, which are celebrated across a variety of different Asian and international cultures. We may associate these festivities with the People’s Republic of China, but plenty of communities and people of Chinese descent with no strong connections to the mainland celebrate with their own traditions.
How we talk about Chinese people, as opposed to the country of China, matters all the time, not just in February. Why? It impacts on New Zealanders’ discussions about influence attempts arising from the People’s Republic of China, reactions in the New Zealand-Chinese community and initiatives led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
To help with your reporting, we've put together a quick reference guide of dos and don'ts when talking about China, the CCP, or Chinese.
People’s Republic of China (PRC) (aka China):
What it means: The People’s Republic of China refers to the country as a geographic and political entity.
Sometimes it’s also appropriate to shorten this to China when it’s being used to refer to the historical civilisation and political system in the region of the modern nation-state.
For starters: New Zealand has a free trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
Even better: The headlines are full of Chinese drivers and Chinese licences, but they are really referring to ‘drivers from China’ and ‘licences from the PRC.’
What it means: The term ‘Chinese’ refers to people and culture originating in or relating to Chinese civilization and heritage, but not necessarily directly from the geographic entity of China. Using Chinese implies relation to China, rather than direct belonging.
For starters: Chinese food in Auckland is delicious.
Even better: There is no such thing as one ‘Chinese language’ — instead we talk about the Chinese language family that includes Mandarin and Cantonese, among others.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP):
What it means: May also refer to Communist Party of China (CPC), or in shorthand the Party, as distinct from the government or the country. The Party is the founding political party of the People’s Republic of China. While eight other political parties are legal in China, the CCP has a monopoly as the only governing party. CPC is used officially in China and by China’s media, whereas English-language media outside of Chinese conventionally use CCP.
For starters: The Chinese Communist Party will convene the National Party Congress.
Even better: Global media have focused on CCP and PRC government influence, but references to ‘Chinese’ influence are inaccurate and overly broad.
New Zealand Chinese or Chinese New Zealander:
What it means: New Zealanders of Chinese heritage or ancestry. Their families may come from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But many also have ties to places with people of Chinese descent and diaspora such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
For starters: A member of the New Zealand Chinese community, her grandmother was born in Indonesia.
Even better: Different individuals and organisations may prefer New Zealand Chinese or Chinese New Zealander, and it’s always good to ask!
- Qiaowu: Extra-Territorial Policies for the Overseas Chinese, by James Jiann Hua To
- Home is not Here, by Wang Gungwu
- China Matters: Getting it Right for Australia, by Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson
- The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor
– Asia Media Centre