Course:ASIA319/2022/基 (jī)

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A magnified image Chinese character of 基.

The character 基 (jī) acts as a building block character that relies heavily on other characters to express meaning. By itself, ji typically means a foundation to something, whether it be an abstract concept or a physical construction[1]. Often official published dictionaries do not include its informal definitions, but when used as slang, it also denotes homoeroticism between men built on good friendship, similar to the English slang word “bromeo” that came from a combination of 'bro', which is short for 'brother', and 'Romeo', a character from Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet who is a symbol of romance. In this context, ji by itself means ‘gay’[2].

Just like how the English word for 'gay' can be used with a negative and positive connotation, the same can be said for ji. However, this becomes more complicated when ji as in 'gay' is combined with other characters to form new meanings, as some are more often used as insults than others.

Genesis and Etymology

The earliest written form of ji can be found on oracle bones from the Shang dynasty[3]. Ji is composed of the characters 其, which provides the character’s sound, and the radical 土, which gives 基 its meaning[4]. The elementary meaning of the character is "foot of a wall" or simply the "foundation", much like its word phrase 基本 (jiben) and 基础 (jichu). The lower part of the character, 土, is used to describe ground and dirt, which is perfectly demonstrated by its position in the character 基 and the character's literal meaning[5].

Many suspect the first use of ji as ‘bromeo’ or ‘homosexual’ dates back to Hong Kong movies in the 1980s, due to the similarity in pronunciation between the character 基 in Cantonese and the English word ‘gay’[6].

Glossary of its explicit dictionary meanings

Ji can be used in many different contexts and disciplines. Most often used when combined with other characters, here are some words that utilize ji's basic meaning to construct new expressions or words --

In general:

基本 (jiben) and 基础 (jichu):

As adjectives, they describe certain concepts as basic for more information or elements to be built upon the aforementioned concept. Something that is jichu is fundamental[7].

基地 (jidi):

Transliterated as base land, this word describes base of operations for a group or formal organization. Jidi can also be the abbreviation of 基地组织 (jidi zuzhi), or al-Qaeda[4], in which 基地 stands for the word ‘Qaeda’[8]. This is consistent with ‘qaeda’ in Arabic, meaning “The Base”[9].

In finances:

基金 (jijin):

This term refers to any fund or funding in general.

In chemistry:

基 (ji):

Here, ji can either mean ‘radical’, an atom that has at least one unpaired valence electron; or ‘group’, meaning a column of elements in the periodic table sharing many similar characteristics[1].

In slang, or queer coding:

基 (ji):

Ji itself mirrors both in meaning and connotation to the English word ‘gay’, which can be used with both positive and negative connotations[2], without considering ‘gay’ as in happiness. It refers most often to homoerotic relationships between two males rather than females. Ji can potentially be offensive when used by heterosexuals[10].

搞基 (gaoji):

This form conveys gayness as an action, as in literally ‘to do gay’ or engage in male homoerotic erotic activities[11]. It can also be an all-encompassing term to refer to a person’s overall activities and lives of gay men[10].

基佬 (jilao):

Jilao Refers to a gay person, usually male. Lao itself refers to a man, but because the character is most used in colloquial Cantonese its meaning is closer to ‘guy’ or ‘fellow’[12]. Lao can also be slightly derogatory often when combined with other adjectives[13], such as 鬼佬 (gui lao), or Westerner transliterated as 'ghost person'. Along the same vein, jilao has the potential to be derogatory, but this is not always the case[14].

基婆 (jipo):

As an exception to other slang terms with ji, jipo specifically refers to a female gay person, or a ‘lesbian’. Mostly used in Cantonese, it is almost used as a derogatory term[15].

基友 (jiyou):

Literally meaning ‘gay friend’[16], usage of jiyou in its queer context depends greatly on the community utilizing it, such as in Chinese BL (Boy’s Love) fandoms[17]. This term can mean a gay friend[3], a gay partner or a very close same-sex friend that blurs the line between a platonic and romantic relationship[18]. Despite its queer connotations, recent usage of jiyou can also apply to platonic friends and even strangers especially when gaming[19], and it is observed that Chinese speakers’ opinion of this words’ proper usage differ, with the a significant minority believing jiyou can only be applied to gay males[6]. Jiyou’s meaning points towards gayness between two men. It first originated from the pronunciation of the English word “Gay” in Yue Chinese. Because ji in Yue initially referred to gay men only, the same became true for Chinese.

基情 (jiqin):

The Chinese equivalent of ‘bromance’ or gay love[7] – similar to one definition of jiyou, jiqin denotes a very close relationship between two men that seems to move beyond platonic friendship and features more intimacy and emotional connection. In more formal context, jiqin can also mean ‘base situation’[20].

An elaboration of its variegated meanings, actual usages, and value-loaded implications

The character "基" by itself, is used mostly to describe male homoeroticism in contemporary times. Largely popularized by internet communities such as Chinese video platforms Bilibili and Baidu Tieba, the character's new given meaning, which was derived from Cantonese movies' mentioning of homosexuality, is now well known throughout mainland China as a casual way of referring to gay males [21].

In recent years, the word "基佬", is also often used as a way to describe single males in China who may not necessarily be attracted to the same sex. This may further muddy the waters for queer coding, allowing its homoerotic aspect to be further obscured.

Counterparts of ji (基) and its terms within China:

It is also possible for the character to be a derivative of, 鸡 (ji) meaning 'chicken' but also the male phallus in slang, which also represents homosexuality in Linyu (淋语) [22], a specific way of queer coding. In Linyu, 鸡 (ji) is a kuso, or a cuss word specific to East Asian culture. The term kuso as in 'to cuss' itself came from Japanese, then to Taiwan. Now, Kuso is a general umbrella term for internet culture including all types of camp humour and parody[23]. Another similar term to jiyou would be 同志 (tongzhi), first most widely used as 'comrade' during the Mao's Great Leap Forward campaign, but later also carrying queer connotations as well. Tongzhi can also be used by people today of the LGBTQ community to identify each other as an 'ally'. Unlike ji, tongzhi has many positive connotations attached, including equality and respect, but it has also been used in a parodic sense by reporters to mock the LGBTQ movement[24].

English counterparts of the variegated meaning of ji:

'Sus': a relatively new phrase introduced by Tiktok and Twitter, derived from the word 'suspicious' from the online video game "Among Us" launched in 2018, now used on the internet for describing behaviours that can make a person's presumed heterosexuality to appear "suspiciously" viewed by others[25].

'Homie': a slang term for 'friend' or 'pal' most widely used in the African-American and Hispanic-American community, sometimes referring to a fellow gang[26].

Cultural Context

Chinese society has been patriarchal, framing males as being superior and given more rights such as being the family heir [27]. As gay couples are seen as unable to reproduce and adopting children meant including a person not related by blood into the family, many families did not wish for their children to be gay. For many years Mainland China had a one child policy for families to control its population, which made most desire having a son over a daughter. However, in the 1980s the advances in technology gave women more opportunities to participate in the workforce.

An example of a promotional poster for WeTV's original TV show featuring a 'bromance', "We Best Love: No. 1 For You".

TV dramas started to portray different types of masculinities. Previously traditionally strong and powerful men were popular tropes, but there have been more gentle and soft male characters as of late. As the media is representative of its culture and social relationships, these dramas display what is deemed as the ideal male. Chinese TV stations still follow social norms despite more diverse forms of masculinity being shown as there is a balance of attracting audiences and avoiding controversies [28]. The overall views on masculinity have not greatly shifted as a result. Traditionally masculine characters have remained the standard, and recently even with the CCP's new announcements 'waging war' on effeminate men[29], the media is still putting its efforts in preserving the tough and rational type of patriarchal masculinity. Though more forms of masculinity are shown, they are rarely shown in dramas which are the most popular genre. This displays how the Chinese TV industry works to protect traditional masculinity still. The trend of pretty boys in the entertainment industry in the East have been compared to the trends of the Ming and Qing dynasties which prioritized wisdom over strength [27]. Since 1979 the state had less control over its society and culture, while westernization took place [30].This caused the tolerance of same-sex love to be increased, and more inclusive forms of masculinity as well.


基友 (jiyou), or 'bromeo', has become a method of capitalization within popular media of the queer identity while maintaining the strict ideals of the PRC’s censorship guidelines. The origins of this method come from the influence that Japan’s boy’s love genre has had on Taiwan, and later mainland China[31]. Boys love, or in Chinese, 耽美, or danmei, depicts romantic relationships between two conventionally beautiful men. Due to the numerous stories that involve both romance and explicit content between men, the task of adapting these stories for a Chinese audience has been incredibly difficult[31]. A solution for this problem has been the incorporation of bromances instead of romantic relationships.

'Bromance' has become a popular trope in current television dramas, allowing for production companies to capitalize off of queer stories without having to engage with the consequences of running the true contents of the stories. Examples of such bromance tropes can be seen in the dramas S.C.I, Guardian, and The Untamed[32] [33]. All three of these series have been adapted from explicit danmei web novels but have been altered for the screen by switching the romantic relationship between the leads to one of close friendship.

Even though stories are altered to avoid explicit romantic situations, the capitalization of the queer identity is still present. Aware of the pre-existing danmei fanbases for these types of dramas, production teams begin their adaptations with the goal of successfully commodifying the queer identity for their Chinese audience. As production teams are unable to air a show that is true to its original story due to fear of cancellation, the bromance trope is the strongest tool to keep these dramas on air. Bromance can be seen throughout drama series through several different application methods.

1. Romantic Leads Turned Close Friends

Altering the relationships of the characters within these stories is a crucial first step in the bromance trope. No longer constrained by the difficulties of portraying a homoerotic relationship,[31] production teams can begin their productions of their respective stories. Additionally, the alteration of these relationships come from a place of necessity in order to avoid the consequences that come along with the potential defiance of censorship guidelines. Although this is necessary for television dramas to remain in production, the trope denotes a stigma of those in the queer community. Easily modifying important romantic relationships to ones of friendship can give the impression that queer relationships can be considered as nothing more than an intense friendship.

2. Introduction of Homo-erotic Scenes

In this application of bromance, characters that are within the confines of a bromance dynamic are consistently placed in situations that have romantic subtext. These scenes are occasionally the de-sexualized versions of explicit scenes found in the original danmei novel[32]. Through these scenes, dramas aim to appease those that have knowledge of its danmei origins, as they encourage fans to thoroughly fantasize what a romantic relationship between the two characters would be like. These scenes, as well, are commonly accompanied by romantic soundtracks to further play into the concept of a present romantic subtext. This can be seen in the 2019 drama The Untamed where the drama has adapted a love song written by one main character to another as a melody that is consistently played whenever the two characters share intimate moments together. While the context of this song may go unnoticed by the common viewer, this is once again an appeal to the original novel’s audience and a method to capitalize on their homoerotic fanatsies.

3. Actors Engagement

Continuing on from the previous method, actors who are cast in the roles of bromantic characters are found to engage the audiences’ queer fanatsies even when they are off screen. As seen with the actors Gao Hanyu and Ji Xiaobing from the drama S.C.I, the illusion of bromance begins to bleed into real life situations when necessary for commodification.[32] The more the actors tease the fans that their own in-person relationship may be more than they let on, the higher chance the fans will engage with their work at greater rates. The illusion of an authentic bromance is the most crucial selling point that the actors must solidify through their actions on and off screen.

Gender Roles

Masculinity is a socially created identity which dictates what is considered masculine such as being courageous, aggressive, having autonomy and being skillful. Hegemonic masculinity refers to how men’s dominance and control over women is legitimized. Homohysteria points to how heterosexual men fear being deemed homosexual by violating the strict requirements placed by heteromasculinity [30]. This is linked to one’s homophobia and femmephobia, and how culturally important it is to be perceived as being masculine.

The meaning of masculinity in the East is considered as being weak compared to the Western norm [27]. It has various association depending on time and culture, and shifts over periods. In the past, men were often portrayed as being physically active and prioritizing the wu (physical) masculinity. Now men are portrayed predominantly as being white collar workers and living peaceful lives. The wu masculinity was dominant during the Maoist era (1949-1976) and has been challenged by the globalized wen (mental and civil) form of masculinity in recent years.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "基". 有道. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Translation of "基" in English". Reverso Context. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "基". Wikitionary. Retrieved March 15. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "基". YellowBridge. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
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  9. "al-Qaeda: Islamic militant organization". Britannica. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
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UBC Asian Centre, Bell Shrine, Winter 2013.JPG
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