Aborigines: tuzhu vs. yuanzhumin

In May, a delegation of Aborigines from Taiwan attended the Fifth U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. (Of course, since the United Nations shuns Taiwan, the delegates were able to attend only by registering with a U.S. NGO.) The delegates raised objections to the U.N.’s Mandarin translation of “original inhabitants”/”indigenous peoples” as tuzhu.

The UN’s translation calls Aborigines tu chu [tǔzhù] (土著), which has negative and barbaric implications, the representatives said. They requested the UN instead use yuan chu min [yuánzhùmín] (原住民), which is the term used in this country. Although both terms are translated into English as “original inhabitants,” tu chu [tǔzhù] was too derogatory, they said.

(I’ve added correct Pinyin above in red between square brackets.)

This is not the first time groups have voiced this complaint to the United Nations. (See the sources below.)

Here are some comparative frequencies of use:

total within .tw domains within .cn domains
1,130,000 59,500 283,000
2,520,000 1,210,00 112,000
(both tuzhu and yuanzhumin)
49,300 12,000 6,140

Although tuzhu gets used much less of the time in Taiwan than yuanzhumin, it still shows up in significant numbers. So, what’s so bad about tuzhu? Do Taiwan’s aborigines use that word to refer to other people, just not themselves? If so, why? Which word is older? Why the difference between usage in Taiwan and China, and when did it arise?

I don’t have answers here, just questions.


2 thoughts on “Aborigines: tuzhu vs. yuanzhumin

  1. ??? literally means “people of the dirt/soil”. ? also is often used as derogatory adjective in Chinese, meaning “uneducated” or “unsophisticated.” I also think ??? should be used instead of ???.

  2. ??? is the Japanese version of the same English word “Aborigines”. In my opinion, the reason why ??? is more use often than ?? on Taiwan is that Japan used to rule Taiwan for half a century and its influence is still felt on the island, e.g. Li Denghui has a Japanese name and view himself as a Japanese man (it’s rumored that his biological father is a Japanese, right?). ?? should be the older version of the English word than ??? and is being replaced by ??? even in the Chinese mainland.

    My posts on this topic (in Chinese):

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