By Oiwan Lam

As the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in the US evolved into a global anti-racism movement, communities around the world were inspired to translate the protest slogan into their own languages.

The task, however, isn’t always straightforward. On Chinese social media, there has been a lot of debate around what would be the most appropriate translation of “Black Lives Matter” in Chinese. This confusion contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to the spread of racist discourse amongst Chinese-speaking communities.

Black Lives Matter
File Photo: Wikicommons.

The most popular translation of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter or #BLM in Chinese is #黑命貴, which means “black lives are expensive” or “black lives are valuable.”

But describing someone’s life as “expensive” in Chinese usually implies that the person in question is from a privileged social class, as a few netizens have pointed out:

While some have proposed alternatives such as #黑人的命也是命 (“black lives are lives”), #黑人同命 (“black lives are the same”), and #黑命攸關 / #黑人生命攸關 (“‘black lives’ is an important issue to address”), these are rarely used.

Instead, the misleading translation seems to have caught on. @SlowZhu, a user who follows and supports the Hong Kong protests, noticed that it even appeared on a Netflix talk show, and urged the program to change it:

The “黑命贵” translation has been widely used by Chinese diaspora communities, in particular anti-CCP media outlets such as Epoch, and by post-1989 Chinese political dissents.

When the Chinese tag #黑命貴 appears on Twitter, the content usually includes negative views of the BLM movement.

For example, one video that appeared on the top results of a search for #黑命貴 depicted a violent scene of a dark-skinned man beating up a Chinese woman in Guangzhou. The video was tagged with #BLM and in Chinese #黑命貴 (“black lives are expensive”), #黃命賤 (“yellow lives are cheap”), and #廣州 (“Guangzhou”).

Photo: via Flickr.

Many tweets using this tag, such as this one by @Sumerian0 from August 7 and this other one by @lamfromorient from August 5, have resonated with supporters of the right-wing conspiracy theory that the BLM protests are organized by Antifa, which US President Donald Trump has threatened to designate as a “terrorist organization.”

The flood of #黑命貴 (#black lives are expensive) discourse on Chinese social media has given Chinese-speaking communities around the world an impression that Chinese-Americans don’t support the BLM protests.

However, there are many young Chinese-Americans who have been proactively addressing the anti-black racism within their communities, sharing strategies to talk about the issue with their family members, and participating in protests in the US and around the world:

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