Ancient Beauties & Even Older Stereotypes

I’ve recently been directed to the blog “autonomous region”, new as of this past December. It’s a fairly Uyghur/Xinjiang centric site, with a fair number of posts on the music of the area. But that is only a portion of the content so far. The about page says it is “a personal weblog on music, images, travel, and translation of the Uyghur people in Central Asia. “

A couple posts in particular caught my attention, both regarding the use of 古丽 gǔlì as a catch-all name for Uyghur women.

The following is an explanation of the phrase from the post the “guli” stereotype:

“Gŭlì” (often pronounced “gūli”; lit., ancient beauty) is the Chinese transliteration of the Turkic name “gül” (with umlaut, pronounced like the German “ü”), meaning “flower” (the incumbent president of Turkey is Abdulla Gül). In Uyghur, “gül” usually appears as a suffix to female names, such as Méhrigül (“méhri” means kind, love), Aygül (moon-flower), Etirgül (rose; “etir” means scent or perfume), Arzigül (flower of hope). There’re certainly female names without the “gül” suffix (indeed, my feeling is that the majority don’t have it).

This brings up all sorts of examples in other languages, even the ubiquitous 老外 lǎowài, which, despite the adoption of the term by the expat community in China, is a word I utterly detest. There are of course those who defend its use based on 老 being a term of respect, blah blah blah. But then, “ancient beauty” isn’t really an inherently insulting phrase either. It’s more about how it’s used than what it means.

We see the same thing with terms like “guido” (from from Italian guidare, to lead, drive et cetera), another word not inherently negative in meaning.

At any rate, be sure to check out the follow-up post, “you may call any uyghur girl guli”.

Hat tip to Danwei and, well, Syz, who is more on the ball with the latest blogs than I seem to be.

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