Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Chinese – Kǒngbùzhǔyì

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Chinese, Terrorism; terrorist

恐怖主義 (恐怖主义)


Relates to terrorism

This term is composed of four Chinese characters:

恐 (恐) kǒngfear, to dread, to be afraid of

怖 (怖) – bù fear, to be afraid of, to frighten

恐怖- kǒngbù – terror, frightening, feel terrified and be afraid of something; to intimidate or to threaten; be scared because life is threatened

(主) – zhǔ – a view, a stand

義 (义) – – meaning; a principle that is justice

主義 – zhǔyì – ism, a systematic theory or view, or a claim about a matter; thinking, a style or an attitude; a specific social, political or economic system.

There is no standard definition of ‘kǒngbù zhǔyì’ (terrorism) in China.  On the website of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, kǒngbù zhǔyì refers to ‘someone using violence against, or using violence to threaten, unarmed personnel in a systematic manner. It is conduct designed to make a specific target afraid with the purpose of meeting a specific political end.’[1] In the ‘Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism’ that China signed with five other Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in June 2001, kǒngbù zhǔyì is defined as ‘any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict or to cause major damage to any material facility, as well as to organize, plan, aid and abet such act, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, violate public security or to compel public authorities or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, and prosecuted in accordance with the national laws of the parties.’[2] In general, terrorism contains the elements of violence, organised, political ends and the psychological impact of feeling terror.

However it is important to note that a link is made between terrorism, separatism and extremism. In the Chinese context, the real implication of kǒngbù zhǔyì goes beyond the wording in most English-language definitions. The fact that terrorism and extremism are so closely linked in Chinese discussions has obvious implications for the way religious extremism is handled in the country. Additionally, China’s signing of the ‘Shanghai Convention against Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism’ with five other member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on 15 June 2001 is evidence of China’s attempt to bundle the threat posed by the kǒngbù zhǔyì with that of extremism and separatism. China brackets kǒngbù zhǔyì with extremism and separatism and labels them as ‘the Three Forces.’ China describes ‘the Three Forces’ as ‘appearing in the face of religious extremism; using the cover of ‘national independence’ to create public opinion to confuse and poison people’s minds and on the other hand carrying out violent terror activities and sabotages the social stability.’[3]

The United States’ large-scale global war on terrorism following the September 11 attack in 2001 further facilitates Chinese use of the term kǒngbù zhǔyì. It is now commonly used to shape the general public’s negative views about specific security problems. The establishment of China’s counter terrorism strategy and the application of kǒngbù zhǔyì is closely related to views about handling separatism and extremism, especially the East Turkistan separatist movement, which claims Xinjiang is a sovereign territory separate from China. At a press conference held during the 2001 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Shanghai, spokesman of the Chinese delegation Zhu Bangzao said, ‘Indeed, there is a group of national separatists which would like to use violent and terror behaviours to split Xinjiang from China and establish the so-called ‘East Turkistan.’ We call them ‘the East Turkistan terrorists’.[4] In 2003 the Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced that four organisations and eleven individuals involved in promoting East Turkistan independence movements were officially listed as terrorist organisations and terrorists.[5] Nowadays, whenever ‘East Turkistan movements’ are mentioned, either in Chinese official statements, news reports, or the ordinary people’s minds, the East Turkistan movements are always described as ‘kǒngbù’. Gradually, kǒngbù is now used as the pronoun of the East Turkistan separatist movements.

On the one hand, in following the U.S. example of combating kǒngbù zhǔyì, China did not hesitate to pledge publicly that ‘China is opposed to all forms of kǒngbù zhǔyì.’ On the other hand, the U.S.’ lenient policy on East Turkistan separatist advocates and movements has encouraged China to reiterate opposition to the U.S. for ‘having double standards’ in countering terrorism. Nevertheless, China also defines kǒngbù zhǔyì as ‘part of very few extreme evil forces and cannot be linked with specific ethnic groups or religions.’[6] Ultimately, the U.S.-led war on terrorism provides China with a new opportunity to renew its fight against the long-standing problem of separatism and extremism.




[1] “Responses to Specific Disasters: the Tenth Disaster: Terrorism,” the website of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, [accessed September 23, 2009]

[2] “Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism,” June 2001, the website of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,

[3] “What Are the Three Forces”?, July 13, 2009, [accessed October 8, 2009]

[4] “Zhu Bangzao: Opposing the ‘East Turkistan’ Is Part of the International Counterterrorism,”, October 19, 2001, [accessed October 8, 2009]

[5] “The Specific Criteria that China Implements to Identify Terrorist Organisations and Terrorists,”, December 15, 2003, [accessed September 23, 2009]

[6] Ibid


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