Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Chinese – Dòngluàn

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Chinese, Turmoil

動亂 (动乱)


Relates to turmoil, disorder, upheaval, unrest

The term combines the two characters, 動 (dòng) and 亂 (luàn).

動 (动) – dòng – move, in motion, a status which is not static[1]

亂 (乱) luàn – unrest, disorder[2]

The use of ‘dòngluàn (動亂)’ in Chinese can be traced back to the classical tome, Records of Three Kingdoms, written in the third century. It states, “it is not the people of the whole camp who want to create turmoil (dòngluàn). There must be insurrectionists involved who want to make turmoil (dòngluàn).”[3]

Chinese-speaking people often use the term when they refer to various kinds of violent incidents, riots, or clashes. However, the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and Chinese official media reserve the label dòngluàn for instances of political or social turmoil. For the Chinese authorities, dòngluàn suggests “the CCP’s leadership and socialism are being fundamentally denied.”[4] The Chinese authorities do not easily label incidents as dòngluàn because of this strong political connotation. The use of dòngluàn can justify specific policies and actions taken to deal with the challenge. But to refer to an event as dòngluàn might also create a negative perception among the general public and in the international community regarding the CCP’s governance. So far, two historical events have been clearly labelled as dòngluàn: the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the Tiananmen Square Protest on June 4, 1989.

Use of dòngluàn is a conversation-stopper. It refers to extreme disorder, extreme turmoil and when used by government, it carries the imperative that members of the community must immediately rally to government initiatives to restore order. There is an interesting comparative dimensions in the way Chinese speakers refer to situations in other countries. For instance it is common to refer to India as ‘luànqībāzāo (七八糟)’ (‘all over the place’). This concept of undesirable chaos is sometimes used to refer to other contexts such as Taiwan; when Chen Shui-Bian stood trial for embezzlement, some people described Taiwan as a ‘luàn’ country. From a Chinese perspective, presenting other countries such as Taiwan in chaotic terms serves Chinese government interest and asserts the prevailing order that Chinese citizen enjoy on the mainland.

In 1981, the CCP reevaluated the Cultural Revolution, five years after the revolution came to an end. In a resolution passed at a meeting of the CCP’s Central Committee, the CCP formally stated that the Cultural Revolution did not conform to Marxism and Leninism, but also was not appropriate to the real situation in China. Therefore, the CCP officially regarded the Cultural Revolution as ‘a nèiluàn (civil disturbance, internal disorders) that brought serious disasters to the party, the country, and all peoples.’[5] In the latter part of the resolution, the CCP clearly referred the Cultural Revolution to a dòngluàn when the CCP praised the contribution of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s maintenance of stability in the country. It is said that, “when the country is in dòngluàn, the People’s Liberation Army still bravely defended the security of the motherland.”[6] Afterwards, a term, ‘shínián dòngluàn (ten-years of turmoil)’, was used extensively in China to refer to the Cultural Revolution. In fact, shínián dòngluàn and the Cultural Revolution have become synonyms.

In the case of the students’ pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, dòngluàn was used by the Chinese government to describe the movement at the time. In an editorial on 26 April 1989, for the government mouthpiece The People’s Daily, the CCP criticised the students’ activities for being “a planned conspiracy and turmoil (dòngluàn).”[7] In response, Chinese students staged a sit-in protest and demanded that all the accusations in the editorial be withdrawn, including the allegation that students’ behavior led China to ‘dòngluàn’.[8] Their call was in vain and on June 2, 1989, the Chinese senior leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, held a meeting and decided to “clear up the square.” During the meeting, Li Peng pointed out that, ‘the sacred and sublime Tiananmen Square has been ruined by these counter-revolutionists and has become the front line command post of dòngluàn.’[9] The Chinese authorities believed that because the students’ pro-democratic movement threatened the CCP governance, and consequently the order and stability of the state, it was therefore dòngluàn. Such a mindset provided the Chinese leaders a sufficient reason to forcefully suppress the protest.

The ethnic clashes between the Han Chinese and Uighurs in Urumqi, Xinjiang in July 5, 2009 resulted from the long-term discordance between the Han Chinese and Uighurs. The riots in Tibet on March 14, 2008, which originally was a series of events and activities to memorise the 1959 Tibetan Uprising Day and the Tibetans’ long-term discontent, were seen to challenge the Chinese government’s legitimacy. Nevertheless, the two incidents were identified by the Chinese government as shìjiàn (incidents), irrespective of the fact that many non-mainland native Chinese-language speakers referred to these violent occurrences as dòngluàn. In contrast, the Chinese government has not hesitated in accusing Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Uyghur leader Rabiya Kadeer for instigating dòngluàn and splitting Tibet and Xinjiang from China. The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama for organising the 14 March 2008 incident in Lhasa and being “the main source of turmoil (dòngluàn) in the Tibetan society.”[10] Rabiya Kadeer was accused by China for setting up a “big trap” in the form of  the 5 July 2009 incident, soliciting all peoples to hold a confrontation, hate each other and fall into a ‘social dòngluàn’, in which reprisals would never end.[11] When using blunt accusations to criticize some minority groups’ leaders, China often reiterates to people that, “unity and stability bring fortune; splitting and turmoil (dòngluàn) bring disaster.”




[1] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 326. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, Fourth Print, December 1995, Vol 2, p. 799.

[2] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 895. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, Fourth Print, October 1994, Vol 1, p. 797.

[3] “Record of Three Kingdoms”

[4] “Must Have a Clear-Cut Stand to Oppose Turmoil,” an editorial of the People’s Daily, April 26, 1989, [accessed July 12, 2009].

[5] “Resolutions on Some of the CCP’s Historical Issues Since the Founding of the PRC,” a resolution passed in the 6th meeting of the CCP’s 11th Central Committee, June 27, 1981, [accessed July 13, 2009].

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Must Have a Clear-Cut Stand to Oppose Turmoil,” op. cit.

[8] Wang Dan, “The Backdrop of the Occurrence of the Democratic Movement in 1989,” the Liberty Times, June 3, 2009, [accessed June 3, 2009].

[9] Zhang Liang, “June Fourth: The True Story,” Mirror Books, 2001, p. 885.

[10] “China Tibet News Commentator: The Dalai Lama, the Main Source of Turmoils in the Tibetan Society,” News of the Communist Party of China, April 24, 2008, [accessed July 16, 2009].

[11] “The People’s Daily: the July 5 Incident Is a Big Trap Dug by Rabiya Kadeer,” the China Review News, [July 15, 2009].


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