Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.

An Examination of Cho Chang

This blog by Freddy Lowe, a second year student in English Literature at Edinburgh, was originally pitched to The Student Newspaper, who branded it ‘unpublishable’.  They especially objected to the last line calling for respectful listening to both sides.  What do you think?

It is no secret that, among certain members of my generation, J.K. Rowling’s reputation is not exactly stellar.  This is due to some of her public statements on transgender civil liberties.  This article is not about that topic, serious as it is.

Instead, I am focusing on a more recent online phenomenon of J.K. Rowling’s critics not only criticising her views but also mapping their dislike onto her literature.  In the corners of Internet blog articles, a trend of Harry Potter bashing has emerged, based on the assumption that any work by Rowling will be problematic somehow.  One ‘problematic’ claim has gained a considerable amount of traction.  It is the allegation that the portrayal of Cho Chang is culturally insensitive.

The furore focuses on her name.  J.K. Rowling’s critics argue that ‘Cho Chang’ is too stereotypical and reminiscent of the ‘ching chong’ stereotype, and to render it doubly outrageous, “Cho” isn’t even a Chinese name!  (They are correct; it is a Korean name.) They have thus concluded that this portrayal is offensive.

I study Mandarin here in Edinburgh, so I know a modest amount about Chinese culture.  Here is why I am not in line with this belief.

Firstly, even though Cho is a Korean name, one could argue that this doesn’t matter.  Plenty of English people have French names.  Plenty of people have names that don’t align with their birth culture.  One may ask why this is problematic.

However, that is subjective.  Far more importantly, the logic underpinning this criticism is flawed.  J.K. Rowling’s critics complain that the double ‘ch’-alliteration of ‘Cho Chang’ is stereotypical and damaging.  This is not true.

‘Ch’-alliteration is a widely used, widely accepted pronunciation in Mandarin with a long linguistic tradition.  The Chinese language has a background of rich cultural heritage and contains plenty of ‘ch’-alliteration.  There is nothing wrong with this.  In a recent class, we learned the phrase 礼轻情意重 (“the thought behind a gift counts more”).  When said aloud, this contains plenty of double ch-alliteration combined with “-ing” and “-ong” suffixes.

We must reject the stereotype that this pronunciation is a bad thing.  Plenty of Chinese phrases use ‘ch’ (and many of them with ‘-ing/-ong’ suffixes!), and there is nothing wrong with that.  If a reader hears the name ‘Cho Chang’ and deems the pronunciation problematic, it may say more about that reader’s anti-Chinese prejudices than J.K. Rowling’s.

However, even if that fails to convince you, let us now consider the name’s origins.  J.K. Rowling’s critics rightly point out that ‘Cho’ is not a Chinese name.  If we were to run a census of women in China called ‘Cho’, I agree it would likely be low.  However, that is irrelevant.

The Chinese naming system consists of two to three syllables: the first syllable is your surname, and the next two (or, in some cases, just one) make up your first name. Therefore, “Cho Chang” is not the character’s Chinese name.  In her birth name, ‘Chang’ (an authentic Chinese surname) would go first.

Upon arrival in Britain, many Chinese people will temporarily adapt their names to the British system.  Specifically (and I know this from my Chinese friends at Edinburgh), some Chinese school students will change their first names to something more pronounceable for English-speaking individuals.  One of my best Chinese friends here is called Mark!  He refuses to tell me his Chinese name because he’s chosen to be called Mark.

In other words, their first names lose resemblance to their Chinese origins.  If there were any cultural non-conformity in the name of a Chinese Hogwarts student, the first name – “Cho” – is exactly where we would find it!  Indeed, many Chinese first names could plausibly be romanised as ‘Cho’, including 秋 (‘qiu’), which means autumn.  I raise this word to your attention because, in the Chinese translation of Harry Potter, her name is 張秋 (zhang qiu).

Therefore, Cho Chang is an entirely plausible romanisation of an acceptable – and beautiful – Chinese name.

I will finish with a note on J.K. Rowling generally.  If a reader disagrees with her personal beliefs, I understand the impulse to view her literature more critically.  Many of my favourite people at this university are critical of her Twitter statements, so my interest in this issue is deeply personal.  The division caused by these topics is incredibly sad to witness.  I stand in solidarity with anyone who exercises their freedom of speech and extends that right to others without abuse.  My only statement is this: if one disagrees with her views, one can make a case against her views!  There is no need to drag her literature into the discussion, especially with a topic already as significant as trans rights.  Discussing her views should be enough in itself.

Let us respectfully listen to J.K. Rowling, respectfully listen to her critics, and leave Cho Chang alone.

10 replies to “An Examination of Cho Chang”

  1. Sam Marks says:

    ^This is me when I have no life

    1. Matthew Brown says:

      ^ This is me when I have nothing useful to contribute to a conversation.

      1. Sam Marks says:

        ^This is not me.

  2. Matthew Brown says:

    A really interesting article on the shallowness of the faux compassion deployed to gain leverage in a political conversation while attacking a target; and on how we should separate the artist from the art if we take issue with their public statements after the fact of their artistic creation.

    Scratching my head as to why this was ‘unpublishable’ in The Student Newspaper… They wouldn’t be leaning into any political biases they have when curating their journalistic output? Would they?

    1. Freddy Lowe says:

      Thank you very much Matthew! That’s a good question as to why it was ‘unpublishable’. The then-Editor-in-Chief of the paper, who doesn’t study Chinese, sent me a private message full of hostile objections, including the accusation that the article was “prejudiced”. To this day, I don’t understand why she was so against it. One of the biggest criticisms was the last line: publishing a call to listen to Rowling was not possible. And I cannot agree with that: listening to all sides is the only way to find truth on any sensitive issue! I wasn’t even asking readers to agree with her.

      The ethos of The Student Newspaper is catering to the views that the readers will expect to find, which meant that if you wrote something more heterodox, they deemed it contrary to their interests to publish it. Whether that’s editing or censorship depends on your view.

      Their reaction was unpleasant and distressing, but you live and learn.

  3. Sarah says:

    The plea at the end ignores that criticism of her literature existed long before her transphobia was made public and that criticism of her literature is valid.

    ‘No need to drag her literature into it’ is a strange comment when her literature tells us so much about her and her stories are so problematic. And have been called out long before now.

    1. Carruthers says:

      Firstly, whether she’s tranpshobic is a matter of opinion so please refrain from stating it as undisputed fact. The Harry Potter game was the biggest selling of last year despite widespread and hysterical protests so clearly most of the public doesn’t care or outright disagrees with you.

      Secondly, the criticism of her literature, or rather, pathetically disguised attacks, have increased exponentially since her tweets. The goblins are meant to be Jews now? Give me a break.

  4. Jun says:

    I’m a Chinese-Canadian and I don’t find Cho Chang’s name offensive, nor do I have any stake in JK Rowling’s personal politics. That said, the author’s arguments here are quite a reach and fail some basic principles of logic. But hey, students are in school to learn and it’s not something a critical thinking course, and additional discourse can’t fix – so let’s get down to it.

    First, the fact that Cho Chang’s name in the Chinese translation is 張秋 doesn’t validate anything. She had already been named Cho Chang in the English source material, and whatever causality transpired in JK Rowling’s mind for that to occur had already happened. That the translators did their job and picked the closest match after the fact doesn’t say anything about the accuracy of the source material. Her name could have been Tojo Hirohito Chang and their job would have still been to pick the closest Chinese match.

    Secondly, your friend Mark, and the fact that Mark and many other Asians adopt English first names is a non-sequitur. We’re talking about Cho Chang here, not Emily Chang. Unless you expect us to believe that JK Rowling and Cho, were *very* early onto the K-pop superfan bandwagon, Cho is her given name, not a name she chose for herself. Clearly, JK Rowling tried to give her a Chinese (or Korean) name, but crossed her wires and ended up doing both (or neither). As an aside, it might enlighten you to know that (at least amongst my generation) the reason many of us changed our names was often because we didn’t feel comfortable using our Chinese names due to mockery, mispronunciation, or feeling like an outsider. I stopped using my Chinese name when I was 5 because I was tired of kids pronouncing it like “June” and telling me it was a “girl’s name”. However this is neither here nor there.

    Now to the meat of your argument. Sure, it’s not impossible that an obscure outdated romanization exists where Qiu is romanized as Cho – but these cases only ever occur with families who migrated so many generations ago that their *family name* was originally registered with the now obsolete romanization of the time and subsequently passed down. It’s exceedingly rare as those people are far outnumbered by more recent 1st and 2nd generation immigrants. Furthermore, it doesn’t make much sense for Cho Chang to have the modern romanization Chang as her *family name*, yet have an outdated romanization for her given name. This might be stating the obvious but when a Chinese kid is named, it’s *in Chinese*, not in romanization. Cho would have been named 張秋 first, then this would have been romanized homogenously either when her family immigrated, or on her UK birth certificate if she was born there. I mean, it’s “technically” possible that her parents are just hipsters and decided to use an obscure romanization for half her name on a whim, but how likely is that? More relevantly, how likely was that JK Rowling’s intention and how likely was she even aware of such obscure an romanization? Given that you had to go down the rabbit hole to even make this reach of an argument, I’d wager everything on pre-modern internet Rowling not having this information. It’s far more likely she just heard the name Cho and heard the name Chang (both rather common surnames in their respective cultures), and that’s all there was to it. And as I said in the beginning, it’s not really that offensive.

    I mean, it’s a fair criticism that it was lazy and she could have consulted someone on it, but offensive? Sure, as a kid reading the books, I scoffed the first time I read Cho Chang’s name in the same way I’d scoff if I saw someone with a tattoo that said sweet and sour pork in Chinese, but a white woman embarrassing themselves with a bit of non-malicious ignorance doesn’t embarrass us. It’s not like her character was disparaging towards Chinese or Koreans. If anything, it’s kind of more embarrassing that you felt the need to make this much of a reach when the simplest, and most likely explanation is just that it was the 90s and she didn’t know any better. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance that makes those who disagree with her personal beliefs more inclined to be critical of her work, as you made the fair point of, is the same cognitive dissonance that motivated you to defend her on such shaky grounds? If she’s a hero of yours I get it, but don’t let that blind you to the obvious fact that she just made a simple mistake during a different time.

  5. Alohilani C. says:

    We live in Hawaii, a cultural mixed bag; including Chinese and Korean cultures. Our family (Hawaiian, Irish, Native American, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Korean mixed heritage) always assumed Cho had one Korean parent and one Chinese parent…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Interesting arguments, but you’re grasping at straws. I think the simple fact of the matter is that J.K. Rowling tried to find a “stereotypical” East Asian-sounding name to show more diversity in Hogwarts — and to better represent the various identities in modern-day England — and, without doing much research, landed on Cho Chang. Just by reading it, you’d already have a visual representation of what she could look like. It’s like how she named a girl “Parvati Patil” to distinctly show that she is South Asian; though, that isn’t deemed “offensive” because that name could exist in real life. In my opinion, the Cho Chang name is simply a product of its time and isn’t indicative of anything explicitly “racist” or otherwise. It’s that in our current culture, there’s more of an emphasis on researching a lot into what you’re writing if you’re not of that particular background to guarantee an accurate portrayal of said background (not pertaining to the fantasy elements since it’s a work of fiction after all, so that kind of accuracy isn’t needed – to an extent). Anyone can still enjoy Harry Potter despite this small hiccup. Back in the day, the Patil twins were my first time seeing myself represented in mainstream media. I’m sure some East Asian girls feel the same about Cho too.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.