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.