Ten thousand years

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In various East Asian languages, the phrase "ten thousand years" is used to wish long life, and is typically translated as "long live" in English. The phrase originated in ancient China as an expression used to wish long life to the emperor of China. Due to the political and cultural influence of China in the area, and in particular of the Chinese language, cognates with similar meanings and usage patterns have appeared in many East Asian languages.

In some countries, this phrase is mundanely used when expressing feeling of triumph, typically shouted by crowds. In such situation, "hurrah" may be the adequate translation.



The phrase wansui (萬歲; literally "ten thousand years") was once used casually to wish a person long life. During the Tang dynasty, it came to be used exclusively to address the emperor as a prayer for his long life and reign. Then, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, its use was temporarily extended to include certain higher-ranking members of the imperial court,[1] but this tradition was relatively short-lived: in later imperial history, using it to address someone other than the emperor was considered an act of sedition and was consequently highly dangerous. During certain reigns of weak emperors, powerful Eunuchs such as Liu Jin and Wei Zhongxian circumvented this restriction by styling themselves with jiǔ qiān suì (九千歲, literally "9000 years") so as to display their high positions, which were close to or even exceeded the emperor's, while still remaining reverent to the title of the emperor.

Traditionally, empress consorts and empresses dowager were addressed with "thousand years" (千歲) rather than "ten thousand years", which was reserved for the emperor. However, Empress Dowager Cixi, the de facto supreme ruler of China from 1861 to 1908, was addressed with "ten thousand years". Several photographs of her[2] show a banner on her litter reading "The Incumbent Holy Mother, the Empress Dowager of the Great Qing, [will live and reign for] ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years" (大清國當今聖母皇太后萬歲萬歲萬萬歲). The Emperor was addressed by the title "Lord of Ten Thousand Years" ({{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}).[3][4]


A late-1960s era bridge on Hwy 209 in Shennongjia, with the inscription "伟大的领袖毛主席万岁" (Long live the great leader Chairman Mao!)

Classically, the phrase wansui is repeated multiple times following a person's name or title. For example, in ancient China, the Emperor would be thus addressed with "Wú huáng wànsuì, wànsuì, wànwànsuì" (吾皇萬歲,萬歲,萬萬歲; literally "[May] my Emperor [live and reign for] ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years"). The foregoing phrase often appears in televised films, but is not historically accurate; in the Ming dynasty, the only occasion during which「萬歲」is used is the great court, held thrice a year. Approaching the end of the ceremony, the attending officials will be asked to shout (山呼) 「萬歲」three times. An important distinction made in Chinese but not in English is the use of suì (歲) to mean year, rather than the equally common nián (年), which is also translated as year. The former is used as a counter for years of life, whereas the latter is used for periods of time and calendar years. Thus the phrase "ten thousand years" in its original sense refers to ten thousand years of life, and not a period of ten thousand years.

The significance of "ten thousand" in this context is only that "ten thousand" in Chinese and many other East Asian languages represent the largest discrete unit in the counting system, in a manner analogous to "thousand" in English. Thus 100,000 in Chinese is expressed as 10 ten-thousands; similarly, whereas a million is "a thousand thousands", the analog in Chinese is bǎiwàn ({{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}), which is literally "hundred ten-thousands". Because of this, Chinese people often use wàn in a manner analogous to "thousand" – whereas an English speaker might exclaim "there are thousands of ants on the ground", the Chinese speaker would substitute it with "ten thousand" in the description. So in the context of wànsuì, a literally incorrect but culturally appropriate translation might be, "may you live for thousands of years". The number simply denotes innumerability, in a manner etymologically similar to the Greek myriad (although the current usage of that word differs).

During the Qing, at the entrances of mosques in China, a tablet was placed upon which the characters for "Huangdi, wansui, wansui, wanwansui" (皇帝萬歲,萬歲,萬萬歲) were enscribed, which means, "The Emperor, may he live forever". Westerners traveling in China noted the presence of these tablets at mosques in Yunnan and Ningbo.[5][6]

In August 1945, after Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek announced the defeat of Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War, the people exclaimed "Chiang ... Chung kuo ... wan sui ... wan wan sui!" (蔣...中國...萬歲...萬萬歲!), which means, "Chiang ... China ... live ten thousand years ... live ten thousand ten thousand years".[7]

Modern use

Images:Commuting to Work.jpg
The two slogans that contain the term "wànsuì" ("Long live the People's Republic of China!", and "Long live the solidarity of the peoples of the world!") on the Tiananmen gatehouse in Beijing, China.

One of the most conspicuous uses of the phrase is at the Tiananmen gate in Beijing, where large placards are affixed to the gatehouse reading "Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó wànsuì" (中华人民共和国万岁; {{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}) and "Shìjiè rénmín dàtuánjié wànsuì" (世界人民大团结万岁; {{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}).

During the Cultural Revolution, the saying "Máo Zhǔxí Wànsuì" (毛主席万岁; {{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}) was also common. After Mao's death, the phrase has never been used for any individual. Apart from these special cases, the phrase is almost never used in political slogans today. In casual conversation, however, the phrase is used simply as an exclamation of joy. For example, CCTV commentator Huang Jianxiang shouted "Yìdàlì wànsuì" ({{#invoke:Zh|Zh}}; translated as "Forza Italia!" by some media) during a game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Taiwan-based singer Leehom Wang's 2007 album Change Me contains a song called "華人萬歲" (pinyin: Húarén Wànsùi; literally "Long Live Chinese People").


A group of Japanese soldiers during World War II shouting "banzai!" near Beijing.

The Chinese term was introduced to Japan as banzei (Kana: ばんぜい Kanji: 万歳) in the 8th century, and was used to express respect for the Emperor in much the same manner as its Chinese cognate.

Banzei was later revived as banzai after the Meiji Restoration. Banzai as a formal ritual was established in the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889 when university students shouted banzai in front of the Emperor's carriage.

Around the same time, banzai also came to be used in contexts unrelated to the Emperor. The supporters of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, for example, began to shout "Jiyū banzai" (Kanji: 自由万歳; Kana: じゆうばんざい, or, roughly, "Long Live Freedom!") in 1883.

During World War II, banzai or its full form Tennōheika Banzai! (天皇陛下万歳?, "Long live His Majesty the Emperor"){{#invoke:Category handler|main}} served as a battle cry of sorts for Japanese soldiers.[8] Ideally, kamikaze pilots would shout "banzai!" as they rammed their planes into enemy ships; although Japanese popular culture has portrayed this romanticized scene, it is unknown if any pilot actually did so. Its confirmed use by ground troops, however, was heard in numerous battles during the Pacific Campaign, when Japanese infantry units attacked Allied positions. As a result, the term "banzai charge" (or alternatively "banzai attack") gained common currency among English-speaking soldiers and remains the most widely understood context of the term in the West to this day.

Modern use

Traditionally, "banzai" (roughly translated as "hurrah") was an expression of enthuasiasm, and crowds shouting the word three times, arms stretched out above their heads, could be considered the traditional Japanese form of applause.[9] More formally, the word is shouted three times during the dissolution of the House of Representatives and also as an acclamation at the enthronement of the Japanese Emperor.


The same term is pronounced manse (Template:Hangul) in Korean. In Silla, it was used as a casual exclamation. It was a part of the era name of Taebong, one of the Later Three Kingdoms declared by the king Gung Ye in 911. During Joseon, Koreans used cheonse (Hangul: {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}, "one thousand years") in deference to the Chinese emperor.

In the 20th century, various protests against Japanese occupation used the term in their names, including a pro-independence newspaper established in 1906, the March 1st Movement of 1919, and the June 10th Movement of 1926.

In North Korea, manse was used to wish long life for Kim Jong-il, and for the political principles of his father, Kim Il-sung. It is now used to wish Kim Jong-un with a long life.

It is also used as a casual proclamation, commonly used as the English equivalent of "Victory."


Images:Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.jpg
A banner at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum proclaiming "Ten thousand years to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam!"
Images:The Ba Dinh meeting-hall.jpg
The banner above the National Assembly building in Hanoi, Vietnam reads "Long live the glorious Communist Party of Vietnam!"

In Vietnamese, "vạn tuế" is the phrase cognate to the Chinese wàn suì and is the Sino-Vietnamese reading of Template:Cjkv. However, this word is rarely used in the modern language, appearing instead only in China-related contexts (such as in "vạn tuế, vạn tuế, vạn vạn tuế"—compare to Chinese usage, above). In other situations, "muôn năm" is used instead, and is frequently heard in communist slogans, such as "Hồ Chí Minh muôn năm!" (Long life to Ho Chi Minh) and "Đảng cộng sản muôn năm!" (Long live the Communist party). Just like the Japanese banzai, it is said 3 times.

Because muôn is from an archaic Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of wikt:萬, chữ nôm were created to write it and năm before the Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet became standard. "Muôn" is a sound-meaning compound consisting of a gate for the sound part (its pronunciation, "môn", approximates "muôn") and the character for "ten thousand" (vạn) for the semantic part. The character for "năm", also a sound-meaning compound, uses "south" (pronounced "nam") for the phonetic portion of the character and "year" (niên) for the meaning: 𠄼. These characters, while archaic, are nonetheless part of Unicode and are mapped to U+28DC8 and U+221A5, respectively, and with the right fonts installed may actually display: 𨷈𢆥.


In Portuguese the word "banzé" (how it would have looked and sounded to the Portuguese in Japan in the 16th century), directly taken from the Japanese "banzai," is still used as meaning a lot of noise made by a gathering of people.

See also


  1. Ouyang, Xiu. Davies, Richard L. [2004] (2004). Historical Records of the Five Dynasties. Columbia university press. ISBN 0-231-12826-6
  2. 瑞丽女性网-生活-揭密慈禧太后奢侈生活
  3. Current literature, Volume 51. Current Literature Pub. Co.. 1911. p. 624. http://books.google.com/books?id=cJLPAAAAMAAJ&q=lord+of+ten+thousand+years#v=snippet&q=lord%20ten%20thousand%20years%20wan%20sui%20yeh&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
  4. Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Frank Crane (1911). Current opinion, Volume 51. The Current Literature Publishing Co.. p. 624. http://books.google.com/books?id=wzYiAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA624#v=onepage&q=lord%20ten%20thousand%20years%20wan%20sui%20yeh&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
  5. The Chinese repository, Volumes 11-15. Printed for the proprietors.. 1842. p. 33. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=xX8jAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA2-PA33&dq=happening+to+see+in+the+mosque,+threshold+as+you+enter+a+tablet+temple+inscription+the+emperor+may+he+live+for+ever+the+emperor+the+everliving#v=onepage&q=happening%20to%20see%20in%20the%20mosque%20threshold%20as%20you%20enter%20a%20tablet%20temple%20inscription%20the%20emperor%20may%20he%20live%20for%20ever%20the%20emperor%20the%20everliving&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  6. Michael Dillon (1999). China's Muslim Hui community: migration, settlement and sects. Richmond: Curzon Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-7007-1026-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=hUEswLE4SWUC&dq=ma+anliang&q=wooden+tablet#v=onepage&q=mosques%20tablets%20wishing%20the%20emperor%20long%20life%20prominent%20position%20entrance%20mosque&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  7. "CHINA: Wan Wan Sui!". TIME. Aug 27, 1945. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,792352,00.html. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
  8. p.3, The Cambridge history of Japan, by John Whitney Hall, 1988 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-22352-0
  9. [1] What does Banzai mean?
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