China mounts Everest rename bid

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  • Published 20.11.02

China has launched a campaign to stop Westerners referring to the world’s tallest peak as Mount Everest and instead start using its official Chinese name, Mt Qomolangma, by next year.

The campaign, launched in newspapers brought to an end the five-year hiatus in anti-British propaganda after the handover of Hong Kong. The China Daily newspaper accused British “colonialists” of “ignorance and arrogance” in persisting with references to Mt Everest.

“British colonialists raped the sacred mountain of the Tibetans by giving it a false name,” said the report. “Until today the world is still persistently humiliating Mt Qomolangma with English-language hegemonism.”

The mountain became Mt Everest in 1865 in honour of Sir George Everest, surveyor-general of India, when he mapped the peak in 1852. But China says the peak was first mapped in 1717 by Qing dynasty officials and uses the claim to support its occupation of Tibet.

The name-change campaign is riddled with incongruities. Its targeted completion date is designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the day that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally scaled the 29,028-ft peak in 1953, an occasion that remains a high-point of post-war colonial pride.

Ethnic Tibetan scholars at Beijing universities have protested against the use of Everest in the name of a nation that has been subjugated by a colonial Chinese regime for nearly half-a-century.

“It is time for the Western world to respect us Tibetans by recognising the highest peak on Earth by its Tibetan name, Qomolangma,” said a spokesman for the China Tibetology Centre. But most Tibetans not associated with Chinese officials render their name for the mountain as Chomolungma, meaning Mother of the World.

Complicating the matter further, the mountain is known by Nepalese, who also share its territory, as Sagarmatha.

Beijing’s obsession with controlling the English-language spelling of Chinese characters goes back to the first days of the People’s Republic.

Determined to abolish the “colonialist” Wade-Giles system of rendering Chinese characters, Chairman Mao Zedong’s commissars came up with their own Pinyin system. It has been pointed out that Roma is not the English name for Rome, but China has pressed new names like Beijing and Guangzhou (Canton) on the world.