The use of the phrase "ten thousand years" in various East Asian languages originated in ancient China as an expression used to wish long life to the Emperor, and is typically translated as "long live" in English. 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 appeared in many East Asian languages.
The phrase wansui ( ; literally "ten thousand years") was once used casually. 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, 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 ji qi n su ( , 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, empresses consort and empresses dowager were addressed with "thousand years" ( ) 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 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" ( ). The Emperor was addressed by the title "Lord of Ten Thousand Years" ().
Hwy 209]] in Shennongjia, with the inscription " " (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 "W hu ng w nsu , w nsu , w nw nsu " ( ; literally "[May] my Emperor [live and reign for] ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years"). An important distinction made in Chinese but not in English is the use of su ( ) to mean year, rather than the equally common ni n ( ), 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 b iw n (), which is literally "hundred ten-thousands". Because of this, Chinese people often use w n 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 w nsu , 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 Dynasty, at the entrances of mosques in China, a tablet was placed upon which the characters for "Huangdi, wansui, wansui, wanwansui" ( ) 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.
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!" ("Chiang ... China ... live ten thousand years ... live ten thousand ten thousand years").
The two slogans that contain the term "w nsu " ("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
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 "Zh nghu R nm n G ngh gu w nsu " ( ; ) and "Sh ji r nm n d tu nji w nsu " ( ; ).
During the Cultural Revolution, the saying "M o Zh x W nsu " ( ; ) 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 "Y d l w nsu " (; 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 " " (pinyin: H ar n W ns i; literally "Long Live Chinese People").
The Chinese term was introduced to Japan as banzei (Kana: ) 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 "Jiy banzai" (Kanji: ; Kana: , or, roughly, "Long Live Freedom!") in 1883.
During World War II, banzai served as a battle cry of sorts for Japanese soldiers. It was believed that, ideally, kamikaze pilots would shout "banzai!" as they rammed their planes into enemy ships, and although Japanese comic books have portrayed this romantisized scene, it is of course unknown if any actually did. 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.
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.
In Hawaii, the term has taken on new meaning amongst the Japanese American community. It is used as a toast at celebratory events, particularly weddings. In this context, the Banzai is given twice - the first, "Shinro shimpu, banzai!" means "long life and happiness to the bride and groom." The second banzai is: "Raihin shokun, banzai!" meaning "Long life and happiness to all the guests!" After each toast, participants shout the word "banzai" three times in unison, raising their glasses each time, and drinking after the third.
The same term is pronounced manse ( ) in Korean. In Silla of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, 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 the Joseon dynasty, Korea used cheonse (Hanja: ; Hangul: , literally "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 also used as a casual proclamation, commonly used as the English equivalent of "Victory."
A banner at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum proclaiming "Ten thousand years to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam!"
In Vietnamese, "v n tu " is the phrase cognate to the Chinese w n su and is the proper Vietnamese reading of the h n t " ". However, this word is rarely used in the modern language, appearing instead only in China-related contexts (such as in "v n tu , v n tu , v n v n tu " -- compare to Chinese usage, above). In other situations, "mu n n m" is used instead, and is frequently heard in communist slogans, such as "H Ch Minh mu n n m!" (Long life to Ho Chi Minh) and " ng c ng s n mu n n m!" (Long live the Communist party).
Because "mu n n m" is from an older nativized Chinese borrowing, ch N m characters were created to write it and were used before the Latin-based qu c ng script became standard. "Mu n" is a sound-meaning compound consisting of a gate for the sound part (its pronunciation, "m n", approximates "mu n") and the character for "ten thousand" (v n) for the semantic part. The character for "n m", also a sound-meaning compound, uses "south" (pronounced "nam") for the phonetic portion of the character and "year" (ni n) for the meaning. 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: .
de:Zehntausend Jahre es:Diez mil a os fr:Banzai (exclamation) ko: it:Diecimila anni hu:T zezer v ms:Sepuluh ribu tahun ja: pl:Banzai pt:Dez mil anos ru: sr: ! uk: zh: