08.29.131:52 PM ET

Respected Chinese Women Get Called ‘Mr.’

It’s a good thing. Kind of.

Liu Yu, a Tsinghua University political-science professor and respected author, is often referred to as Liu Yu Xiansheng, or the equivalent of Mr. Liu Yu—although Mr. Liu Yu recently gave birth to a daughter. In China, the phrase “xiansheng” is usually reserved for men—or well-respected women, who have been “really elevated to the status of a man,” said Mei Zhang, who works in Hong Kong in finance. “As a woman, you have to be really outstanding to be called it, whereas if you are a man, it can be anybody.” Liu herself called it “funny and quite sad” that she had earned the phrase in her 30s, because the phrase was usually used for older women or teachers. With the birth of social media—especially Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service—more and more younger women are earning the designation.