HOMOSEXUALITY IN CHINA: DISCRIMINATION, TOLERANCE AND "CURING" CLINICS

HOMOSEXUALS IN CHINA

rightIt is estimated that gay men and women constitute between 1 and 5 percent of the Chinese population, which means there could be as many 60 million homosexuals in China. According to estimates by Zhang Beichuan, an expert on homosexuality and AIDS at Qingdao University, there are 30 million homosexuals in China, with 20 million of them gay men and the remainder lesbians. [Source: China Daily]

Until 2001, homosexuality was classified in China as a mental illness. Today, although not illegal---it was decriminalized in 1997---it is also not encouraged by the authorities. (In 2010, the inaugural Mr. Gay China pageant was shut by police an hour before it was due to start.) Despite this, large cities like Beijing have gay nightclubs and active gay public figures.

Colum Murphy of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “Though awareness and tolerance of homosexuality is slowly on the rise, in rural towns and villages the topic is rarely discussed. For many Chinese parents today, discovering that their son or daughter is homosexual is seen as a blow that could affect the family’s standing in the community. It’s also seen as reducing the chances the parents will have grandchildren, given that many families only have one child due to restrictive government family-planning policies. [Source: Colum Murphy, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015]

According to a 2010 report from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the matter of homosexuality in China remains largely in the shadows; homosexuality has been decriminalized there since 1997 and is no longer officially considered a mental disorder, but neither are gay people protected by law. “The legal status and position of homosexuality in China bears the hallmarks of a subject which has been little considered within official Chinese governmental circles,” the organization notes But, when it comes to the media, there appears to be more consideration. [Source: Lily Rothman, Time, January 22, 2014]

Homosexuality in China Purple Dragon gay travel specialists Purple Dragon ; China Daily article chinadaily.com ; National Institute of Health paper /gateway.nlm.nih.gov ; Articles from the 1990s brooklyn.cuny.edu ; Some Sources on gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall ; Gay in Rural China sfgate.com ; Gay Scene in Shanghai shanghai-guy.com

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality, “There are those who, when faced with undeniable evidence of homosexuality, respond by seeking to eliminate it. Even many physicians still fail to recognize homosexuality as simply one possible sexual orientation. For example, in Harbin, one of the largest cities in northeastern China, physicians now use the discredited approach of “treating” homosexuality with electric shock therapy to discourage erotic thoughts. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

Article 106 of the Criminal Law of the People Republic of China says, “All hooliganism should be subjected to arrest and sentence.” In practice, homosexual activity has been included in “hooliganism.” In the 1990s, even the small sample of letters received b Fang-fu Ruan, M.D. contained a report of a man who received a five-year jail term for homosexuality. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo,Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

Sex in China USA Today piece usatoday.com ; China Sex Museum hu-berlin.de/sexology ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: Sexual Life of Ancient China , written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History by Professor Liu Dalin and Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture by Fang-ju Juan, The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : China Law blog chinalawblog.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Prostitution warning gochina.about.com

Links in this Website: SEX IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SEX AND HISTORY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PROSTITUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOMOSEXUALS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MARRIAGE, LOVE AND DATING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONCUBINES AND DIVORCE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

History of Homosexuality in China

Male homosexuality may have been a familiar feature of Chinese life in remote ancient times. The official Chinese historical records indicate that during the Spring-Autumn and Chin-Han Era (770 B.C. to A.D. 24), male same-sex behavior was not a crime or considered immoral behavior. On the contrary, it was sometimes the noble thing to do. For example, in Western Han (206 B.C. to A.D. 8), ten of the eleven emperors each had at least one homosexual lover or shared some same-sex behavior. During the Western and Eastern Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties (A.D. 256 to 581), male homosexuality seemed also acceptable in the broader upper-class society. In ancient times, Chinese culture was also characterized by a very tolerant attitude toward same-sex female behavior. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

China has a history of being tolerant to homosexuality. Confucianism doesn’t condemn homosexuality as some religions do. Homosexuality has been documented in China since ancient times. In the Song dynasty it was considered fashionable for both men and women. Several emperors reportedly kept male consorts. Homosexuality was common enough in the 19th century for a English emissary to remark that “many of the first officers of the state seemed to make no hesitation in publicly avowing it.” In the 20th century the renowned scholar Kang Youwei proposed same sex marriages. See Han Dynasty Emperor Ai.

Some have suggested that maybe Cao Xueqin, the 18th century novelist and author of Dream of the Red Chamber , arguably China's most famous book, might have been gay. The book details a number of sexual trysts involving members of both the opposite sex and the same sex. Most of the hundreds of characters in the novel are women, delicately sketched with details so sensitive that, in the opinion of some, only a man of homosexual orientation could fathom. In A Dream of Red Mansions, there is only one man who is seriously into women, and he is a clown and bully.

The hints of homosexuality in other famous works of literature. In Romance of Three Kingdoms, men would never give up their “brothers” but don't seem to care that much about their wives. In Outlaws of the Marsh, the heroes go one step further: they kill their adulterous wives, concubines or beaus and escape to this mountain retreat where everything looks like a martial arts version of a gay resort. [Source: China Daily, Raymond Zhou, July 12, 2008]

Queer China, “Comrade” China (2008), directed by Cui Zi’en, China’s most prolific queer filmmaker, presents a comprehensive historical account of the queer movement in modern China. Unlike any before, this film explores the historical milestones and ongoing advocacy efforts of the Chinese lesbian and gay community. A Shanghai Timeout Review of Cui Zi’en’s Zhi Tongzhi (“Queer China, Comrade China”) goes: Espousing a more traditional form, and dividing the film in seven chapters, Cui covers incredible ground in a relatively short amount of time (60 minutes). Fact-filled, yet fun-filled, Cui’s film pays homage to all the tongzhi warriors, male or female, prominent or unknown, who are bringing about what Li (Yinhe) describes as a major sexual revolution. [Source: dgeneratefilms.com, December 2011]

Lesbians in China

Lesbians in China today are even more closeted than gay males. (See also Xiaomingxiong - alias Samshasha, 1984, and Lau and Ng, 1989). When Ruan received letters from homosexuals all over China in 1985 and 1986, not one was from a woman. The only women who are willing to discuss their homosexuality are the few who have already been imprisoned for this behavior and have little to lose. An exception to the usual difficulty in locating lesbians is the experience of Chinese journalists He and Fang, who were actually more successful in contacting lesbians than gay males in their 1989 survey of homosexuality in China. They wrote six stories about lesbians compared to one about gay males. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

He and Fang had to rely on interviews with women who were jailed for “sex crimes,” or crimes of violence inspired by sexual jealousy. Because so many investigations of female homosexuality are based on interviews with prisoners, it has been all too easy for Chinese people to develop a stereotype of lesbians as immoral, frustrated people (Sheridan and Salaff 1984). =

In early 1992, a new and more humane homosexual policy emerged. This started with two young lesbians in Wuwei County, Anhui Province, whose parents opposed their homosexual relationship very much. The angry parents finally reported the affair to the local police department. After several months of investigation, the police department of Wuwei County arrested these two female lovers and restrained them fifteen days on charges of “misconduct.” =

The Wuwei County police department then referred the case to higher institutions until the Public Security Department of Central Government in Beijing heard the case. The Public Security Department replied and instructed the county police that since under current laws there is no article that specifies punishment for such behavior and relationship, it could not treated as “misconduct.” Therefore, the Wuwei Police Department released the two women and let them live together as “husband” and “wife.” Usually the older woman takes the role of “husband,” and wears male clothing, while the younger one takes the role of “wife” and prefers to stay in the home. It is a very good signal to show that at least some police officers, especially senior ones, have started to change their attitude toward homosexuality and other sexual variations. But, recently a reversal still occurred. In May 1993, the government closed down the first gay saloon, “Men’s World,” in Beijing, which appeared on November 22, 1992, and came out in public on February 14, 1993. =

Views About Homosexuality in China


Queer China
Homosexuality is still largely a taboo subject for discussion in China. Very few Chinese gays inform their parents and often bad things happen when and if they do. When one man revealed to his family that he was gay, his parents worried about who would take care of him in old age if he didn't father any children. If the parents do known they want their children to be discreet. Having an openly gay child is a real embarrassment.

A June 2013 Pew poll found that 57 percent of Chinese respondents say that “homosexuality should not be accepted by society.” In many fields, coming out would be the end of your career, she claims, and many officials believe that LGBT issues are not relevant to Chinese society.

According to one Hong Kong survey, 79 percent of the people asked said they believed that homosexuality was a condition that could be changed. Many homosexuals share this view. One gay man told the New York Times, "I think I'm missing a gland or something in my brain. I read in the newspaper that homosexuals are the same as everybody else except we are missing some gland."

Homosexuality was regarded as a mental disorder by the Chinese Psychiatric Association until fairly recently. Some gays who were taken to doctors by their parents have been given epilepsy medicine, which often has terrible side effects. In extreme cases gays have been sent to doctors for electric shock "treatments" that have left some impotent.

Gays in rural areas often discover their sexual identity and find partners without really realizing what they are doing and what it is called. "They just did it," reported outspoken gay writer Wu Chunsheng in his book Dark Souls Under the Red Sun.

A passage from the Chinese university textbook Survey of Britain and America (1994) reads: "Homosexuality is...widely spread. One reason for this may be despair in marriage or love affairs. Some people fail in marriage and become disappointed with it so they decide no longer to love the opposite sex, but instead begin to love a person of the same sex...Another reason may be that some people want to find and do something 'new' and 'curious.'...Through this we can see clearly the spiritual hollowness of these people and distortion of the social order.”

Transvestite shows are popular with Chinese tourist visiting Thailand’so much so in fact some Thai transvestites have been invited to perform in Chinese tourist spots.

Being LGBT in Asia: China Country Report

“Being LGBT in Asia: China Country Report” is a report published in August 2014 by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the cultural, legal and social environment regarding LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) in China. According to the press release for the report: “While important progress has been made in recent years, being LGBT in China remains difficult. The first national report on LGBT issues in China commends positive steps such as the abolishment of laws used to intimidate LGBT people and the fact that homosexuality has been taken off the list of mental diseases. The report also highlights a positive growth in LGBT civil society, changing societal attitudes and a growing interest from academic institutions on LGBT-related research and policy discussions. [Source: “Being LGBT in Asia: China Country Report,” August 13, 2014 >>>]

“However, widespread stigma and discrimination against LGBT people persist, with predominantly negative societal attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities. Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still common. Bullying and discrimination in schools is widespread, with 77 percent of LGBT students experiencing some form of discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws are needed to protect LGBT people. >>>

“Societal and family pressures to conform push many LGBT people to hide their sexual orientation and enter into a heterosexual marriage or into “cooperation marriages” (known as Xing Shi Hun Yin in Chinese, or “marriage under cover”) with each other. Finally, censorship laws still ban homosexual content in any form in movies and television preventing a broader conversation on sexual and gender minorities in China. Access to mental health services and support is weak while ‘correction treatment’ and committal to psychiatric hospitals, often by family members, is still too common. LGBT organizations, while growing, are still extremely weak and unable to provide the support services needed by their communities.” >>>

Homosexuals in China: Suffering in Silence

The mental pressure and anguish arising from the fear that their true identity might be discovered is often unbearable. The social pressure, pain, and inner conflict homosexuals suffer can be so intense that they come to consider or even attempt suicide. Of the fifty-six who responded to Hua’s article, fifteen, or more than 25 percent, mentioned suicide attempts. Of all the hopes and dreams expressed in these moving letters, three types of aspirations were outstanding. The first concerned the human rights issue - the belief that society should accept homosexuals and their right to express their sexuality without social or legal condemnation. The second concerned the issue of freedom to interact with other homosexuals - the wish that society would provide them with means to make contacts and form relationships, just as it does for heterosexuals. The third concerned the issue of knowledge - the wish that objective and scientific studies would be conducted and publicized in order to improve societal understanding. In twenty letters, the hope that some agency would facilitate social contacts among homosexuals took the form of a request that “Dr. Hua” or his publishers do so. In Hua’s article, two actual cases of gay life in Hubei and Shanghai had been described. All twenty letters requested the names and addresses of these two men in order to establish contact with them. Some men, though they did not use the word for “club,” expressed the wish to create this type of organization. There were eighteen letters pointing out the need for development and/or publication of more information about homosexuality. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

Silence, especially a silence based on repression and enforced ignorance, must not be mistaken for approval or tolerance. When public figures do speak out on homosexuality, it is usually to condemn it. For example, in the 1990s, a famous attorney even wrote that “homosexuality... disrupts social order, invades personal privacy and rights and leads to criminal behavior.” A leading forensic psychiatrist said that “homosexuality is against social morality, interferes with social security, damages the physical and mental health of adolescents, and ought to be a crime.”

Denial of Homosexuality in China

Another common reaction to the suggestion that homosexuality exists in China is denial. Clear evidence of the official denial of homosexuality was provided by the internationally well-known sexologist, Dr. Richard Green, the series editor of “Perspectives in Sexuality: Behavior, Research, and Therapy.” In his “Series Editor’s Comment” for Ruan’s book Sex in China: Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture, he wrote: Less than a year before the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen square, I lectured on human sexuality at Peking Union Medical College. I described my research on the nonsexual behaviors of young boys that predicted later homosexuality. I asked the physicians in the audience whether comparable childhood behaviors were found among Chinese boys. I was told that there were no homosexuals in China. (Ruan, 1991) [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

But, this official attitude of denying homosexuality in China can no longer be justified. In late 1991, officials in Shanghai, the largest city in China, recognized that there are about 10,000 homosexuals in the city. Actually, the number of homosexuals may be over 200,000, according to the World Weekly (September 1,1991). Changzheng Hospital in Tianjin, the third largest city in China, reported in a medical paper that in the past four years, out of 366 STD cases, at least 61 cases of syphilis resulted from male homosexual behavior; 80 percent of the cases involved anal sex, 10 percent oral sex, and other 10 percent anal plus oral sex. Most of the cases (80 percent) had participated in sexual activity in public toilets. More than 80 percent of their homosexual partners were strangers. Their ages ranged from 16 years to 60 years, with two thirds of the group falling between 20 and 30 years of age. Most of them were workers, some were cadres, teachers, and others. =

Yet another reaction is to admit that perhaps homosexuality does exist in China, but to insist that when it occurs, it is the result of Western influence; it was referred to as “spiritual pollution,” and “Western social diseases,” originating in “Western ideology and thoughts.” =

Increased Openness About Homosexuality in China in the 1980s

Considering the many and varied records of homosexuality in ancient China, one would expect to find evidence of homosexuality in modern China. However, literature regarding contemporary homosexuality is scarce at best, although it is available in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Thus it was a genuine breakthrough when, through a rather unique and unexpected set of events, the situation of homosexuality in China was openly discussed for the first time in a positive context. In 1985, Ruan, the author of this chapter, using a pen name Jin-ma Hua, published an article in a widely circulated Chinese health magazine, To Your Good Health. The article pointed out that homosexuality has occurred in all nations, all social strata, and in all eras in human history, and that homosexuals deserve a reasonable social status. Many of the readers of To Your Good Health, most of them gay, wrote to the magazine’s editor in response to the article. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

“By April 1986, a total of sixty letters had been received by the editor of To Your Good Health, and forwarded to Ruan. A striking aspect of the letters from gay men is their immense relief at having an opportunity to express their feelings. Many letters expressed their writers’ pain and conflicting desires for confidentiality and a chance to overcome their isolation. Clearly the chief source of pain for China’s gay men derives from the fear of societal punishment, including arrest, and possible sentence to labor reform camp or prison. =

Openness About Homosexuality in China Today

The term "comrade" (tongzhi) doesn't necessarily refer to a loyal Communist anymore. These days it often refers to a gay person. The "comrade hotline,” for example, assists the gay and lesbian community. These days there are gay support groups and websites helping people to explore their sexuality and meet potential partners. There are gay venues in most major cities; last year, the first government-backed bar opened in Kunming, in south-western Yunnan.[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]

For many, the biggest issue is invisibility. “People want to stay out of trouble so they stay away from anything different ... It's not necessarily that they're afraid of it or think it's bad. They just don't want to know,” a gat man told The Guardian, adding that a handful of friends cut him off after finding out that he was gay. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]

There is some degree of acceptance and tolerance. There is no religious condemnation and that anti-gay violence is rare. Research in cities by Li Yinghe, an academic at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggests about 91 percent of people are happy to work with gay colleagues - a higher rate than in US surveys - and that 30 percent back gay marriage. [Source: The Guardian]

Gay Activism and Discrimination in China

There is still no legal protection against discrimination in China and few role models: no mainstream figures are openly gay. Official tolerance is highly variable. Activists and grassroots organizers complain of harassment by the authorities. Despite signs of growing confidence in challenging such actions--- in 2009, gay men faced down police conducting a sweep of a Guangzhou park--- most opt for a non-confrontational approach. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Official tolerance has its limits. Gay publications and plays are banned, gay Web sites are occasionally blocked and those who try to advocate for greater legal protections for lesbians and gay men sometimes face harassment from the police. For years, movie buffs in Beijing have tried, and failed, to get permission for a gay film festival... China has issued a directive requiring that all new computers include filtering software to block pornographic images as well as Web sites with words like gay, lesbian and homosexuality.” Activists “fear the new rules could effectively ban online information from AIDS organizations or groups that help young people grapple with their sexual orientation.

A survey of 1,259 homosexual by Zhang Beichuan, an expert on homosexuality and AIDS at Qingdao University, found that 8.7 percent of gay men had been fired or forced to resign from their jobs after revealing the sexual preference and 4.7 percent said they felt their salary and career advancement were affected by their sexual preference. About 62 percent said they keep their sexual orientation secret in the workplace.

More organizations are being created in China that are specifically devoted to LGBT advocacy issues, and gay bars that once could only be found in bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai are increasingly opening up in smaller cities. PFLAG China was set up in 2008 and is modeled on the U.S advocacy group whose acronym stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The group’s cofounder, Hu Zhijun, also goes by the name Ah Qiang.

In June 2009, public security officials forced Wan Yanhai, a prominent advocate on gay issues, including AIDS, to leave Beijing for a week because they feared he might cause trouble during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Sometimes I feel like we are playing a complicated game with the government, Wan said. No one knows where the line is, but we just keep pushing.

Persecution of Gays in China

It is not a crime to be gay in China but homosexuality is regarded as disgusting and decadent. Even though more and more gays are coming out in China they still risk persecution by authorities and many cases their own families. Gays in China are more concerned about getting fired, humiliated or blackmailed once their true identity is known than they are about AIDS.

A law against “hooliganism” that had been used to target gays was eliminated in 1997 and homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 2001, but some clinics still promise to “cure” people by offering conversion therapy that includes electric shocks. China does not recognize same-sex partnerships and no laws outlaw discrimination against homosexuals.

Gays complain they are harassed, detained for no reason, and beat up by police. Police in one district reportedly pressured gays into pitching in $365 a piece to buy a new squad car. Gays are often rounded up and charged as "hooligans" or for disturbing the peace. In Tianjin gays have been declared a public nuisance along with street-walking prostitutes and the government has promised to clean them up.

The award winning film Farewell My Concubine was banned in China, in part because it depicted homosexual love.

Stigma to Being Gay in China

Is there still a stigma attached to being gay? Marcho said, “There are still lots of people who are gay, but who can not be gay---they even get married. They get pressure from the outside world and they think that it's not normal; that “men were born to be with girls, and girls are meant to be with boys." Some people still think, even though they're gay, that it's not right, it's not natural, it's against nature. Do you think that homosexuality is generally accepted in China? " [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]

Many Chinese still find it difficult to accept homosexuality. No, no. I think there's only a small percentage of people who can accept it, but most people still can not. I still ask some people that I have just met, “What do you think of me being gay?” or maybe it's a girl who has feelings for me and I'd be like, “Look, I'm gay.” Most people, say 70 or 80 per cent, can not accept it, they're just like, “No! It's wrong!” People don't really give you a hard time. They are shy about it. They don't say, “Oh, faggot!” Are you totally open about your sexuality? Everyone I work with knows I'm gay. It's not that I tell everyone about it, but I think it's the same everywhere, like if you go on business to a meeting, you don't have to say, “Hey! I'm the manager and I'm gay!” Right? So most people know. All my friends know I'm gay.

Toleration of Gays in China

right There is no law against same-sex acts between consenting adults.In the 1980s, the Chinese Supreme Court took laws off the books that prohibited anal sex between consenting male adults. Two lesbians who were arrested by police in the Anhui province were later released under orders from the Public Security Ministry because they had not committed any crime.

In 1992, authorities allowed books about gay life to be published. They also permitted a gay activist to set up an AIDS telephone hotline but it was forced to close down a year later after the gay activist began speaking out about homosexual rights.

Laws decriminalizing homosexuality were enacted in 1997. Homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses in 2001. In recent years homosexuality has become tolerated in some urban areas and gays are coming out in various ways in larger numbers. In Shanghai there is even an openly gay restaurant across the street from a police station. One 32-year-old gay man told the Washington Post, "No one bothers us anymore. As long as we're not disturbing anyone else, we can enjoy ourselves and the police will leave us alone."

In the early 2000s Fudan University in Shanghai began offering China’s first course in gay studies and a study by Zheijang University near Shanghai found that 60 percent of the people interviewed were tolerant of homosexuality. One sociologist told the New York Times, "People are busy, they're making money and they don’t care about your private life. Before people were idle and liked to tell you how to lead your life, but that's changed.”

There are several gay organizations in China. Gays reportedly are influential in the Beijing media and fashion scene. Coverage of gay life in Hong Kong and Taiwan sometimes makes its way to China, particularly southern China which picks up Hong Kong and Taiwan television channels. The coverage has exposed a relatively free gay life to ordinary Chinese and emboldened Chinese gays to be more assertive about their rights.

In June 2009, Shanghai hosted a Gay Pride Week, with drag shows, mock same-sex weddings and a “hot body” contest won by a six-foot Shanghai native with rippled abs and the nickname of Grant. While some events were shut down by authorities, others drew hundreds of spectators, One of the organizers of the event told the New York Times, “We realized that now is the right time.”

Still, Chinese policy towards the gay issue for the most part remains the "three nos": no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion.

Gay Issues and the Media in China

According to a 2010 report from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: “Laws and regulations continue to place broad restrictions on the diffusion of LGBT-related content across all sections of the media. Laws and regulations continue to define homosexuality as ‘abnormal’ and fail to differentiate between sexually explicit and non-explicit LGBT content in broadcasts, television programmes and films. The internet provides the most open forum in which LGBT content can be accessed.”

Lily Rothman wrote in Time, “In an interview with The Atlantic in August 2013 an anonymous Chinese researcher who studies LGBT rights noted that the Internet’s role continues to be crucial; LGBT-focused organizations in China are using video to help expose mainstream Chinese audiences to the personal stories of gay Chinese people. (Online dating for gay people is also huge, she notes.) Though the state media doesn’t ignore same-sex relationships, the researcher gives more credit to NGOs and the Internet for changing attitudes. But despite rapid changes and broadening acceptance — as evidenced by events like the public gay and lesbian kiss-a-thon in Shanghai in December 2013 — the Atlantic‘s anonymous interviewee makes it clear that being gay in China is still no walk in the park.” [Source: Lily Rothman, Time, January 22, 2014]

Ellen in China

In January 2014, Lily Rothman wrote in Time, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show broke new ground for an American daytime talk show, with the announcement that it would be the first show of its kind available for Chinese viewers. The deal — between Warner Bros. International Television Distribution, the show’s distributor and Sohu, a Chinese online-video provider — means episodes of Ellen will be provided for this new audience within two days of their original U.S. Broadcast. “It’s basically the same show, but it’ll have subtitles and it’ll be called The Happy Lady Dance Hour,” DeGeneres explains to viewers, jokingly, before urging her billion new viewers to buy her merchandise. [Source: Lily Rothman, Time, January 22, 2014 ^^^]

“The press release makes clear why Ellen is a no-brainer for Sohu’s audience. Its friendly, upbeat content makes it the perfect choice for breaking into the Chinese market, explains Warner Bros. TV’s Jeffrey R. Schlesinger: “Ellen has clearly differentiated herself and her talk show from so many of the controversial conflict-oriented talk shows as it has become an increasingly positive alternative in daytime featuring the biggest stars from worlds of film, television and music… She has an unmatched and unique brand of family-friendly humor and love of pop culture that appeal to audiences of all ages in a very fun one-hour of programming.” ^^^

“Which is all true — being fun is pretty much the hallmark of the show. But DeGeneres, particularly when it comes to her personal life, is equally as known for speaking up as she is for having a good time. For example, when an anti-gay group advocated in 2012 for JCPenney to fire her as their spokesperson, she addressed the conflict on-air. In less weighty moments, her relationship with wife Portia de Rossi is frequent fodder for the show. And that openness makes Ellen matter — especially since a spokesperson from Sohu tells TIME in an email that, “as far as I know,” Ellen will not be edited for the Chinese audience, beyond the addition of the subtitles. ^^^

“Ellen on Sohu could be more than just a talk show. By the time the show came on in the U.S., its host’s sexuality had already been dissected and discussed (including on the cover of TIME. But years earlier, just a few months after DeGeneres’ sitcom went off the air in 1998, Will & Grace debuted. The show is now often credited with actually affecting mainstream attitudes and public policy. If Ellen is a hit in China (in the U.S., it’s still setting ratings records in its 11th season) and if Ellen really does get shown on Sohu intact, “Ellen and Portia go hiking” and all, it could have an impact beyond its viewership — and that’s something we’re betting would make the “happy lady” of the “happy lady dance hour” even happier.” ^^^

China's First Gay Pageant

China hoped to host it first first gay pageant in February 2010 in Beijing. The plan was for eight finalists to take to the stage of a Beijing nightclub, with winner--- picked for his ability to represent gay issues as well as his skills, personality and looks---to go to Norway to participate on the finals of Worldwide Mr Gay. The event was to include a swimwear round, a question and answer session, a fashion show, a host in drag. and a talent section where contestants can show off their singing and dancing. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]

“We are intelligent, we're professionals, we're gorgeous--- and we're gay,” said contestant Emilio Liu, from Inner Mongolia. “I want the audience to know there are a whole bunch of people like us living in China. It's a wonderful life and it's not hidden any more.” Despite this display of openness few of the participants were willing to give their full names and several complained about the stereotyping of gay men as weak or HIV-carriers. Strikingly, all are white collar workers and most have studied or worked abroad. [Ibid]

Contestant Jay Jia told Sky News: “When I left in 2002 you couldn’t even find a gay bar. That’s all changed now, at least in the big cities. But I still haven’t come out and I definitely haven’t told my employers or my workmates My parents don’t know and they are always trying to find girls for me to take out.

Organizers hope to avoid problems by keeping Mr Gay China low-key and did not invite mainstream Chinese-language media. “Officials could show up and say 'your fire hydrant is in the wrong place,” one organizer said. “It is still a sensitive issue.” He also acknowledged that one of points of the contest was to draw attention to gay life: “If this gets seen by some country boy in Ningxia, maybe he will realize 'It's not horrible to be gay and I'm not alone.'” [Branigan, Op. Cit]

In the end Gay China was canceled. According to AP, authorities said there’s nothing wrong the content, meaning homosexuality, rather the contest was shut down because procedures weren’t followed. After the cancellation, contestants and organizers quietly selected Xiao Dai, a 25-year-old Muslim man, to represent China inOslo, where he was the third runner-up in the Worldwide Gay pageant. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 17, 2010]

Shanghai Gay Pride Week

In June 2009, Shanghai hosted a Gay Pride Week. The China Daily called it of “profound significance for the country and the world” and splashed a story about it on its front page. There was supposed to be a parade but in the end that was canceled. There were private films showing and social gatherings. But even those proved to be too much in some cases. Some of the film showings were cancelled due to lack of proper permits. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, June 14, 2009]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “It was shortly after the hot body contest and just before a painted procession of Chinese opera singers took the stage that the police threatened to shut down China’s first gay pride festival. The authorities had already forced the cancellation of a play, a film screening and a social mixer, so when an irritated plainclothes officer arrived at the Saturday afternoon gala and flashed his badge, organizers feared the worst.” [Ibid]

“During three months of planning, organizers had a rough idea of the limitations: no Chinese-language advertisements, no banners, no parades... Despite the careful planning, there were some disappointments... A staging of The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was canceled after the police interrupted a rehearsal to write down the names of the actors. As word of the crackdown spread, performers canceled their appearances and bar owners apologetically told Shanghai Pride to go elsewhere.” [Ibid]

“By Saturday, any lingering anxiety had seemingly evaporated as hundreds of people crammed into a bar to watch lip-synching divas and a silent auction to benefit AIDS orphans. At one table, a woman painted hearts and rainbows on the faces of Westerners and Chinese revelers...The celebrants were self-assured, unapologetically gay and mostly under 30. There was Gu An, a 19-year-old economics student who shares a dorm room at Shanghai University with his high school sweetheart, and Wang Liang, a 27-year-old furniture designer who might have been the only person to bring his mother.” [Ibid]

Chinese Authorities Detain Gay Rights Protester

In May 2013, AFP reported: “A 19-year-old Chinese gay rights activist was arrested for taking part in a protest that police described as "illegal", a fellow demonstrator said. The detention came after around 100 protestors took to the streets of Changsha, in the southern province of Hunan, waving rainbow coloured flags and banners calling for an end to discrimination against gay people. A 19-year-old male organiser of the protest was detained by police the following morning, Peng Cheng, who took part in the event, told AFP. "They accused him of illegal gathering and protest," he added. [Source: Agence France-Presse, May 20, 2013]

Police in Changsha announced online that the man would be placed in "administrative detention" for 12 days for participating in an "illegal protest". "We think, according to the constitution, everybody has the freedom to express themselves... we think their punishment is unreasonable," Peng said.

“Curing” Homosexuality in China

In China homosexuality is mostly seen as a family problem. veterinarian and the executive director of Beijing's LGBT center, discussed a friend whose mother took her to a psychologist after the daughter came out. "The mom was going crazy, and really wanted to change her, but the psychologist was pretty professional and so didn't think it was a disease. The mom felt pretty helpless." Fan Popo, a 26-year-old documentary filmmaker and former executive director of the Beijing LGBT center, says some parents, lacking any basic understanding of homosexuality, will drag their kid to a doctor after he comes out. Although his parents accept his homosexuality, "I have a sister who always says to me you should go to the hospital and see if they can cure you. She thinks now medicine is very developed, and you can cure everything."

"It's less the people themselves wanting to visit clinics and get cured and more the parents after finding out their kid is gay, or wife because the husband is gay," says Wei Xiaogang, co-founder of Queer Comrades.

"Cures That Kill" is a documentary by the Chinese gay rights organization Queer Comrades a about two men struggling with their homosexuality, and the hospitals dotted around China advertising a solution. Released in the U.S. in 2011, it tells the story of A Wen, a Sichuanese photographer, and Sander Chan, an ethnic Chinese politician from Holland who spent years trying to use his belief in Christianity to exorcise his homosexuality: "I would often fast for one or two days after having a sexual fantasy, just as a reminder of what my goal is," he stoically tells the camera. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]

Isaac Stone Fish wrote in the Los Angeles Times, " A Wen's malaise was caused by a problem common with the Chinese generation growing up in the 1980s and earlier: an almost complete lack of awareness of homosexuality." "There was a guy named Jiang that I secretly loved in high school. At which point I drank a half liter of sorghum liquor. That was the first time my parents sent me to a mental institution."

Chan, whose Christian-based cure involved "praying Jesus into his past," snapped out of it not long after "sitting around a table with a group of gay Christians, and somehow the topic switched to depression, and I found out that everyone at the table had tried to commit suicide at some point." He's since happily been in relationships with men.

Now that he's moved to Beijing and met other gays, A Wen realized who he is and learned to accept his sexual orientation. The film doesn't explain how A Wen's family shifted to tolerance but shows him, his parents and his boyfriend laughing together. In the documentary Zhang warns parents against foisting these therapies on their children. "I tell them that you might turn the person into a sexless being." Pleadingly, he asks the parents, "Do you really want to deprive them of an essential experience of happiness in their life?"

Clinics “Curing” Homosexuality in China

Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Los Angeles Times, “For those willing to pay for it, some clinics offer therapy to solve a problem of filial distress.” "They get some beautiful men to walk around naked beside you, or make you watch gay porn," says Zhang Beichuan, one of China's leading experts on homosexuality, describing a practice he doesn't advocate. "The man naturally will get an erection. When his erection reaches a certain level, the instrument emits an electrical discharge, which upsets him. They repeat the process until the man doesn't get excited anymore." [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]

The consensus among the local gay community is that those on the mainland peddling cures for homosexuality, which include drug prescriptions, consultation, surgery and even electric shock , do it less out of a Christian or moral opposition to homosexuality and more out of a desire for financial gain. None of the doctors who claimed the ability to cure homosexuality were willing to cooperate with the documentary, so the moviemakers filmed a volunteer speaking with their clinics on the phone.

A representative from a clinic in the provincial capital of Taiyuan said homosexuality is a "sexual substitution problem, like boot fetishes," and refused to elaborate, citing its desire to protect "its professional secrets." "When you call as someone seeking a cure, you will make dollar signs flash in their eyes," the film quotes Fang Gang, a sexology expert, as saying.

Electro-Shock Gay Conversion Therapy in China

According to the South China Morning Post: “Conversion therapy has more than a century of history around the world, but has fallen out of favour with medical authorities. Nonetheless the lucrative industry persists in countries from Singapore to Britain and the United States – where reports of electro-shock use have added to momentum for a ban.” [Source: South China Morning Post, July 31, 2014 /^\]

In July 2014, the South China Morning Post reported: “A Beijing court began hearing a landmark case on “gay conversion” treatment as an activist in a nurse’s uniform knelt over a patient, wielding a giant needle, outside. “Homosexuality doesn’t need to be cured!” chanted about a dozen supporters. “Haidian Court, oppose conversion therapy!” Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in China in 2001 but widespread intolerance toward gays and lesbians remains, and activists hailed the unprecedented case as a significant step forward. /^\

“The plaintiff, who is gay and has given his name only as Xiao Zhen, says the Xinyu Piaoxiang clinic in Chongqing traumatised him when he was electro-shocked after being told to have sexual thoughts involving men. He is also taking action against China’s top internet search engine, Baidu, for running advertisements by the facility. Those who come out to friends and family in China often face significant pressure to undergo sexuality “treatment” or marry a partner of the opposite sex. /^\

“It’s the first case about anti-conversion therapy in China,” said Xiao Tie, 28, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, which is backing the legal action. “In China, most people who undergo ‘conversion therapy’ do so because they are pressured by their family. Parents, once they realise their child is gay, urge him or her to go to a psychiatric hospital or undergo treatment,” she said. Most people who claim that they have been successfully “converted” by the therapy only say so in order to stop the distressing treatments, she added. /^\

“Zhang Rui, 21, who is in charge of the Beijing LGBT Centre’s psychological counselling programme, said advocates hope the case will help change Chinese public perceptions of gays as suffering from mental illness. “We’re here to tell even more people that conversion therapy is not scientific,” she said. “Homosexuality can’t be ‘cured.’” /^\

Image Sources: Wikipedia

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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