GAY AND LESBIAN LIFE IN CHINA
Woman spying on two men Gays are more out than they were in past in China. There are many gay bars, newsletters and websites that can operate openly. But many gays choose to keep a foot in the closet. The Internet often is the safest place for gays and lesbians to interact and socialize because they can do so anonymously.
Most cities have known places — restaurants, bars and parks — were gays open hang out. Guangzhou has Western-style gay bars. In Shanghai gays cruise the Bund at sunset. In Chengdu in Sichuan they gather in Lu Xun Park in the evening. In Beijing they gather in many places: Dongdan park is worked by volunteers who pass out AIDS literature; Straights and gays mingle at the Nightman disco, where gay men sometimes dance in small groups.
There are fewer gathering places and a less developed gay scene for lesbians than there is for gay men. One Chinese lesbian told the New York Times. "The pickup attitude that a lot of men have is less true for women. We use more informal networks, going through friends."
A gay-themed chat show called "Gay Connection" debuted online on a site run by the Phoenix network in May 2007. The guests have included the owner of a lesbian bar in Beijing. Advise was given on how to meet gay friends.
Tongyu is a lesbian group that meets publicly on Saturdays in a shopping mall restaurant in Beijing. Sometimes gay couples will embrace and engage long passionate kisses. Mostly they meet to socialize, relax and discuss issues that affect them.
"A few years ago coming out among people I know was news, but not now," says Hui Jin, a veterinarian and the executive director of Beijing's LGBT center, who wears her hair short and spiky and at an interview was sporting a T-shirt showing a monkey juggling a skull, and who admitted sheepishly that she is still not out to people at the veterinary hospital. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
See Separate Articles: LGBT AND HOMOSEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; HISTORY OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND BISEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; COMING OUT IN CHINA AND THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MARRIED GAYS factsanddetails.com ; SUFFERING OF LGBT IN CHINA: DISCRIMINATION, PERSECUTION AND "CURING" CLINICS factsanddetails.com ; TRANSGENDER PEOPLE AND TRANSSEXUALS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SEX IN CHINA: SURVEYS, VIRGINITY AND DRASTIC CHANGES factsanddetails.com SEX AND HISTORY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; EUNUCHS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com
Websites and Sources: USA Today piece usatoday.com ; 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 : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall
Meeting Other Gays in China and Realizing You Are Gay
Finland’s Radio86 chatted with Marco Qu, a 26 year-old bar manager and DJ from Harbin, in north-east China, to learn more about the homosexual scene and the gay community in China . On whether it is easy to find a man in the world's largest populated country Marco said: It depends upon what kind of man you want! I guess it's the same with straight people; it's not very difficult to meet people, but if you'd like to find a decent one that you can actually be with, well... The gay community is not very big. We have a few gay clubs here and it's always busy at the weekend. I think people don't really go out that much, so it's a little bit difficult to meet guys in the bars, so most people do it on the internet. [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]
When he was asked when he first realised he was interested in men, Marco said I think I was in high school. I always knew that I was different, but I didn't know what that was. When in middle school and high school, people started having girlfriends, but I was never so interested in having a girlfriend. I really didn't know what that was until I started to watch porn, and then I found that I wasn't really looking at the girls. I knew then that I was different, but I still didn't know what I was until I finished high school and met a guy through the internet. We chatted for a while, met in person and then we started dating — then I knew: okay, this is gay.
Gay Marriage in China
Same-sex marriages are not officially recognized in China, but that hasn’t stopped some people from trying. The first gay marriage in China took place in Chengdu in January 2010 between Zeng Anquan and Pan Wenjie. The couple said “I-do” before more than 200 friends and supporters. Afterwards, Zeng, a 45-year-old architect, told the China Daily, “the wedding is our happiest and most precious moment. We don’t care how others consider us as long as we are together...We are deeply in love and will never desert each other.”
No family members showed up to Zeng and Pan’s wedding or gave their approval to the union. Zeng told the China Daily, “All the capital in my company has been frozen by my younger brother. My sister warned me she would never call me her brother unless I break up with Pan; and I?ve answered hundreds of phone calls from friends and relatives who say they feel ashamed fo me.” Zeng and Pan said their parents sort of came around, switching from “opposition” to “it’s okay.” Pan’s former girlfriend offered to be a bridesmaid.
The strong pressure to marry in Chinese society is one reason why some campaigners see gay marriage as a goal. One gat man told The Guardian relatives had pestered him for years about finding a girl to marry. “When Ifinally told my uncle I had a boyfriend he wasn't surprised but said, 'Well, that's not a long term thing...They think having fun with boys doesn't mean you love them; you will still get married in the end.
Li Yinghe, an academic at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has repeatedly proposed legalising gay marriage, but thinks the Chinese political system must develop first. “When there are ways to deliver these demands, this issue can be put on the agenda. Maybe it will take 10 years - maybe it needs decades,” she said. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 25 2009]
Gay Bars in China
On the gay night life scene in Beijing, Marco said: “There's not so much. Like tonight is Monday, so if I go out with some gay friends then maybe Kai bar, which is very gay friendly and I've been deejaying there for the last five years. There are Gay Fridays at Alfa Club, a bar, restaurant and club, which holds an 80's music gay night. The gay club Destination is also always here. There are some gay nights on Thursdays in Mesh Bar, opposite, and then on Tuesdays there is the White Rabbit Club. Have you ever organised any events for the gay community? [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]
Some cities have fairly active gay scenes. A bar in Beijing has an unofficial "gay night" every Wednesday in which customers pay $6 for a mug of beer to socialize but not dance. In the 1990s, a bar called the Seahorse sponsored a Valentines party in which gay couples danced together and sang karaoke songs to their partners but the organizer lost his job and the spectacle was never repeated.
Describing the scene at the Galaxy in Shenzhen, Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote in the New York Times, “Young men in tight jeans swoon together singing karaoke. Androgynous types drink beer and throw dice. Men sporting baseball caps search for love or sex.” Pretty boy prostitutes are known as “ducks.”
Shanghai even has a well-known gay bar area in the French Concession called the Gay Triangle, with one bar made from an old bomb shelter and another decorated with Mao era memorabilia. A club called Bobos, according to the New York Times, caters to a ‘somewhat hairier, full-bodied set, known as panda bears.” D-2 is a health club known among Shanghai gay community for its hot bodies.
Gay Community Gatherings
On a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) community, Marco said, GLBT doesn't really do much here in Beijing. At the last pride parade there were like 100 people who turned up, which is more like a party. There was the Shanghai Pride last year, but here they have it in a bar because Beijing is the capital and I think the Chinese government has a real issue with, you know, being gay. Over the last five years they have said, “We don't have gay people in Chffina,” which is a joke, but in Beijing now, in China, you can't do all those things. [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]
If you parade outside with, let's say, 40 people doing the same then it's illegal and they'll send you to prison for about 24 hours. Why do you think the government has an issue with homosexuality? They like to control their power, their central power. They don't want anyone, any group of people to take their power. They say, “This is what it is. You have to do what we say. You have to follow the central power.”
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]
Yi-Ling Liu wrote in the New York Times: ““On one hand, the rise of the Chinese internet, facilitated by the last three decades of market reforms, has allowed for unprecedented connection and visibility for gay communities in China. It’s no problem at all for a Chinese tech company to run LGBTQ-specific marketing campaigns, and indeed, many of them do. But since 2016, as part of a cultural crackdown on “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content” — which includes everything from hip-hop music to tattoos — China’s state regulators have banned portrayals of “abnormal sexual relations” in television, including same-sex relationships. Popular Chinese shows with gay story lines were removed from screening sites. One gay-dating app, Zank, was shut down by the government, and a lesbian-dating app, Rela, disappeared shortly after. Following one of these bans, Blued scrubbed homosexuality-related words like “gay” and “tongzhi” from its Chinese website, changing the official company description to “The World’s Leading Interest-Based Social & Health Education Network.” (The company declined to comment for this article, which draws on interviews with several investors and former employees and published sources.) [Source: Yi-Ling Liu, New York Times, March 5, 2020]
Gay Dating App Blued Changed the LGBTQ+ Scene in China
Blued is the most popular dating app for gay community as of 2021. It is available in Chinese and English. According to to Scampi.com: Upon registration, users are required to upload a short video of themselves which will be manually matched with uploaded photos by Blued team. This way, the app attempts to make sure that only real people are allowed to use it but without having them to use real identities — a valid concern for many gays living in a fairly conservative Chinese society. Although it is still the most popular Chinese dating app for gays, Blued may soon find itself fighting a strong competitor — the majority stake of Grindr, the most popular Western equivalent, has recently been acquired by a Chinese billionaire. [Source: Sampi.com]
Yi-Ling Liu wrote in the New York Times: “Blued (pronounced “blue-duh” or “blue-dee”) has a reported in-country user base of some 24 million, suggesting many Chinese have opted for some middle ground. It is easily among the most popular gay dating apps in the world. Like WeChat, Blued aspires to be a Swiss Army knife for its users, absorbing features from other apps, like newsfeeds and livestreaming functions — as well as real-world resources like H.I.V. testing and a surrogacy service called Blue Baby — and integrating them as quickly as possible. It’s like “Grindr crossed with Facebook, and more, ” one former employee told me. [Source: Yi-Ling Liu, New York Times, March 5, 2020]
““Blued is in a peculiar position: It might be the biggest app of its kind, yet it is also the most precarious. It is a tech company in a society that has been transformed by free-market reforms, but also a gay tech company operating under a one-party government with an ambiguous stance toward LGBTQ issues that has been tightening its grip in recent years on civil-society and minority groups all across China. Internationally, China has publicly vocalized its support for gay rights at the United Nations, stating that it opposes all forms of “discrimination, violence and intolerance based on sexual orientation.” But domestically, gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples are not allowed, and there are no known openly gay public figures in the government or explicit forms of legal protection against LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. Shanghai’s annual Pride Festival has run openly and unhindered for the last 11 years, and yet the government routinely censors gay content in the media. In Beijing, the popular gay club Destination hosts regular drag performances while the movie theater down the street screens the Freddie Mercury biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody, ” with its gay content cut out. “The rule is not that you’re not allowed to be gay, ” says Ben Mason, Blued’s former international marketing manager. “It just means that you have to play by the rules.” Gay communities must navigate the same confusing terrain that all civil-society groups in China do, learning to read the unpredictable and shifting tides of relaxation and control, a cyclical process that scholars of Chinese politics call fang/shou (“opening up and tightening”).
Shanghai Gay Pride Week
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.” 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.”
“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.” 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.”
In 2020, after running for 12 consecutive years, Shanghai’s Gay Pride event was suddenly shut down. Bruce Shen wrote in SupChina: ShanghaiPRIDE, an annual festival that celebrates China’s LGBTQ movement, announced abruptly that it would cancel all upcoming activities as of August 14. In an email to its members, ShanghaiPRIDE claimed that it had to “protect the safety of all involved.” The organization did not elaborate on what “safety” entails. But according to an assistant to ShanghaiPRIDE’s leaders who wished to remain anonymous, at least three people on the core team had been invited to drink tea ( hē chá) with police — a euphemism for interrogation in China’s political language. Team members don’t feel safe anymore, as they get random house checks and questioned by cops. On Weibo, people speculated that ShanghaiPRIDE crossed the line by partnering with foreign institutions. [Source:Bruce Shen, SupChina, August 17, 2020]
Mr. Gay China Cancelled
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.
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.'”
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 in Oslo, where he was the third runner-up in the Worldwide Gay pageant. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 17, 2010]
Gay-Themed Chinese Paper-Cuts as an Expression of a Gay Man’s Double Life
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Like many gay men of his generation, Xiyadie, 48, married to appease parental pressure; failing to produce an heir is an unforgivable transgression of filial duty. As such, Xiyadie's works play powerfully on themes of guilt, entrapment and forbidden love. Above all, they tell a tale of being pulled by conflicting obligations. "Tradition [in my village] is no less frigid than the Siberian air," says Xiyadie, who chose his name because of the freezing winds which are said to blow down on Shaanxi from Siberia. "It is depressing to be gay in China — and even more horrifying in a village. It froze my wings, and I was unable to fly." [Source: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2012]
“One piece is typical. From a distance it appears to be true to Xiyadie's folk-art roots. The intricate paper-cut shows a moon shining down on a rural farmhouse. Two doves (tokens of peace) sit entwined in the gable and inside a woman with long plaited hair holds her child on a bed. It is a cozy, quaint setting. But something is amiss. Just outside the door a man performs oral sex on another. Look closer and it becomes apparent that the man has two faces. One face gazes at his male lover; the second face looks back toward his wife.
“It's a bittersweet situation," explains the soft-spoken Xiyadie, sitting outside his basic bedsit in Songzhuang, a hip artists' community in Beijing's suburbs. "There is a Chinese saying: You have food in your bowl and you want more from the pan. Sometimes I ask myself, I already have a wife, why do I have a boyfriend? It's a picture about greed." Other paper-cuts depict similar scenarios, many set among the everyday charms of the countryside. In one a teenage boy enjoys an encounter with a train conductor (Xiyadie's real former lover). In a series named "Door," the ornate wooden Chinese double doors symbolize both restraint and opportunity.
‘such settings are fraught with memories. "Coming out in my village has never crossed my mind, I wouldn't dare. People would think I am a criminal," he says. Asked if he's told his wife, he nods. "I confided with my wife about the truth. She wept, then she accepted it." His 21-year-old daughter and 23-year-old-son, who is severely disabled and cannot eat, drink or walk without aid, remain unaware.
“The artist's double life — on the one hand, as an active tongzhi ("comrade," slang for "gay"); on the other a filial son, husband and father — also plays out in the very art he can show.
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.
Last updated October 2021