China’s gays break old taboos

This is one of the most encouraging stories on gays in China I’ve seen to date. Finally, attitudes are changing and younger people are opening their minds to the fact that gays are real people, not diseased freaks. Yes, part of the new liberalized attitude stems from the CCP’s pragmatic concerns about AIDS: It’s the gay groups that focus on AIDS prevention that get official government support. But it’s obvious that in just about every way, life for China’s gays is improving, and not just in the big coastal cities.

As the class got under way, the diminutive teacher standing before an overcrowded lecture hall in this city’s most exclusive university handed out a survey. The first of several multiple-choice questions asked students what their feelings would be if they encountered two male lovers: total acceptance, reluctant, acceptance, rejection or disgust?

As a way of breaking the ice, the teacher, Sun Zhongxin, read aloud some of the answers anonymously. Judging by her sample, most of the 120 or so students said they would reluctantly accept gay lovers in their midst.

The Fudan University class, Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies, is the first of its kind ever offered to Chinese undergraduates, and Sun briefly wondered why it was so well attended, before providing her own answer.

“The attitude toward homosexuality in China is changing,” she said. “It is good, but it also makes us feel heavy-hearted. What’s unfortunate about such heavy attendance is that it indicates that many people have never discussed the topic before.”

“Not only are people hiding in the closet,” she concluded, “but the topic itself has been hiding in the closet.”

A class like this would be unremarkable in the US, where many students are quite open about their homosexuality and the curriculum has long included offerings reflecting their interests. But among China’s gay and lesbian population, which may be as large as 48 million by some estimates, the new course is being portrayed as a major advance.

Less than a decade ago, homosexuality was still included under the heading of hooliganism in China’s criminal code, and it was only four years ago that the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see gay marriage approved in China before it’s approved in the US. Unfortunately, the mindset that you have to get married still seems to be prevailaing, and I think it’ll be many years, maybe generations, before that changes.

Update A new comment today to this post tells abother side of the story of gays in China.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

In the dim and ancient hippie days in the US of the last century living together without either state or church sanction was popular. Often the years that passed brought children. Whether or no, marriage became fashionable. And divorce followed that. This led a friend to comment that people married to end their relationship, there being no other way they could think of to do so.

This is posted as a tongue in cheek warning for those who care to take it. Danger lies ahead no matter which path is taken. Yet — perseverence furthers.
— ml

September 10, 2005 @ 3:15 pm | Comment

“the curriculum has long included offerings reflecting their interests”

At least until the “Campus Watch” crowd succeeds in getting them banned…

September 10, 2005 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

Wen Jiabao visiting Aids victims, it’s an image I will never forget. I truly like Wen, who like former premier Zhou Enlai, truly cared about China and the people. Many Chinese know about AIDS and how to prevent it. But I believe more education is needed, and more foreign expertise on how to contain and eventually eradicate this disease is needed as well. When I read of stories of AIDS orphans, or entire families getting infected with this disease, I feel very sad and sorrow. China is still developing, and when China becomes a developed country, I will never forget those who didn’t make it in that journey.

September 10, 2005 @ 6:11 pm | Comment

I like Wen as well, and have always praised him on this site. I also am very greateful to former President Clinton for helping publicize the AIDS crisis in China along with Dr. David Ho.

September 10, 2005 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

That’s a great comment by Kev on the other post you linked to in your Update.

The point he mentions:
“the chinese government remains conservative,whose top priority is the social stability.due to the rise of AIDS infection,which could pose threat to the social stability”

…is somethiing that has crossed my mind as well, i.e. it’s all well and good to see the reality that is gay people being more accepted in Chinese society but, at the end of the day, the nervous government are committed (or have a “duty” as they see it) to ensure social harmony and stability.

This is what worries me, I don’t think having 10s of millions of unmarried gay people fits into their idea of social stability. After all, China’s still very conformist. Isn’t is the only country where they ask you if you’re married and, if you’re over the age of 25 and answer “no”, people ask you “why not?”.

Sad irony: as China’s feudal preference for boys and the govt’s 1979 One-Child Policy blend together to give the population a heavily skewed gender imbalance i.e too many males. 10s of millions of gay men are pressured by society and culture to marry.

Talk about shooting oneself in the foot.

September 11, 2005 @ 4:36 am | Comment

Well Martyn, the gender imbalance does suggest that there’ll be a good chance to reduce the population soon! (Either that or some serious social instability.)
Sigh. Just on Friday a young male Chinese friend came to me in a terrible state. His company is rearranging the employees’ dormitories and he’s been told to share a room with another young man. The trouble is, he strongly suspects that the other young man is gay and absolutely could not countenance living in close proximity to him.
I think, after a long long conversation, that we might have started to approach the “reluctant acceptance” stage. But it’s an uphill struggle.
This young man, while educated, comes from the countryside. While the urban youth may be starting to consider the issue, the countryside youth are still as strongly homophobic as ever. And while urbanization is increasing in China, a large segment of the population does still come from the countryside.

September 11, 2005 @ 9:45 am | Comment


you got your response in the “ANTI-JAPANESE PROSTEST” section.

September 11, 2005 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Gay education is bad for China.

September 11, 2005 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

While the urban youth may be starting to consider the issue, the countryside youth are still as strongly homophobic as ever

Is that really true? I’m not so sure.

Just look at guys from the countryside – they are all over each other. In public holding hands, touching, stroking, even sleeping on top of each other. They strike me as having much less inhibition about male-male contact than urban guys.

I have accidentally wound up in the sack with a few willing straight guys, they were invariably from small towns. I have never mistakenly picked up a straight local Shanghainese guy.

I also heard an anecdote from a reasonably good source about the amount of action that takes place between mingong guys living at construction sites.

Maybe the perceived homophobia of the countryside is like that of the Arab world – a lot of talk to cover a lot of male-male action.

(Wish Conrad was around to comment on that last line…)

September 11, 2005 @ 9:32 pm | Comment

I was chatting to a gay friend of mine who teaches English at one of the universities in Beijing. His question of whether gay marriage should be allowed during one of his discussion sessions drew some interesting responses. One student stated that gay marriage spreads diseases and should therefore not be allowed. Another student was of the opinion that gay sex, not marriage, was to blame for the spread of STDs. I think both these opinions are wrong because everyone – regardless of sexual orientation – who engages in risky sexual activity is equally at risk of contracting diseases. However, I found this mindset particularly dismaying as my friend teaches advanced classes which include PhD and medical students, not 16 year old high school students who don’t know any better (although they should) or uneducated country bumpkins.

September 12, 2005 @ 12:37 am | Comment

Good point, Jo. I think that is indeed a big PR/education challenge for Chinese gays. They risk being seen as somehow responsible for AIDS (“blame the victim”), when in fact AIDS afflicts far more Chinese heterosexuals, which will not be surprising to anyone who knows how common prostitutes (and unprotected sex) are here.

Same thing happened in the US during the Reagan years. It was like a dream come true for homophobes, who could attempt to justify their prejudice on medical grounds (“gays and their unhealthy lifestyle”). Viruses don’t care about sexual orientation.

September 12, 2005 @ 12:34 pm | Comment

And this evil notion is the whole basis for the “God hates Fags” mentality fostered by so many loving evangelical nutcases.

September 12, 2005 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

Pequeños pasos adelante.

1. Las autoridades chinas ya no consideran secreto de estado el número de víctimas que se produzcan como consecuencia de un desastre natural.

2. Los universitarios chinos ya pueden, con arreglo a la nueva normativa, contraer matrimonio sin ten…

September 13, 2005 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

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