The Chinese people are cool with gays; why isn’t the government?

According to some pollsters a majority of China’s young people are accepting of homosexuality. I’d guess a lot of middle-aged and older Chinese are too (as long as it’s not their relative who’s gay). Just imagine the joy of this scene as described in an article in The Global Times:

Marriages are common over the “Golden Week,” October’s National Day holiday. Normally they draw attention only from friends and family. But the wedding of Lu Zhong and Liu Wanqiang in Ningde, Fujian Province on October 2 drew crowds of onlookers with no personal interest in the couple. Lu and Liu are both men, and this was the first public gay wedding in China.

And the reaction of the crowds, numbering up to 1,000 people, seemed ecstatic. One cab driver told the South China Morning Post the scene was “grander than the Chinese New Year.”

Although not officially recognized, Lu and Liu’s loving union certainly wasn’t unpopular.

But however accepted gay love might be in real life, you won’t find it in Chinese TV. GLBT characters are essentially non-existent in Chinese dramas, despite the presence of a substantial number of GLBT writers and actors. Homosexuality is dismissed by anxious producers as unacceptable and threatening.

I have now seen at least ten different articles in different Chinese publications covering gay marriages, and every single one of them was positive. When, in 2008, I saw the photo of two just-married men in a passionate embrace outside Tiananmen Square splashed across the front page of China Daily, I wondered for a moment whether China would legalize gay marriage before the US does. (And maybe it would, if it were put to a popular vote. Good luck with that.)

The article even points out that there are a number of scenes in Hong Lou Meng that depict same-sex love, and that China has a “rich heritage of engagement with homosexuality.” We all know that, but we rarely read about it in Chinese mass media. (I have to admit, when I read Book One of Hong Lou Meng last year I was surprised at the casual references to same-sex love between both men and women in a book that is taught everywhere in China.)

So why do the censors suppress any reference to homosexuality in contemporary entertainment? Why are young people so broad-minded and the leaders so uptight? This is not to the country’s benefit, as the article says in closing:

If China wants to promote its soft power, then the tradition of benign tolerance and sexual flexibility exemplified in such works offers a chance to show the world sexual acceptance with Chinese characteristics.

This is actually a very perceptive piece that you should read in full. I’m happily surprised to see it in the GT.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 46 Comments

Because homosexuality got conflated with “prostitution and other perversions” by Mao. (Which is idiotic, and not just ignorant, since Mao, presumably educated in the style of rural gentry, must have read The Story of a Stone in his formative years.)

Personally, I think it’s because many people in the Party see their primary duty as one to uphold the status quo, rather than assuming the role of being a vanguard to push society forward. In many ways, it’s a sort of coarse, binary thinking, not unlike a fund manager who goes “risk on/risk off”, switching between broad baskets of securities.

The real issue here isn’t the Party’s acceptance or lack of acceptance toward homosexuality (an important issue, but a narrow and mostly academic one for large parts of the Chinese population.) It’s that the Party is incapable of pushing forward non-status-quo yet also nuanced policy in an explicit fashion–yet it’s that sort of policy that is precisely the most effective in treating societal ills…

October 11, 2012 @ 9:04 am | Comment

I should add that my 2nd para above implies the Party, right now, is in full “risk off” mode when in the 50s and 60s it was in full “risk on” mode.

The only moment when China has ever done something even remotely close to having a coherent/rational, nuanced, and explicitly stated national level policy was Deng’s four modernizations.

October 11, 2012 @ 9:06 am | Comment

The original actually included a shout-out to your book, Richard, but it got cut in editing. I guess you’re still persona non grata. I should probably have just written the book’s name and not yours.

October 11, 2012 @ 10:16 am | Comment

LOL!! Now I know why it was such an excellent article. I didn’t see your name, James! It gets faded out under the headline.

About the reference to me and my book being deleted, I am hardly surprised. While I look back at my time at the GT with affection, I don’t ever expect forgiveness.

October 11, 2012 @ 11:01 am | Comment

Another ‘Tofu’ project, collapses not soon after construction

http://i.imgur.com/0H0Vu.jpg

Project cost was as high as 150 million RMB.

Sigh, any hope left for this country?

October 11, 2012 @ 12:02 pm | Comment

@The Clock – A check on Tineye for that photo brings up no results – could just as easily be a demolition photo in any country, still less one related to the government in that country. Try again.

October 11, 2012 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

A spate of other peoples cut and pastes. Then a photo minus text and off topic.

The Clock is getting really desperate for attention.

I suspect he will be posting what he had for breakfast next.

That aside, I suspect the average person in contemporary China is accepting of same sex relationships resides in the dismal state of sex education and general ignorance about sexual orientations.

Pure novelty value, and a bit like that recent set of Thai trannie photos published in the China Daily or such similar rag.

So, I suppose novelty and ignorance combined with an absence of christian guilt or Islamic fascism has its positive upside.

October 11, 2012 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

“Why isn’t the government?”

Because the party isn’t. To tolerate homosexuality (and decriminalizing it) is one thing. To encourage it would be another. I don’t think it fits into their idea of a “strong” country. In my view, they tolerate homosexuality because suppressing it would run counter to modernization. That’s why they tolerate lots of other things, too.

Another issue is caution. I think t_co mentioned that factor at the beginning of this thread. I do believe however that there are other issues the party is actively pushing. The problem: civil union of whatever kind, outside classical marriage status, aren’t among those issues. In fact, the party is pushing a rather orthodox agenda, and unless they are sure that homosexuality fits in, they won’t encourage a public life which includes homosexuality.

October 11, 2012 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

Yeah, at little update on The Clock’s link:

1) It’s the collapse of a Miami parking lot during construction.

2) It’s not an example of a finished building collapsing due to corruption.

3) It’s nothing to do with the OP.

October 11, 2012 @ 5:26 pm | Comment

I have one question I’d like to pose, and I really don’t know the answer. If the government is uptight about homosexuality (and it is), why do the Chinese media — or at least the newspapers — allow such positive coverage of gay issues? I’ve seen at least one positive article in a Chinese newspaper, with a photo of a lesbian “wedding” and several such articles in English-language papers like the one in the post. An anomaly?

October 12, 2012 @ 12:04 am | Comment

I believe it is because homosexuality is probably no principal problem. I’m not kidding, although I admit that this is only speculation on my part. Those debates sometimes remind me of theology, and the approach (methods) may not be all that different. Think of this Saint-Paul quote:

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

Rarely quoted these days, because even in the view of conservative church people, the second-best thing (marriage) is still better than, umm, you know…

October 12, 2012 @ 12:17 am | Comment

Great quote, JR. The Chinese government blows hot and cold on the subject. A couple of years ago they allowed the first Gay Pride celebration in Shanghai but refused to allow a parade. It’s okay as long as it’s contained within the gay community but not in public. They still draw these red lines that can’t be crossed. But they have definitely loosened up compared to just five years ago.

October 12, 2012 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Nice work, FOARP.

Not only is the dunce clock stuck on logical fallacies like tu quoque, but he can’t even offer up something that serves as a relevant comparison. So this is what CCP apologists have become in 2012…rather pathetic, really.

October 12, 2012 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Clock, are you there? Hello? I’m looking forward to your response to FOARP. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

October 12, 2012 @ 4:17 am | Comment

@Richard. Do you realistically expect a response. The Clock’s mum told him to tidy up his room or he would be looking for new accommodation.

October 12, 2012 @ 4:37 am | Comment

The Clock’s mum told him to tidy up his room

There were several rooms. Which one was The Clock’s?

October 12, 2012 @ 5:00 am | Comment

As a grammar point, irrespective whether it is singular or plural, it is accommodation. I am b……tired of seeing real estate rental listings with the header Accommodations. This sinicisation is now spreading beyond the shores of the Middle Kingdom like toxic waste.

And I would deep six the term Fall for Autumn. Not everybody wants to live in the old, dead world of the Northern Hemisphere.

And since we are supposed to be discussing sex-companion-type issues,
China’s official Women’s Federation have an …um….interesting take on feminism and Leftover women.

One of the Federations recent pearls of wisdom:
“Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls”.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/global/chinas-leftover-women.html?_r=0

October 12, 2012 @ 5:30 am | Comment

China’s official Women’s Federation have

If you’re going to get all grammatical, I’d change “have” to “has.”

October 12, 2012 @ 5:35 am | Comment

Yeah, the China Women’s Federation, like most bureaucracies, can, at times, be quite retarded.

I will say that I find PhDs quite attractive, if nothing more than because they’re interesting to talk to. As my boss used to say, growing up means caring not only about the Friday night, but also the Saturday morning, if you catch my drift.

October 12, 2012 @ 5:47 am | Comment

Just returned from San Francisco where I escorted a group of Chinese associates around town (went to Napa and Yosemite too) during the recent holiday break. As we frequently passed gay strip clubs and/or encountered gay men holding hands in public, the subject of homosexuality arose a number of times. It is simply untrue that the Chinese people are “cool” with homosexuality – a few are, most are not. The overbearing religious hooey that defines much of American public discourse on homosexuality was completely absent from my associates’ comments, but most were outspoken in their belief that homosexuality is “disgusting,” “strange,” “perverted,” etc. The men were generally more disturbed by it than the women, and most seem to believe that homosexuality is far more common in the US than in China. One person suggested that he would be devastated if his young son turned out to be gay – and several of the other people quickly agreed. The opinion that homosexuality should be viewed as a form of mental illness and treated as such was also expressed (ironic that we were in California, where Governor Jerry Brown had just dismissed such treatments as belonging to the “dustbin of quackery”). To their credit (I suppose), not one of my companions expressed any anger toward gays, much less a desire to inflict bodily injury. Even so, the well-educated, wealthy, outwardly sophisticated group of Chinese I was with demonstrated very little tolerance toward homosexuality. Indeed, I was left with the impression that Chinese homophobia is alive and well.

What can you say about a society in which a majority of homosexuals feel compelled to enter into marriages with straight partners? It’s not just the Chinese government that has a stick up its ass, it’s the people too. I have many Chinese who are completely “cool” with the idea of homosexuality, but these people are not representative.

I learned yesterday that a good friend of mine is leaving China to live and work in Zurich for three years. The reason? She’s gay and can’t stand living in China. Her partner, a writer of Chinese tv dramas, will be joining her for three months at a time (tourist visa). Both women are divorced – i.e., they were both once married to men.

Cool 个屁. Everyone is “cooler” than the Chinese government. It’s like saying that China is now so much better than during the Cultural Revolution. Big deal. The standard is way too low. Everyone is cooler than the Chinese government.

October 12, 2012 @ 6:56 am | Comment

I clarify in the post that it’s the young people who are cool with it, and cite the jiayuan survey. Obviously a lot of Chinese people aren’t cool with it, but I also think they don’t care so much as long as it’s not someone in their own family, as I say in the post.

October 12, 2012 @ 6:59 am | Comment

I wonder if Chinese young people really are “cool with it.” Perhaps someone should interview the thousands of Chinese young people who work at places like Foxconn. Or the young people who populate less affluent second and third tier Chinese cities, the countryside, etc. Or the young people who live in the hutong outside my window. I seriously doubt that most Chinese twenty-somethings are “cool with it.” My guess is that most Chinese young people are uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality and would prefer not to think about it. In short, Richard, I think you’re talking about a very specific subset of Chinese young people. And those people are not representative of Chinese young people as a whole.

October 12, 2012 @ 7:22 am | Comment

Obviously people in different parts of China and from different economic backgrounds have very different outlooks on issues like this. The people referred to in this article were extremely cool about it, and not just young people. Obviously it wouldn’t be the same in a lower-tier city, but I believe the trend is toward greater tolerance, especially as so many of China’s rural young people move to the cities to work and become increasingly urbanized. I’d love to see some polls done on this issue. But the fact remains, several Chinese media have run stories complete with photos of symbolic gay weddings over the past few years, and the coverage was extremely positive. I don’t think I’d have seen that when I first moved to China ten years ago. I think the trend is definitely toward greater tolerance. But I could be wrong, too.

October 12, 2012 @ 7:55 am | Comment

What response are you looking for ?

October 12, 2012 @ 10:03 am | Comment

This one, Dr. Clock. Any thoughts? Do you not see that you’ve been exposed (again)?

October 12, 2012 @ 11:04 am | Comment

Greater tolerance, perhaps. But as suggested in the post, it would still be a tall order to arrive at “acceptance” if it involved a family member. In that sense, I think attitudes probably do lag behind the west. On the other hand, neither would I expect to see in China the gay-bashing and mob beatings you see in western society, so in that sense they are probably more enlightened.

As for celebration of gay events in the Chinese mainstream media, there may still be a component of social conservatism that makes some of the topics considered to be inappropriate in mixed company.

October 12, 2012 @ 1:22 pm | Comment

Congrats to Mo Yan. My grandpa was ecstatic tonight–being an author himself, he said that most of his colleagues felt this award was one which not only Mo should be proud of, but all of China’s literary scene.

October 12, 2012 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

I guess I agree with Gan Lu. This post’s title is kind of anti-thetic, catchy, and not necessarily untrue. But it is too catchy to be really accurate. The degree to which people are cool with homosexuality is impossible to measure. A Chinese top cadre may be more tolerant with a homosexual daughter or son than an average cadre, or an average urban, or rural dweller. And still, he or she may be less cool with homosexuality in public life, than an average citizen.

Personal success will play a role, too. A relatively newly-arrived citizen from the countryside may feel that tolerance is an essential accessory to being a worldly-wise person. And one more thing: were the men who weren’t cool with homosexuality in San Francisco married to the women who were more tolerant? Could it be that their wives found their husbands’ intolerance assuring, despite their own tolerance – so that showing intolerance as a husband looked like a wise policy? Chinese peoples’ statements seem to depend on the environment, more often so than Westerners’ statements.

Many questions.

October 12, 2012 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

Maybe in the headline I should have said”THESE Chinese are cool…” denoting the ones described in the article. Didn’t mean all, of course, but still believe the trend is toward increasing coolness.

October 13, 2012 @ 1:10 am | Comment

Now we have arrived at a minimalist claim to put it mildly.

Higher education and urbanization does not appear to be a factor leading to increasing tolerance as noted by Gan Lu with his Chinese tourists in SF ie well heeled and educated travelers enjoying a cosmopolitan experience. At least the males, when confronted with in your face street scenes.

Exclude upward mobility, higher levels of education and travel.

SKC pretty well nails it: “On the other hand, neither would I expect to see in China the gay-bashing and mob beatings you see in western society, so in that sense they are probably more enlightened”.

As I said in #7, this crowd was probably prompted by the novelty value of it all. And the Chinese education system is not noted for its high standards in sex education (anatomical diagrams with students sleeping or texting). Hence no Western culture wars about gay marriage, due to a general ignorance of the issues.

For all we know, this crowd could have come together in a positive manner for a whole host of other reasons, maybe simply to piss off the local authorities over some other totally unrelated dissatisfaction. Sort of like Mao photos being brandished during the recent anti-Japanese demos.

China is indeed fortunate not to have:

a strong sporting jock culture within its educational system, and

a christian tradition woven thru its “civic” culture.

So maybe that is the source of its ‘enlightenment’.

Ersatz cool, Richard.

October 13, 2012 @ 6:32 am | Comment

One positive thing I see with respect to Chinese attitudes regarding homosexuality is the almost complete absence of religious bias. On the other hand, if Confucian values really are so important to the Chinese, then homophobia in China may not be so easy to overcome. After all, as Mencius once said, “不孝有三,无后为大。” (Of the three great unfilial acts, the failure to produce a male heir is the greatest.) Again, when you consider the overwhelming social pressure to marry and have children that nearly all Chinese people face, there is reason to believe that Chinese society (i.e., Chinese people as a whole) will be slow to embrace homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle choice. Don’t forget, this is a society that can’t even come to terms with the idea that a healthy adult woman might choose to remain single.

It is wrong, I think, to look around at China and mistake the absence of the kind of outspoken, ideologically pious homophobia that we see in America for a laudable Chinese “coolness.” In any case, I know a great many Chinese people, and I just don’t see it. I hope you’re right though. I would be quite happy to be wrong in this case. The world needs a few optimists, I suppose.

October 13, 2012 @ 6:32 am | Comment

Homosexuality is a bug in human DNA.

Ancient Chinese books do not mention homosexuality. It occasionall mentions 2 men being very close friends, and they bow to the heavens and become non-blood brothers, often saying to each other ‘we don’t demand to be born on the same date, but hope to die on the same.’ Is that considered homosexuality? From the study of psychology, you could say they have ‘homosexual leanings’. But I think that technically is a tendency that can happen occasionally to anyone’s life. When I was 7, I used to play this game with my male neighbor, where we touch our d*cks together. I did not grow up a homosexual and never had any obvious homosexual tendencies later and I have no sexual attraction to males today.

So, yes, latent homosexual tendencies can occur to anyone. But to escalate that and say ‘you are a homosexual’, that’s a fashion concept artificially created by modern Western society.

This fashion concept deliberately re-enforces and psychologically suggests these normal tendencies, deliberately encourages people to cross-dress, to anal f*ck, and suddenly that’s ‘totally normal’, that’s fashionable. It’s forcibly taking something that’s not natural to humans, and through social re-inforcement and conditioning, making it ‘natural’. It’s deliberately introducing a bug into the human DNA.

The nature designed humans to multiply and have descendants. There’s no way the intent of nature was for humans to anal f*ck the same sex and not unable to multipy. Therefore it’s logical to conclude that such behavior can only be a bug in DNA, a manually intorduced flaw. When nature designed the male penis, it’s for insertion into a female vagina. If you insert it into a male anus, then you mis-inserted. Just like you bring a British style 3-pronged plug and try to use it in North America, it’s just not right.

Of course I have nothing personally against gays. They have the freedom the to live the life they want, it’s not my business to accuse them.

October 14, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

By the way, just saw this news, and even I have to say: ‘Maybe Richard is right, is the government really corrupt from the top’?

A veteran went to seek 2 months worth of his retirement payment from his local village government official, worth about 1200 RMB, and was told ‘ why didn’t they kill you back then on the battlefield ?’

I first thought this is made up, but apparently it’s real:
http://tinyurl.com/8tnluas

October 15, 2012 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Ancient Chinese books do not mention homosexuality.

Han Dynasty scribes kept detailed books recording the emperors’ male lovers titled “Biographies of the Emperor’s Male Favorites.” Same-sex love is documented in several ancient texts, and you can find the specific references in Brett Hinsch’s book “Passion of the Cut Sleeve,” for sales as a Kindle book if you seriously want to research this. The first work of fiction that deals with male same-sex love is from the Tang Dynasty. You can read about it in my book. Ming Dynasty scrolls depict men engaged in intercourse together. You may also want to read Wu Cuncun’s detailed book, “Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China.” China has a long and celebrated history of same-sex love. The late-Ming author Tzu Yang Tao Jen wrote an incredibly graphic novel of female same sex love, The Flower’s Shadow Behind the Curtain.” And of course, while it isn’t ancient, Hong Lou Meng has many references to same-sex love. As usual, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

October 15, 2012 @ 1:55 am | Comment

I said do not often mention.

October 15, 2012 @ 2:05 am | Comment

Oh, but they often do. Read HInsch’s book. Do your research. I listed just a few examples.

October 15, 2012 @ 2:19 am | Comment

The Clock is just straight insane. The bit about his 7-year-old games is just totally ga-ga.

October 15, 2012 @ 4:33 am | Comment

I take it Tick-Tock expects his sexual partners to not take any contraception and be ovulating when he’s exercising John Thomas…

T-T, the penis was not designed for the vagina – they both co-evolved to fit that particular function. There was no blueprint. If using your scenario, your hands shouldn’t be used to type on keyboards as they were “designed” for grasping. The opposable thumb is of little use when typing ergo you should not type…but you and I know it doesn’t work that way.

October 15, 2012 @ 7:35 am | Comment

You just can’t stop fucking up, can you Clock?

From your last link:

The couple is now seeking compensation for actual damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), privacy invasion, malicious infliction of emotional distress and conversion.

The FDCPA considers it abusive for a debt collector to make empty threats, misrepresent the legal status of a debt, or use obscene of profane language.

Damn that government corruption!

October 15, 2012 @ 10:12 am | Comment

@The Clock – Can I just point out what a disaster your term as troll-in-residence on this blog is? You were stepping into the shoes of Math (whoever he was and whatever happened to him), and your first step was to make a post telling us he had died but filed with details which were either impossible to verify or patently false. From then on, rather than ever asserting a point that sparked even the slightest amount of debate (which Math at least managed ) your posts have merely attracted derision as either being transparent distraction or simply moronic insults. Now your posting bizarre stuff about childhood carryings on which would be better kept for your analyst.

You said you were the replacement for Math. Clock, we debated with Math. We knew Math. Math was a troll of ours.

Clock, you’re no Math.

October 15, 2012 @ 7:41 pm | Comment

Math at least had a wicked sense of humor, and was always entertaining. Mr. Clock is consistently dull, humorless and sloppy. If you’re going to troll at least do it with some style.

October 16, 2012 @ 1:10 am | Comment

Red Star, you’re going to have to explain the relevancy of that link to this post. Is it just that you feel compelled to attack America even when it is wholly irrelevant?

October 16, 2012 @ 8:18 am | Comment

Red Star, here’s one for you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjfFFdT0cZU&noredirect=1

Right, let’s return to relevancy….

October 16, 2012 @ 10:08 am | Comment

HongXing is swinging in to try and distract us from The Clock’s apparent implosion. No dice Xingy-boy.

October 16, 2012 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

This post has generated the biggest spam attack in the history of the blog so I am shutting off comments. If you want to add a comment to this thread send me an email and I’ll post if for you. Thanks.

October 18, 2012 @ 1:21 pm | Comment

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