Discussion Section: Gay Rights in China

A recent post by Li Yinhe has got us thinking about gay rights in China. Li herself doesn’t have much to say about it (her post is focused on recent developments), but she expresses support for the idea of gay marriage, and suggests that she thinks there ought to be less opposition for it in China than in the US because there isn’t really a “religious right” in China.

Some recent polls also indicate that Chinese people are comparatively open-minded about the subject. 91% of Chinese are apparently “happy to work with gay colleagues” and 30% even support gay marriage, according to the Guardian. Given that gay marriage isn’t currently a hot topic in China, and given that homosexuality was considered a mental illness in China earlier this decade, those numbers are pretty impressive.

So what do you think? Will we see gay marriage in China, and if so, when? Should this be a hot topic of discussion in China?

Warning: While you’re welcome to express any opinion on gay marriage and gay rights, hate speech will not be tolerated. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me (or get your comment deleted).

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: Gay Rights in China”

  1. Although I see a bright future for gay rights considering, like you said, it was considered a mental illness and then just recently, Shanghai had its first gay pride parade; I do think it will be a little while before we actually see noticeable differences in discussion and the possibility of support for gay marriage. While I’m sure the subject is much less taboo in first tier cities, in second tier cities like Tangshan, where I live, most of my students think it’s very strange and unnatural. When I told them that many surveys put the population of gays to be around 10% of the population, (I think? If anyone wants to correct me, feel free) they all immediately told me that they thought this was impossibly high for China.

    However, one thing there was none of coming from my students was intolerance, which is something that I’ve seen very often from certain friends in the west. The open-mindedness you mentioned is a bright and shining hope for the gay community of China, which I don’t think will really reveal itself at least until those currently in primary school become college graduates.


  2. Yes, but the gay pride festival was severely restricted by the Shanghai government despite support from newspapers like China Daily. Furthermore the vast majority of people attending seemed to be foreigners from the pictures I saw. On the other hand, the statistics seem to be quite promising given, as you both noted, the fast speed of recent developments.


  3. I’m basically optimistic. The right wing in China (I realize this term is a little fuzzy in a country where being “conservative” can mean both support for a strong government role in the economy and strident nationalism) is less concerned with culture wars than its counterpart in the U.S. or even Europe. People might think that homosexuality is “unnatural” but no one has staked their political career on that proposition.

    The main difficulty, I would imagine, is integrating respect for gay rights with Chinese family life.


  4. One positive (?) yet weird development is the fast growing funv (or fujoshi in Japanese) community in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, places under heavy influence of the post-post-modern popular culture in Japan.

    I suggest Josh go ask his students about funv (or tongrennv) and the huge number of funvs among college and even high school girls is astounding.

    A friend of mine is doing a mass communications research on the funvs to prepare for a paper he’s gon write and read at a Japanese academic conference, and he’s been sending me web links to some of the weirdest articles I’ve ever seen, written by funvs on topics such as the strong homosexual bond between the brothers Charlie and Alan in “Two and a Half Men,” the strong homosexual bond between male characters in nearly all Japanese mangas or TV shows, gay porn reviews (I’m not kidding), the unanimous, cult-like support for Adam Lambert the runner-up of this year’s “American Idol,” the strong homosexual bond between Dubya and Lee Ming-bak, and whatever. Some even fantasize about having their boyfriends have sex with another guy.

    So, with these girls growing up to become professional women and mothers, gays in China will probably have it easier here.

    But I don’t think gay marriage is coming soon. Just look at Japan and Taiwan and Hong Kong. People are generally tolerant, but discussions about gay stuff are still hidden.


  5. @ Wooddoo,

    I think you’re right. While there may be more tolerance (and interesting pop culture trends like the one you note), if China gets gay marriage, it won’t be because of massive public pressure. Nonetheless, I think such a law could be possible—as a unilateral government gesture.

    Look at something like the death penalty, a practice that most Chinese appear to approve of and few seem particularly worked up about (even a couple years ago when there was that stream of stories about wrongful convictions). The government has gone ahead and, on its own initiative, decreed that all death penalty cases must go through the Supreme People’s Court. Local governments, meanwhile, have begun transitioning to lethal injection rather than firing squads.

    My guess is that the state sometimes just does things to match international norms, regardless of popular opinion. In fact, it is easier for the government to do this if the public doesn’t care. Gay marriage might be similar. Beijing would win points abroad with liberals and not have to worry about whether its decision looked weak at home or alienated some interest group, etc.


  6. Call me ignorant, but what the heck is a funv? Can someone explain this? I thought I was pretty “hip” on my Chinese lingo. I guess not.

    Anyway, to answer the question, I highly doubt we’ll see gay marriage at all in China anywhere soon. I have to call into question the survey methods used there. What are the chances this reporter pretty much just posed the question on internet forums (not an accurate cross section of the populace) or in just the major big cities (again, only a small fraction of the populace and not necessarily indicative of what the majority think)? The government still cracks down heavily on pornography, even of the straight variety. If the government is not even willing to tolerate heterosexual pornography, calling for gay marriage seems like trying to jump across the Grand Canyon at this point. Just look at the new Green Dam software. Even the mention of the word “homosexual” will cause any program that you type it into to shut down. I am glad to see that there are an increasing number of outlets for expression for China’s gay population, however. Hopefully, within the next couple generations of leaders we’ll start to see some seriously shifting views on social liberties.


  7. I just came across this article about gay rights in India: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090628/ap_on_re_as/as_india_gay_parade;_ylt=At2.k75xDQR62eEo3l6d.dYBxg8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJxbjRjNHM0BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkwNjI4L2FzX2luZGlhX2dheV9wYXJhZGUEcG9zAzE4BHNlYwN5bl9wYWdpbmF0ZV9zdW1tYXJ5X2xpc3QEc2xrA2luZGlhbmdheXJpZw–

    That reminds me of the widely reported “gay week” in Shanghai this month. Each and every piece mentioned the time homosexuality was decriminalized in China, in a disapproving, “too little too late” kind of way. But this article about India where gay sex is still illegal reads much more balanced. I don’t think I’m biased here. I actually changed the context to China in my mind, mentally read it again and it felt surprisingly positive. Gods know what it would say if Chinese laws still banned homosexuality.


  8. Good point. In general, it seems like China would benefit from more comparisons with the rest of Asia—not as an excuse for problems in China and not to belabor tired-out arguments about liberal and illiberal countries, but just to give some context.


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