Homosexuality in China

The situation of homosexuality in China is quite ambiguous, although it has been recorded in the dynastic history.

Nowadays, tongzhi (同志) is used as slang in Mandarin Chinese referring to homosexuality, while in Cantonese gei1(基), adopted from English gay, is used. This is often considered to be offensive when used by heterosexuals or even by homosexuals. Tongzhi literally means "comrade", but is simply a head-rhyme with tongxinglian (同性戀), a formal word for "homosexuality/homosexual(s)".

Table of contents
1 Ancient China
2 Modern China
3 Hong Kong
4 Taiwan
5 See also
6 External Links
7 Books

Ancient China

Homosexuality has been acknowledged in China since ancient times. Two notable royal examples come from a formulaic expression, yto dunxi (余桃断袖). Yto, or "the leftover peach", recorded in Hanfeizi, speaks of Mi Zixia (彌子瑕), a beautiful man cherished by Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公) who once shared a bitten delicious peach with the duke, who appreciated the gesture (although once the aging Mi Zixia lost his beauty, the duke looked back on this event and said Mi was being insincere.) Dunxi, or "breaking the sleeve", refers to Emperor Ai of Han China's act of cutting his sleeve, which his adored male concubine Dongxian (董賢) was sleeping on, in order not to wake him.

Scholar Pan Guangdan (潘光旦) came to the conclusion that nearly every emperor in the Han Dynasty had one or more male sex partners. There are also descriptions of lesbians in some history books. It is believed homosexuality was popular in the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. Chinese homosexuals did not experience high-profile persecution compared to homosexuals in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Modern China

Homosexuality went underground after the formation of the People's Republic of China. The communist regime persecuted homosexuals, especially during the Cultural Revolution, when many gays were subject to public humiliation, assault, long prison terms, or execution. Societal tolerance towards homosexuality decreased. Since the policy of Reform and Opening Up in 1979, the communist party has been loosening its control over this issue. But the profile of homosexuality was libeled as a "moldering life style of capitalism". Confucian morality and communist puritanism both frowned on homosexuality. The Chinese Classification and Diagnostic Criteria of Mental Disorders still listed homosexuality as a kind of mental disorder as of 1994.

A notable change occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when sodomy was decriminalized in 1997, and the new Chinese Classification and Diagnostic Criteria of Mental Disorders removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses on April 20, 2001. But the conservative authority still refuses to promote either gay issues or gay rights in China. Although there is no explicit law against homosexuality or same-sex acts between consenting adults, neither are there laws protecting gays from discrimination, nor are there any gay rights organizations in the PRC. It's often said that the Chinese policy towards the gay issue remains "Three nos": no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion (不支持, 不反对, 不提倡). But many cases show that gays still have to endure prejudice from the justice system and harassment from police, including detention and arrest. In October 2000, a Beijing court ruled that homosexuality was "abnormal and unacceptable to the Chinese public" [Washington Post 24 Jan. 2000], which was the first time the official attitude was stated openly. Another notable case happened in July 2001, when at least 37 gay men were detained in Guangdong Province.

The loosening of restrictions on Internet use has resulted in a blossoming of gay websites in the PRC, even though the police sometimes intervene and shut down such websites. The mainstream media sometimes covers notable gay events abroad, such as pride parades. But some critics charge that the purpose of the media is mostly to smear homosexuality. Lacking a film rating system, the Chinese government forbids gay movies to be shown on TV or in theaters because they are "inappropriate". Despite having received much attention in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other places, the movie Lan Yu is still forbidden in the PRC because it refers to gay issues although the actors are all Mainlanders, and the story is based on a quite popular Internet story written by a mainland netizen.

An internet survey in 2000 showed that Chinese people are becoming more tolerant towards gays: among the 10,792 surveyed, 48.15% were in favor, 30.9% disapproved, 14.46% were uncertain, and 7.26% were indifferent. There are no radical conservatives or radical liberation activists, therefore, gay-bashing is rare. But some scholars complain that the government's indifferent attitude towards homosexuality and nonfeasance about promoting the situation of homosexuality still make the life of gay people in China frustrating. During the 2002 Gay Games, only 2 persons from the mainland were sent to take part in it, and apart from gay websites the media gave little coverage to the event. Many gay men admit to having unsafe sex, and more than one sex partner, which worsens the spread of AIDS in China, because the Chinese government makes no effort to educate about the danger of AIDS among gay people. According to one study, Chinese homosexuals have already reached something between 360,000 and 480,000 (another statement based on Chinese government documents and academic studies states the figure is 15 million), the majority male, and there are many gay bars and nightclubs in big cities, like Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, which are subject to police harassment. The difficulties surrounding homosexuality in China make those gays who cannot afford to go to gay bars or nightclubs look for casual sex in public washrooms, parks, and public shower centers.

Hong Kong

Male homosexual behaviour was illegal before 1991 in Hong Kong, the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. The Legislative Council agreed to decriminalize buggery after the public debate which arose in 1980. But other two attempts of introducing anti-discrimination legislation failed in 1993 and 1997.

There are several gay-rights organizations in Hong Kong, such as Rainbow Action and Tongzhi Culture Society. In 2003, Catholic Church of Hong Kong released an article condemning same-sex marriage. As a result a group of protestors rushed into a church and interrupted the service.


At the end of October 2003, the government of the Republic of China announced plans to legalize same-sex marriage, which would make Taiwan the first place in Asia permitting it. On November 1, 2003 the first gay pride parade in the Chinese region was held in Taipei, with over 1,000 people attending [1] . Still, many participants wore masks to hide their identities because homosexuality remains a taboo in Taiwan.

See also

External Links


  • Bret Hinsch, Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China, The University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 0-520-06720-7.

" size=20>


Browse articles alphabetically:
#0">0 | #1">1 | #2">2 | #3">3 | #4">4 | #5">5 | #6">6 | #7">7 | #8">8 | #9">9 | #_">_ | #A">A | #B">B | #C">C | #D">D | #E">E | #F">F | #G">G | #H">H | #I">I | #J">J | #K">K | #L">L | #M">M | #N">N | #O">O | #P">P | #Q">Q | #R">R | #S">S | #T">T | #U">U | #V">V | #W">W | #X">X | #Y">Y | #Z">Z