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Young men sipping tea and having sex. Individual panel from a hand scroll on homosexual themes, paint on silk; China, Qing Dynasty (eighteenth to nineteenth centuries); Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana, United States

The situation of homosexuality in Chinese culture is relatively ambiguous in the contemporary context, although many instances have been recorded in the dynastic histories.


Terminology in China

Traditional terms for homosexuality included "the passion of the cut sleeve" (断袖之癖, Mandarin, Pinyin: duànxiù zhī pǐ), and "the bitten peach" (分桃 Pinyin: fēntáo). An example of the latter term appears in a 6th century poem by Liu Xiaozhuo:

She dawdles, not daring to move closer,/ Afraid he might compare her with leftover peach.[1]

Other, less literary, terms have included "male trend" (男風 Pinyin: nánfēng), "allied brothers" (香火兄弟 Pinyin: xiānghuǒ xiōngdì), and "the passion of Longyang" (龍陽癖 Pinyin: lóngyángpǐ), referencing a homoerotic anecdote about Lord Long Yang in the Warring States Period. The formal modern word for "homosexuality/homosexual(s)" is tongxinglian (同性戀, Pinyin: tóngxìngliàn, literally same-sex relations/love) or tongxinglian zhe (同性戀者, Pinyin: tóngxìngliàn zhě, homosexual people). Instead of this formal word, "tongzhi" (同志 Pinyin: tóngzhì), simply a head-rhyme word, is more commonly used in the gay community. Tongzhi (literally means 'comrade', and sometimes nü tongzhi, 女同志 Pinyin: nǚ tóngzhì, literally "female comrade") which was first adopted by Hong Kong researchers in Gender Studies, is used as slang in Mandarin Chinese referring to homosexuals, while in Cantonese gei1 (基), adopted from English gay, is used. "Gay" is sometimes considered to be offensive when used by heterosexuals or even by homosexuals in certain situations. Another slang term is boli (玻璃, Pinyin: bōli, crystal or glass), which is not so commonly used. Among gay university students, the acronym "datong" (大同, Pinyin: dàtóng, which also refers to utopia in Chinese) is becoming popular. Datong is short for daxuesheng tongzhi (university students [that are] homosexuals).

Lesbians usually call themselves lazi (拉子, Pinyin: lāzi) or lala (拉拉, Pinyin: lālā). These two terms are abbreviations of the transliteration of the English term "lesbian". These slang terms are also commonly used in Mainland China now.

Traditional views towards homosexuality in China's society

A woman spying on a pair of male lovers

All major religions in ancient China have some sort of codex, which have traditionally been interpreted as being against exclusive homosexuality when it interferes with continuation of the family lineage. Confucians believe that begetting children (especially sons) is a very important duty, so a person who only has same-gender lovers is not dutiful. Taoism emphasizes maintaining the balance between Yin and Yang. An exclusively male relationship is thought to be a Yang-Yang relationship and believed to be imbalanced and destructive; similarly a female relationship would be read as Yin-Yin.

On the other hand, none of the major Chinese religions consider homosexual acts as sin as many Christian churches do. Compared to sin in Christian culture, the list of sinful deeds in the codex of Confucianism does not include homosexuality. As long as a man does his duty and sires children, it is his private affair to have other male lovers.

This is also true in Taoism. Although each man is regarded as yang (陽, masculine), every man also has some yin (陰, feminine) in him. Some men can have much yin in them. So the presence of some feminine behavior is not viewed as unnatural for men. In this view, homosexuals can even be regarded as something very natural, according to the natural balance of yin and yang. It is also remarkable that many Taoist gods and goddesses live alone or together with some equal deities of the same sex. The very common example is Shanshen (山神, mountain spirit) and Tudigong (土地公, "keeper of earth", i.e., local god). Every place has its Shanshen and Tudigong, and they sometimes live together. Shanshen and Tudigong are often both males (Tudigong is always a male). More intriguingly, they sometimes manifest themselves as an old man and an old woman (such appearances are described quite often in the classical novel Journey to the West). On top of this, the philosophy of Zhuangzi puts an emphasis on freedom and carefreeness, so anything that is seen as 'out of the ordinary' is really 'ordinary' according to the natural way of things.

Same-sex love in literature

Same-gender love can sometimes be difficult to differentiate in Classical Chinese, which is ambiguous about gender for nouns & pronouns. Many poems can be read as either heterosexual or homosexual depending on the reader's desire.[2] In addition, a good deal of ancient Chinese poetry was written by men in the female voice and portrayed semi-sexual relationships between teenaged girls, before they were pulled apart by marriage. Male poets would also use the female narrative voice to lament being abandoned by a male comrade or king.

Another complication in trying to separate out heterosexual & homosexual themes in Chinese literature is that for most of Chinese history, writing was restricted to a cultivated elite, amongst whom blatant discussion of sex was considered vulgar. Until adopting European values late in their history, the Chinese did not even have nouns to describe a heterosexual or homosexual person per se. Rather, people who might be directly labeled as such in other traditions would be described by veiled allusions to the actions they enjoyed, or, more often, by referring to a famous example from the past.[3] The most common of these references to homosexuality referenced Dong Xian and Mizi Xia.

The Tang Dynasty "Poetical Essay on the Supreme Joy" is a good example of the allusive nature of Chinese writing on sexuality. This manuscript sought to present the "supreme joy" (sex) in every form known to the author; the chapter on homosexuality comes between chapters on sex in Buddhist monasteries and sex between peasants. It is the earliest surviving manuscript to mention homosexuality, but it does so through phrases such as "cut sleeves in the imperial palace", "countenances of linked jade", and "they were like Lord Long Yang", phrases which would not be recognizable as speaking of sexuality of any kind to someone who was not familiar with the literary tradition.[4]

While these conventions make explicit mentions of homosexuality rare in Chinese literature in comparison to the Greek or Japanese traditions, the allusions which do exist are given an exalted air by their frequent comparison to former Golden Ages and imperial favorites.[5] A Han Dynasty poem describes the official Zhuang Xin making a nervous pass at his lord, Xiang Cheng of Chu. The ruler is nonplussed at first, but Zhuang justifies his suggestion through allusion to a legendary homosexual figure and then recites a poem in that figure's honor. At that, "Lord Xiang Cheng also received Zhuang Xin's hand and promoted him."[6]

A remarkable aspect of traditional Chinese literature, in contrast to English literature, is the prominence of same-gender friendship. Bai Juyi is one of many writers who wrote dreamy, lyrical poems to male friends about shared experiences. He and fellow scholar-bureaucrat Yuan Zhen made plans to retire together as Taoist recluses once they had saved enough funds, but Yuan's death kept that dream from being fulfilled.[7] In Water Margin, a Song Dynasty novel, male revolutionary soldiers form deep, long lasting, and arguably romantic friendships.

Other works depict less platonic relationships. A Ming Dynasty rewriting of a very early Zhou Dynasty legend recounts a passionate male relationship between Pan Zhang & Wang Zhongxian which is equated to heterosexual marriage, and which continues even beyond death.[8] The daring 17th century author Li Yu combined tales of passionate love between men with brutal violence and cosmic revenge.[9] In China's best-known novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, from the Qing Dynasty, there are examples of males engaging in both same-sex and opposite-sex acts.[10]

There is a tradition of clearly erotic literature, which is less known. It is supposed that most such works have been purged in the periodic book burnings that have been a feature of Chinese history. However, isolated manuscripts have survived. Chief among these is the anthology "Bian er chai" (弁而釵,Pinyin: Biàn ér chāi), Cap but Pin, or A Lady's Pin under a Man's Cap, a series of four short stories in five chapters each, of passion and seduction. The first short story, Chronicle of a Loyal Love, involves a twenty-year-old academician chasing a fifteen-year-old scholar and a bevy of adolescent valets. In another, "Qing Xia Ji" (淸侠妓 Pinyin: Qīng xiá jì, Record of the Passionate Hero), the protagonist, Zhang, a valiant soldier with two warrior wives, is seduced by his younger friend Zhong, a remarkable arrangement as it is stereotypically the older man who takes the initiative with a boy. The work appeared in a single edition some time between 1630 and 1640.

More recently, Ding Ling (丁玲 Dīng Líng), an author of the 1920s in China, was a prominent and controversial feminist author, and it is generally agreed that she had lesbian (or at least bisexual) content in her stories. Her most famous piece is "Miss Sophia's Diary" (莎菲女士的日記 Pinyin: Shāfēi Nǚshì de rìjì), a seminal work in the development of a voice for women's sexuality and sexual desire. Additionally, a contemporary author, Huang Biyun (黄碧云, Pinyin: Huáng Bìyún, Cantonese: Wong Bikwan), writes from the lesbian perspective in her story "She's a Young Woman and So Am I" (她是女士,我也是女士 Pinyin: Tā shì nǚshì, wǒ yě shì nǚshì"). Author Pai Hsien-yung created a sensation by coming out of the closet in Taiwan, and by writing about gay life in Taipei in the 1960s and 70s.[11]

Same-sex love was also celebrated in Chinese art, many examples of which have survived the various traumatic political events in recent Chinese history. Though no large statues are known to still exist, many hand scrolls and paintings on silk can be found in private collections[1].



Ancient China

Young men engaged in erotic play; Hand scroll with homosexual theme, opaque watercolor on paper; Beijing, Qing Dynasty, late 19th c. Private collection

Homosexuality has been documented in China since ancient times. The Intrigues of the Warring States, a collection of political advice & stories from before the Han Dynasty, refers to Duke Xian of Jin planting a handsome young man in a rival's court in order to influence the other ruler and to give him bad advice.[12] The historian Han Fei recorded a more exalted example in the relationship of Mi Zixia (彌子瑕) and Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公). Mizi Xia's sharing of an especially delicious peach with his lover was referenced by later writers as Yútáo, or "the leftover peach". Another example of homosexuality at the highest level of society from the Warring States Period is the story of Lord Long Yang and the King of Wei.[13]

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. Many were recorded in detailed biographies in the Memoirs of the Historian by Sima Qian and the Records of the Han by Ban Gu.[14] Grand Historian Sima Qian notes that, unlike female wives & concubines, the male companions of the emperors were often admired as much for their administrative abilities as for their sexual abilities:

Those who served the ruler and succeeded in delighting his ears and eyes, those who caught their lord's fancy and won his favor and intimacy, did so not only through the power of lust and love; each had certain abilities in which he excelled. Thus I made The Biographies of the Emperors' Male Favorites. The proverb says, "No amount of toiling in the fields can compare to a spell of good weather; no amount of faithful service can compare to being liked by your superiors." This is no idle saying. Yet it is not women alone who can use their looks to attract the eyes of the ruler; courtiers and eunuchs can play at that game as well. Many were the men of ancient times who gained favor this way.[15]

The official histories list ten openly bisexual emperors during the first 200 years of the dynasty:

The last of these emperors overlapped chronologically with the "all but one" of the first fourteen Roman emperors held to be bisexual or exclusively homosexual by historian Edward Gibbon.[16] The Han emperor most strongly devoted to his male companion was Emperor Ai, who "by nature...did not care for women"[17], and who attempted to pass the throne on to his lover, Dongxian (董賢).[18] The story of Emperor Ai which most struck later writers, however, was when the Emperor carefully cut off his sleeve, so as not to awake Dongxian, who had fallen asleep on top of it. The cut sleeve was imitated by many people at court and became known as Duànxiù, or "breaking the sleeve". This phrase was linked with the earlier story of Mizi Xia's bitten peach to create the formulaic expression yútáo duànxiù (余桃断袖) to refer to homosexuality in general.

Throughout written Chinese history, the role of women is given little positive emphasis, with relationships between women being especially rare. One mention by Ying Shao, who lived about 140 to 206, does relate palace women attaching themselves as husband and wife, a relationship called dui shi. He noted, "They are intensely jealous of each other."[19]

It should be noted that except in unusual cases, such as Emperor Ai, the men named for their homosexual relationships in the official histories appear to have had active heterosexual lives as well. It is, in fact, impossible to know the full sexuality of any historical figures from most of Chinese history, unless they are indicated to be bisexual, since only affairs which were considered out of the ordinary were documented. Neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality were considered out of the ordinary for most of that history, so the fact that only one of the two was documented cannot rule out the other.[20]

The cases of Huo Guang, who served as regent of the Western Han, and General Liang Ji, who dominated the government of Han China in the 150's, are typical of bisexuals whose homosexuality would not have been mentioned had it not been seen as unusual in some way. Huo Guang was infatuated with his slave master, Feng Zidu, a fact that "provoked laughter in the wineshops of foreigners"[21], but which didn't have much effect on his own countrymen. What did surprise them was when Huo Guang's widow took up with the slave master after her husband's death. For two lower-status individuals, one a woman and one a servant, to dishonor their master's memory in this way was considered shocking, and so the relationship was made note of.[22]

Similarly, General Liang Ji, was typical in having both a wife, Sun Shou, and a male slave, Qin Gong, who was acknowledged publicly with a status similar to a concubine. In this specific case, the relationship made it into the histories only because Liang Ji showed exceptional devotion to his wife, sharing the slave Qin Gong with her in a ménage à trois. [23] It was not Liang Ji's bisexuality which was considered noteworthy, but rather the fact that he let two of his lower-ranking lovers enjoy each other instead of demanding that they each concentrate solely on him.[24]

Two notable scholars, Ruan Ji and Shan Tao, were unique as egalitarian, long-term partners in the 3rd century. They were members of the anti-establishment Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, and their relationship reflected that group's vaunting of mystical, rustic, and simple life over the corruption, hierarchy, and intrigue at court. According to Lady Han, the wife of another of the Sages, who spied on the two in their bedroom, they were also sexually talented.[25]

The official records of the Liu Song Dynasty claimed that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in the late 3rd century:

All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.[26]

A concrete example of this was the love which Jin Dynasty general Ji Long exhibited for his favorite singing boy, Zheng Yingtao. Known as the "Stone Tiger" for his toughness, General Ji nonetheless was so infatuated by the boy that he considered killing his own wives when Zheng Yingtao slandered them to eliminate the competition.[27]

One of the earliest mentions of the actor-prostitutes who would become common later in Chinese history is also from the Jin Dynasty. Poet Zhang Hanbian wrote:

The actor Zhou elegantly wanders,/ the youthful boy is young and delicate,/ fifteen years old./ Like the eastern sun,/ fragrant skin, vermillion cosmetics,/ simple disposition mixes with notariety./ Your head turns- I kiss you,/ lotus and hibiscus.[28]

Poems written by and for the future Emperor Jianwen of Liang also highlight the luxurious but ultimately degrading role of the male prostitute at the time. [29]

The aristocratic poet Yu Xin was representative of a the more subtle system of patronage which existed without the stigma of prostitution, whereby a poorer or younger man could provide sexual service to a more established man in return for political advancement. Yu Xin opened his home and provided a standing reference for the younger Wang Shao, who repaid him by serving as a sort of butler and sex provider. Wang Shao went on to become an official censor.[30]

With the rise of the Tang Dynasty, China became increasingly influenced by the sexual mores of Central Asian nomads, and female companions began to accumulate the political power previously accumulated by male companions at the imperial court.[31] At the same time, the actual power of the imperial court was in decline relative to intermediate rule by scholar-bureaucrats. The first negative term for homosexuality in Chinese- 'jijian', connoting illicit sexuality- appears at this time.[32]

The following Song dynasty was the last dynasty to include a chapter on male companions to the emperors in official documents.[33] In addition to Central Asian influence, the Song Dynasty saw the first widespread adoption of Indian Buddhism, which derided sexuality in general.[34] Increasing urbanization caused the monetization of all kinds of sexuality[35], and the first law against male prostitutes, never effectively enforced, went into effect.

After the Song Dynasty, homosexual behavior was most documented amongst the gentry and merchant classes, since these were the people who were doing most of the writing. Practically all officials of this class maintained a wife or wives to produce heirs, and used their economic advantage to engage in relationships, heterosexual and homosexual, which gave them unequal power.[36] Thus documentation focuses on male courtesans or "singing boys" in luxurious but decadent surroundings who must take on a female role to please wealthy patrons intent on maintaining their role as the masculine partner in the agreement.[37]

Still, Chinese homosexuals did not experience persecution which would compare to that experienced by homosexuals in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages, and in some areas, same sex love was particularly appreciated. There was a stereotype in the late Ming Dynasty that the province of Fujian was the only place where homosexuality was prominent[38], but Xie Zhaozhe (1567–1624) wrote that "from Jiangnan and Zhejiang to Beijing and Shanxi, there is none that does not know of this fondness."[38] European Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci took note of what they deemed "unnatural perversions", distressed over its often open and public nature.[39] Historian Timothy Brook writes that abhorrence of sexual norms went both ways, since "the celibate Jesuits were rich food for sexual speculation among the Chinese."[39]

Although the province of Fujian was not alone in open homosexuality in the 17th century, it was the site of a unique system of male marriages, attested to by the scholar-bureaucrat Shen Defu and the writer Li Yu, and mythologized by in the folk tale, The Leveret Spirit. The older man in the union would play the masculine role as a qixiong or "adoptive older brother", paying a "bride price" to the family of the younger man- it was said virgins fetched higher prices- who became the qidi, or "adoptive younger brother". Li Yu described the ceremony, "They do not skip the three cups of tea or the six wedding rituals- it is just like a proper marriage with a formal wedding."[40] The qidi then moved into the household of the qixiong, where he would be completely dependent on him, be treated as a son-in-law by the qixiongs parents, and possibly even help raise children adopted by the qixiong. These marriages could last as long as 20 years before both men were expected to marry women in order to procreate.[41]

A more individual example of a marriage-like relationship between men was that formed by the scholar-bureaucrat Bi Yuan (1730- 1797) and the Suzhou actor Li Guiguan. The two men exchanged vows of fidelity, and Li Guiguan retired from the stage to be addressed by acquaintances as Bi's wife. Unlike the Fujian marriages, this was a unique relationship in its locality, so much so that it was still remembered 200 years later, when it inspired the novel Precious Mirror of Ranking Flowers by Chen Sen.[42]

Another example of the high status of homosexuality in Fujian province, clearly not shared by the centralized Chinese government by this time, was recorded by Qing official Zhu Gui (1731-1807), a grain tax circuit intendant of Fujian in 1765. Intending to standardize the morality of the people under his jurisdiction, he promulgated a "Prohibition of Licentious Cults". One cult which he found particularly troublesome was the cult of Hu Tianbao. As he reports,

The image is of two men embracing one another; the face of one is somewhat hoary with age, the other tender and pale. [Their temple] is commonly called the small official temple. All those debauched and shameless rascals who on seeing youths or young men desire to have illicit intercourse with them pray for assistance from the plaster idol. Then they make plans to entice and obtain the objects of their desire. This is known as the secret assistance of Hu Tianbao. Afterwards they smear the idol's mouth with pork intestine and sugar in thanks.[43]

The Qing Dynasty instituted the first law against consensual, non-monetized homosexuality in China. It has been construed that this may have been part of an attempt to limit all personal expression outside government-monitored relationships, coming in response to the social chaos at the end of the Ming Dynasty. The punishment, which included a month in prison and 100 heavy blows, was actually the lightest punishment which existed in the Qing legal system.[44]

The homosexual tradition in China was largely censured as antiquated by the Self-Strengthening Movement, when homophobia was imported to China along with Western science and philosophy, but some interest in the past remained. In the year 1944, the scholar Sun Cizhou (孫次周) published a work stating that one of the most famous ancient Chinese poets, Qu Yuan, was a lover of his king. Sun cited the poetry of Qu Yuan (屈原) to prove his claim. In Qu Yuan's most important work Li Sao (Sorrow of parting), Qu Yuan called himself a beautiful man (or woman, 美人 Pinyin: měirén). A word he used to describe his king was used at that time by women to characterize their lovers.

Modern China

Activists Chen Yu-Rong and Wang Ping of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan

A notable change occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s with the removal in 1997 of "hooliganism" from the criminal law, a de facto decriminalization of homosexuality. In April 20, 2001, the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.[45][46]

One of the first Hong Kong gay rights activists and writers to study the history of homosexuality in China was Xiaomingxiong (also known as Samshasha), author of the comprehensive "The History of Homosexuality in China" (1984).[47] By the mid-1980s Chinese researchers on the mainland had begun investigating same-sex relationships in China. Some of the most notable work was conducted by sexologist Ruan Fangfu, who in 1991 published in English Sex in China: Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture.[48].

An Internet survey in 2000 showed that Chinese people are becoming more tolerant towards homosexuality: among the 10,792 surveyed, 48.15% were in favor, 30.9% disapproved, 14.46% were uncertain, and 7.26% were indifferent.[46] Gay bashing is rare in modern China. Some scholars complain that the government is too indifferent on this issue, doing nothing to promote the situation of homosexuality in China. During the 2002 Gay Games, only 2 persons from the mainland were sent to take part, and apart from gay websites the media gave little coverage to the event. The authorities still refuse 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 China. It is believed that the Chinese policy towards the gay issue remains the "Three nos": no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion (不支持, 不反对, 不提倡).

A 2008 survey by sexologist Li Yinhe shows a mixed picture of public attitudes towards gays and lesbians in China. 91% of respondents said they agreed with homosexuals having equal employment rights, while over 80% of respondents agreed that heterosexuals and homosexuals were "equal individuals". On the other hand, a slight majority disagreed with the proposition that an openly-gay person should be a school teacher, and 40% of respondents said that homosexuality was "completely wrong".[49]

The number of homosexuals in China remains unclear. One statement based on Chinese government documents and academic studies states that the figure is 15 million. An official statistic, as quoted in a news report in China Daily, put the figure for mainland China at "approximately 30 million" (2.3% of the population), though it admitted many Chinese would not openly declare their sexual orientation.[50] Compared to the higher proportions of homosexuals in other countries, many find these figures unconvincing.[51]

The loosening of restrictions on Internet use has resulted in a blossoming of gay websites in mainland China, even though the police sometimes intervene and shut down such websites. The Internet has been very important to the mainland Chinese gay community. Although there are no gay organizations in mainland China, there are some organized Internet sites that function as advisory institutions.

The mainstream media sometimes cover notable gay events abroad, such as pride parades. 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 gay-themed movie Lan Yu is still forbidden in the mainland China (the film also features references to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989) although the actors are all Mainlanders, and the story is based on a quite popular Internet story written by a mainland netizen (a heavily edited version of the film was released on DVD for the mainland). New Western films like Brokeback Mountain in 2006, were denied release in the mainland, even though there was an overall public interest as the film was directed by Ang Lee.

Although more prominent in first-tier Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, gay clubs, bars, tea houses, saunas, and support centers are also becoming more widespread in second-tier cities like Xi'an, Dalian, and Kunming. Occasionally, these locations are subject to police harassment. Similar to the development of the gay scene in other countries, other less formal 'cruising spots' exist in parks, public washrooms, malls, and public shower centers. Being gay is particularly difficult in the countryside; in China this is especially severe as the vast majority of people live in the countryside with no Internet access and no possibility to move to a city. Country dwellers do not often speak of homosexuality, and when they do, it is usually considered a disease.[52]

Many cases show that gay people still have to endure prejudice from the justice system and harassment from police, including detention and arrest. In October 1999, a Beijing court ruled that homosexuality was "abnormal and unacceptable to the Chinese public",[53] which was the first time this official attitude was stated openly. Another notable case happened in July 2001, when at least 37 gay men were detained in Guangdong. In late April 2004, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (国家广播电影电视总局) initiated a campaign to clear violence and sexual content from the media. Programmes related to homosexual topic, scene, or language are considered to be "going against the healthy way of life in China", and are banned.

As early as 2004 and having seen rapid rises in HIV infection among gay and bisexual men in other Asian countries, provincial and city level health departments began HIV related research among men who have sex with men (MSM). In January 2006 the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Treatment. The document specifically mentioned MSM as a population that is vulnerable to HIV infection and directed officials and organizations on every level to include MSM in HIV prevention activities. In April 2008, under the direction of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, 61 cities in China initiated community based studies of MSM and their potential risk for becoming infected with HIV. Concurrent to these studies, HIV prevention programs were initiated in those same cities using a peer led intervention model.[54]

The Ministry of Health estimated there were five to 10 million gay people in the Chinese mainland, aged between 15 and 65 in 2006 but sociologist Li Yinhe estimates it is between 36 and 48 million.[55]

Same-sex marriage in China

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During the evaluation of the amendment of the marriage law in the Chinese mainland in 2003, there was the first discussion about same-sex marriage. Though this issue was rejected, this was the first time that an item of gay rights was discussed in China. However, just not long before the new marriage law went into effect, an officer stated in a press conference that same-sex marriage is still forbidden in China, on August 19, 2003.

Li Yinhe (李銀河), a sociologist and sexologist well-known in the Chinese gay community, has tried to legalize same-sex marriage several times, including during the National People's Congress in 2000 and 2004 (Legalization for the Chinese Same-Sex Marriage, 《中国同性婚姻合法化》 in 2000 and the Chinese Same-Sex Marriage Bill, 《中国同性婚姻提案》 in 2004). According to Chinese law, 35 delegates' signatures are needed to make an issue a bill to be discussed in the Congress. Her efforts failed due to lack of support from the delegates. Many scholars as well as gay and lesbians believe it will be difficult to pass such a law in China in the near future.

During the 2006 National People's Congress and again in 2007, Li proposed the same-sex marriage bill again. Some gay web sites called for their members to sign petitions in support of this bill. This bill was dismissed both times.

Hong Kong


Same sex marriage is not legal in Macau, but otherwise homosexuality is not addressed by law.

Slang in contemporary Chinese gay culture

The following terms are not standard usage, rather they are colloquial and used within the gay community.

Chinese Pinyin English
同性 tóng xìng same sex
拉拉 lā lā lesbian
小攻 xiǎo gōng top
小受 xiǎo shòu bottom
G吧 g BAR gay bar
18禁 shí bā jìn forbidden below 18 years of age
同性浴室 tóng xìng yù shì same sex bathhouse
出柜 chū guì come out of the closet
直男 zhí nán straight (man)
卖的 mài de rent boy
xiong bear
狒狒 fei fei someone who likes bears - literally 'baboon'
猴子 hou zi twink - literally 'monkey'



The following are prominent Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese people who have come out to the public or are actively working to improve gay rights in Mainland China and Taiwan:

  • Leslie Cheung (bisexual or gay singer and actor from Hong Kong - died 2003)
  • Pai Hsien-yung (gay writer from Taiwan)
  • Li Yinhe (the well known scholar on sexology in China)
  • Josephine Ho (researcher and political activist in Taiwan)
  • Siu Cho (researcher and political/ social activist in Hong Kong)

Movies and TV series

Many gay movies or TV series have been made in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, including:

See also


  • Brook, Timothy. (1998). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22154-0 (Paperback).
  • Szonyi, Michael. "The Cult of Hu Tianbao and the eighteenth-Century Discourse of Homosexuality." Late Imperial China (Volume 19, Number 1, June 1998): 1–25.
  1. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-520-06720-7
  2. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 16- 17.
  3. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 7.
  4. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 84.
  5. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 6.
  6. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 23.
  7. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 80-81.
  8. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 24-25.
  9. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 121- 131.
  10. ^ Hinsch, Bret (1992). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 147. ISBN 9780520078697. 
  11. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 163.
  12. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 31.
  13. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 32.
  14. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 36.
  15. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 36.
  16. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 35-36.
  17. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 52.
  18. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 46.
  19. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 174.
  20. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 42
  21. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 49
  22. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 49- 50
  23. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 49
  24. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 42
  25. ^ Hinsh, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 68- 69
  26. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 56
  27. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 86.
  28. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 71
  29. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 72- 73
  30. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California. pp. 69
  31. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 77-78.
  32. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 88.
  33. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 77-78.
  34. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 96.
  35. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 92.
  36. ^ Brook, 233.
  37. ^ Brook, 231–233
  38. ^ a b Brook, 232.
  39. ^ a b Brook, 231.
  40. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 127.
  41. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 131- 132.
  42. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 154- 155.
  43. ^ Szonyi 1-25.
  44. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 144.
  45. ^ Quiet pink revolution in dark before dawn?, Xinhua, December 26, 2005
  46. ^ a b Chinese Society More Tolerant of Homosexuality
  47. ^ McLelland, Dr. Mark (26 February 2004), Samshasha, HK's first gay rights activist,, retrieved 2008-02-28 
  48. ^ Fang-fu Ruan, PhD, MD, ACS, ABS, FAACS:Publications
  49. ^ Li Yinhe on Chinese attitudes towards homosexuality: ten questions
  50. ^ Lesbians, gays gaining acceptance on mainland, China Daily, October 10, 2005
  51. ^ Cui, Junling. (2005). China’s Cracked Closet, The Globe, in Foreign Policy, August 1, 2005
  52. ^ Urban China Embraces Web; Rural Regions Lag, NPR, February 17, 2005
  53. ^ The Washington Post 24 January 2000
  54. ^ China to launch national program to fight AIDS, Xinhua, February 21, 2008
  55. ^ Gay couple tells of love and fears for Valentine's Day. Yang Wanli (China Daily) Updated: 2010-02-12 09:16.

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