On China’s LGBT

Whenever LGBT issues are mentioned in connection with China, they are almost always reported as negative. LGBT Apps and events being shut down, and one map published during Pride Month coloured China black, as “Persecuting LGBT”, alongside countries like Iran and Nigeria, where homosexuality is still a capital crime. This is of course an outdated and selective view of the country, and whilst it still has a way to go, I think it’s important to set the record straight as to its actual current position, and the history behind it. Like most things about China, its attitude to LGBT issues needs to be understood within the country’s very unusual and unique historical and cultural context. The ancient Chinese had passing acceptance of queer relationships, with homosexual love appearing in written records as early 650 B.C. As with most agricultural nations, where progeny are a necessity, society tolerated homosexuality mainly as a casual penchant of royalty and the aristocracy through the dynastic periods. As society modernised, the political climate during the 1960s and 70s, meant it became politicized as a “bourgeois decadence”, and was outlawed as a crime against the country. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Chinese really began to interact with the concept of LGBT, in a way that lead to mass inherent misunderstandings. In the late 1990s, legislative progress began to be made. This was slow going, beginning with decriminalisation of homosexuality, but not extending to the removal of trans and queer issues from the list of mental Continue Reading →

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From Tie Gu Niang to Sheng Nu: Gender Issues in China

In the last week or so, China’s new generation of leaders was announced, in a statement that only really happens every 10 years or so. The fact that all the figures who walked onto the dais at the Great Hall of the People were men wasn’t really a surprise, but it was a disappointment.   Whilst imperial China was very much a patriarchal, chauvinist society,  the 1950s and 60s brought forth “Tie Gu Niang”(铁姑娘),or the iron maidens. Neither the torture device, nor the east London metallers, but strong, robust young women who frequented the battlefield, ploughed the fields and shoveled coal into the steelmaking furnaces. These androgynous, almost masculine women are often found on propaganda posters. Cradling farm tools, or machine guns, gazing off into the glorious new dawn. The public face of these industrial heroines also stretched to Cinema, and Tie Gu Niang graced the screens of two classics of this period, Five Golden Flowers (1959) and The Red Detachment of Women (1961). In a relatively rare romance from this period, Five Golden Flowers tells the story of village youth, Ah Peng, who falls in love at the March Festival with a girl who dismisses his vows of undying love, instead giving him her name and the place to meet the following year. What follows is a comedy of errors featuring four other girls of the same name, a man only known as “the old meddler” and two bumbling artists of Chang Chun Film Studios from the city (who Continue Reading →

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