September 16, 2016, by Tony Hong
No Support, No Opposition, No Promotion
By Emmanuelle Lazzara, PhD Candidate.
From the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham UK.
Recent years have witnessed increasing media coverage of LGBT-related issues in China. For instance, in 2014, Qiu Bai, a student from Guangdong province, sued the Ministry of Education on the grounds that a number of university textbooks described homosexuality as a disorder and advised in favour of shock therapy as a possible cure. After an initial struggle, ministry representatives eventually agreed to meet her (Rauhala 2015, BBCa 2016, Staff 2016). This year, Hu Yu, a 32 year old man from Henan Province, sued a hospital for forcibly attempting to change his sexual orientation through unorthodox, unscientific, and inhumane practices. The man’s partner claims that Hu was held against his will at the psychiatric clinic after the family members, including his wife, had discovered his sexual orientation. After two weeks of forced hospitalisation, his partner was able to have him released, thanks to the help of human rights lawyer Ah Qiang (Denyer 2016, Jie 2016, Phillips 2016). A similar lawsuit was filed in Beijing by Xiao Zhen, a man who underwent conversion therapy at a Chongqing-based clinic, due to parental pressure (Davis 2014, Jenkin 2016). Once again, the “therapy” involved hypnotism and electroshock. Xiao Zhen decided to sue the clinic and to take the case even further, by starting a campaign aimed at banning these barbaric practices. Backed by LGBT-rights organisation All Out, Xiao Zhen’s petition collected 100,000 signatures, which allowed him to meet with representatives of the World Health Organisation (Lopez 2014).
Some readers might remember one of the most recent cases, concerning a girl who publicly proposed to her girlfriend at their university campus—according to the university tradition— at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. The girls were accused of spreading vulgar content and of misbehaving, and were consequently refused their diplomas and threatened that they would face punishment, due to allegedly having violated the institution’s regulations (BBCb 2016). Both girls are currently petitioning in order to get the university to publicly apologise for such behaviour.
With episodes of homophobic attacks and cases of attempted conversion therapy being reported all over the world, it should come as no surprise that the majority of Chinese society, which in many respects remains strongly conservative and heteronormative, still frowns upon and threatens the existence same-sex relationships. Recent ethnographic studies have revealed the family pressure which gay and lesbian Chinese people are subjected to, in order to conform to the sexual hegemony (Kong 2011, Yip Lo Kam 2012, Engebretsen 2014). While attempting to identify an isolated number of reasons for these attitudes would be practically impossible, due to the intricate and entangled social forces which shape them, it is safe to state that the Chinese political climate has not helped in this struggle for equality.
First of all, the One Child Policy has signified that, in a society in which the responsibility to take care of one’s parents falls primarily or entirely upon oneself, having no offspring can be seen as a bane. Consequently, one of the main concerns that parents express upon finding out that their child is homosexual is the possibility they he or she would have nobody to look after them later in life. Furthermore, bearing children fulfils much more than just a practical role within Chinese society; it is seen as a requirement and expectation, with failure to carry on the family line being seen as the most unfilial act of all (Slote and Vos 1998, Zhou 2000). But despite the firm belief which many hold that family is the greatest obstacle for gay and lesbian people in China, one cannot help but wonder about the impact that the Government’s attitudes to social change and grassroot movements is bearing upon the LGB cause. Despite the far too often used mantra “no support, no opposition, no promotion” (不支持，不反对，不提倡), which is meant to describe the Chinese government’s official stance on homosexuality, actions aimed at changing social attitudes towards homosexuality often encounter the authorities’ opposition, such as the broadcasting of gay-themed internet drama 上瘾, or the screening of LGBT documentaries by queer director and activist Fan Popo, who found himself having to sue SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television), after his documentary “Mama Rainbow” had been removed from a streaming website for no apparent reason (Child 2015). Perhaps, a new official stance reflecting the government’s true attitude towards homosexuality is long overdue, or perhaps the word “opposition” as used by the Chinese authorities should be redefined. While it cannot be denied that, in light of the extremely harsh treatment that LGB people were victims of during the Maoist period (see Li 2006, Ruan 2012), the state of affairs has improved significantly in the past few decades, it is also time to ask oneself whether this life of denial, coerced silence, and invisibility is in line with the type of society any human being should to live in.
Engebretsen, E. L. (2014) Queer Women in Urban China: An Ethnography. Routledge Research in Gender and Society 37. New York: Routledge.
Kong, T. (2011) Chinese Male Homosexualities; Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy. Oxford: Routledge.
Li, Y. (2006) Regulating Male Same-sex Relationships in the People’s Republic of China In: Elaine Jeffreys, ed. Sex and Sexuality in China. Oxford: Routledge, pp. 82–101.
Ruan, F. (1997) China In: D. J. West and R. Green, eds. Sociolegal control of homosexuality: a multi-nation comparison. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 57–66.
Slote, W., and De Vos, G., eds. Confucianism and the family. SUNY series in Chinese philosophy and culture. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, pp. 267–284.
Zhou, W.-S. (2000) Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies. Birminghamton: Haworth Press.
Yip Lo Kam, L. (2012) Shanghai Lalas Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.