Does China’s Emphasis on Marriage Make It More Hospitable to Gay Weddings Than America?

CHINA/

It was only a decade ago that China considered gay men and women criminals, and mandatory therapy for same-sex loving was common practice. But is the capitalistic communist country experiencing a sea change of public opinion? Last week’s very public Valentine’s Day gay marriage display in Beijing — with men wearing tuxedos and women in bridal gowns — made headlines, but not the size they would have in recent years. And while there is no law on the books protecting us from discrimination there, and no amount of openly gay public figures, data points to the Chinese having more acceptance of gays than, well, America.

“Gay men and lesbians say there is less overt hostility than in the west and certainly less physical harassment,” reports The Guardian. “[Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Li Yinghe’s] research in cities suggests about 91% of people are happy to work with gay colleagues – a higher rate than in US surveys – and that 30% back gay marriage.”

And here’s why: While the United States’ religious fundamentalists exert tremendous power in keeping legislators from passing gay marriage laws, the Chinese have more pressure placed on young people simply getting married. In America, gay marriage would trespass on “traditional values”; in China, “traditional values” means getting married, and to some gay marriage is still marriage.

But is that enough for widespread acceptance?

“Family is such an important concept here; people aren’t supportive of homosexuality because they basically believe same-sex couples can’t form a family. If we have stable families, society will see we are safe, that we are mainstream,” said the 24-year-old student, who asked that only her English nickname be used.

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32 Comments

  • Chitown Kev

    Uh…shouldn’t that be “hospitable” in the headline?

  • Chitown Kev

    Thanks!

  • AD

    I lived in China for three years (2001-2004), and I would say that things are changing very quickly there. I’m out to all of my friends there, and I’ve never had anyone express any kind of moral disapproval when I told them I was gay, even if they had never met another openly gay person before.

    The most common reaction was either “Oh well” or even curiosity, and they weren’t at all shocked when I described how gay men have sex.

    Granted, there is no legal protection from discrimination, and it’s still wise not to reveal anything to employers in most parts of the country, and you’ll get funny looks if you do any PDA with a guy (mostly from older people), but I really think that gay-rights legislation will happen a lot more smoothly and with a lot less opposition and backlash there than it has here.

    The big reason is that China is not a historically Christian nation, and homosexuality doesn’t have a history of being frowned upon there like it does here. In the past, it was “immoral” if a son did not marry and produce children, but not if he had sex with men.

    Even though I couldn’t be completely open, I had a wonderful time there. Ah, those were the days…

    Honestly, I think the control that the government exerts over religion has been a huge help there as well. Religious proselytizing is banned, and the government regularly shuts down unapproved, underground churches (which, by the way, are just as crazy and fundamentalist as the ones here — I read an article in the NY Times a while back about one such church, where the pastor thinks that China needs to follow “God’s law.”).

  • blake

    Isn’t this a sugar-coated view of Chinese society? Gays and lesbians have not been widely accepted in China under the Communists.

  • Larry

    @blake: True, but the idea is that attitudes are changing, and I can attest to that from my own experience.

    By the way, I believe there’s a few pop stars who are openly gay over there, such as the lesbian singer Qiao Qiao so I’m not sure I would say there aren’t any openly gay public figures…

  • Chitown Kev

    @blake:

    No. In fact most I can’t think of a communist country that was not horribly repressive against gays. You could be thrown in the gulag or jail or a mental institution for being gay in the Soviet Union, China, or Cuba.

    I must confess to an extremely dark and cynical thought…Given the population control issue in China, is it also possible the perhaps the Chinese government could be slowly but surely pushing this?

  • John in CA

    Having been to China on several ocassions, I can basically confirm what AD says.

    Most Chinese are completely indifferent to homosexuality. They don’t think much about it. And they are always bemused by westerners’ apparent obsession with same-sex love (either “for” or “against”). To the extent that they don’t get “gay visibility,” they also don’t get why anyone would waste valuable time protesting against or persecuting homosexuals. Anti-gay hate crimes are almost unheard of in China. There are no sodomy laws either.

    Having said that, the situation is far from totally positive. There are no legal protections for same-sex couples. And that won’t change anytime soon. Same-sex marriage is considered a forbidden topic in “polite” company. Widespread ignorance about the nature of homosexuality means most gays in China are deeply closeted. And being ignored can lead to a sense of despair and loneliness. There is practically no gay nightlife outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei (Taiwan), and Hong Kong.

  • [email protected]

    There’s really several factors;

    1. The importance of “family” to continue honoring the ancestors and continuing the family-line..
    2. Don’t forget that there’s an enormous gender-imbalance in modern “one-child” China of 8-12% in some cities and provinces.
    3. Millions of frustrated single men without brides (or boyfriends) represent a potential threat to social and political order.

  • Larry

    @John in CA: I would say that’s true, but again, I think things are getting better. I’ve encountered a lot of gay college students who are out to their classmates and don’t have problems, as well as teenage kids in high school who may not be out, but are comfortable with their sexuality and are often already sexually active.

    As for gay life, it’s most visible in the bigger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but a lot of other cities have gay bars as well. There was one in Guilin when I lived there, and also one in Urumqi. There are also tons of gay Web sites and message boards, so you can always find people online.

    At the same time, there’s a widespread “downlow” phenomenon, particularly among older, married gay men, and it often takes the same form there that it does here (i.e. meeting guys in public parks and having sex in bathroom stalls or other out-of-the-way places). Many of these men are unaware of the need for condoms, too, which is why gay men are one of the most at-risk groups for HIV/AIDS (again, it’s a lot worse among older men than among younger guys in their 20s).

  • blake

    @Chitown Kev:

    I think you are agreeing with me.

    China’s government has received both fair and unfair criticism. It’s hard to argue against the fact that the Chinese leaders have done wonders in terms of lifting millions from severe poverty. And, the Chinese government’s economic shenanigans are no more immoral than the actions of the Western/Japanese alliance nations. (Have you read about the Siemens bribery scandal or the European businessmen who have dumped radioactive and other toxic waste in Africa.)

    However, there is still brutal repression that takes place there. Dissidents are still “disappeared.” Chinese peasants continue to face discrimination.

    So, I agree that the Chinese government would be very smart to encourage acceptance of gay relationships given the gender imbalance. That would offer greater social cohesion.

  • Chitown Kev

    @blake:

    I am agreeing.

    I know that there is occasionally a knee jerk tendency to assume that far far far left politics is “pro-gay.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and that goes back to Marx and Engles. Just because a society is “less religious” doen not mean that it’s anti-gay.

  • Chitown Kev

    [REWIND]

    @blake:

    I am agreeing.

    I know that there is occasionally a knee jerk tendency to assume that far far far left politics is “pro-gay.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and that goes back to Marx and Engles. Just because a society is “less religious” does not mean that it will automatically be pro-gay.

  • Darth Paul

    @Chitown Kev: You’re spot-on with regard to population control. That’s one major, underlying cultural difference between them and most of the rest of the world. I’m fine with that, too. I don’t need for everyone and their mom to celebrate my gayness or to attack the obstinately religious in my name. Quiet, pragmatic acceptance is just fine.

  • kevin (not that one)

    Religious sects that are anti-gay are definitely on the rise in China and frankly, I think government repression just worsens the situation.

    Besides the typical evangelical groups, there are those like the Falun Gong which certainly fits the text-book definition of a cult. The Falun Gong have a strong presence here in the SF Bay Area, so we hear about what goes on with them quite a bit. Their spiritual leader has said that homosexuality is “degenerate” and inhuman.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/falungong1.htm

    The other problem I see with the government itself is it’s lack of acknowledging the HIV/AIDS crisis there. They have all but covered it up and it is suspected that a lot of people have needlessly died as a result.

    It’s important to remember that Chinese culture is still very much a Confuscian culture that is patriarchal. Maybe gay men are more accepted, however I have to wonder about how lesbians are viewed and treated in this culture that concedes authority to the oldest male in the family.

  • Larry

    @kevin (not that one): I’m not sure, and I honestly haven’t known too many lesbians from China. However, a big reason why men are pressured to marry is that the male carries the family’s surname.

  • Tallskin

    See how quickly a culture can evolve and change without some fucking evil sky pixie religion preventing change?

  • kevin (not that one)

    @Tallskin: Wishful thinking at best. Maoism was no “corrective” for religious intolerance. It was simply a monopoly on religious and cultural belief.

  • Paul Raposo

    That picture is so fucking cute 8^)

    .

  • Chitown Kev

    @kevin (not that one):

    Yep. Mao replaced Confucius, that’s all there was to that.

  • Tallskin

    Kevin not that one you say:

    “Tallskin: Wishful thinking at best. Maoism was no “corrective” for religious intolerance. It was simply a monopoly on religious and cultural belief.”

    Not sure that you and I are in the same century, matey! Maoism is SO middle 20th century. Contemporary china is about as Maoist as the US Medical insurance system is compassionate.

    Come on grandad, keep in touch.

  • Chitown Kev

    @Tallskin:

    Well, I think he’s refering more to what Mao symbolized and represented to the Chinese rather than “Maoism” as economics.

    Mao knew that he could not stamp out the influence of Confucius on Chinese culture, so he adapted it to suit his purposes.

  • kevin (not that one)

    @Tallskin: “Maoism is SO middle 20th century.”

    You may want to tell that to someone who lives in Peru or Nepal.

    I know what you’re getting at, but the legacy of Maoism is very strong in China…which is why if you are viewing this thread and sitting in China at this very moment, you are committing a crime.

  • Harold

    Everyone always cites the traditional communist ideology as evidence that the west is somehow more open and friendly toward homosexuality than in China. The fact is like many have said above most people in China do NOT CARE about homosexuality. Yes, you will not see much pro LGBT activism in China, but there aren’t people like the crazy Phelps’ either.

    Most people in China might think homosexuality is odd but do not show the amount of hostility some groups in the west have. For one, there are almost NO hate crimes against homosexuals in China. How many do we have the the “open-minded” west? No, this isn’t because the media is censored in China; it just simple doesn’t happen. I think the hostility in the west stems from our Judeo-Christian beliefs. In China, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and of course atheism do not explicitly cite homosexuality as something threatening; Christianity does. Now, obviously China has problems of it’s own. Such as the lack of awareness of LGBT issues; but there is not overarching negative obsession with homosexuality as in the West. The Chinese government couldn’t care less. As long as you don’t try to help Tibet gays can do whatever they want. Money is king in China, not the so called “morality” we proclaim in the US.

  • Harold

    Ok sorry for all the typos…

  • Harold

    Oh and I forgot to add something. Therefore, the Chinese are more receptive toward homosexuality. As long as you can reasonably explain the rationale of same sex marriage, people in China will be OK with it; there is no entrenched religious conflict with homosexuality in China.

    Communism exists only in name and tacky portraits in China. Everyone knows it despite what older people say. China may be behind the US on many issues such as climate change and LGBT rights, but the fact is the country is changing and the people are open to whatever works. Anyone who has been to China can attest to this.

    Since 2003, I think, same sex marriage has been proposed annually in the National Peoples’ Congress. It never passes or even gets discussed but at least it is proposed. When was the last time the US Congress proposed nationwide same sex marriage?

  • Sebbe

    @AD – Good comment, I just have one questions, you said, “will happen a lot more smoothly and with a lot less opposition and backlash there than it has here.” Isn’t that how everything happens there?

    BTW – I spent 6 months in Taiwan a few years ago and was surprised myself at how accepting more people were.

  • Larry

    @Sebbe: I was referring to opposition and backlash from the general public as opposed to the government. I highly doubt that a move to legalize same-sex marriage would be met with an attempt to amend China’s constitution to ban it. (Note: I mistakenly used a screen name from somewhere else, hence the “AD.”)

  • stan

    Stalinist countries are not true communism. In fact the radical left is most supportive of gay rights. In fact, today where socialist movements obtain influence, they use their power to push through gay rights.

    While capitalism does not concern itself with equality. Remember America’s history and how many capitalist countries today (such as in the Middle East) persecute homosexuals while the socialist and communist parties can be very pro-gay.

    China’s acceptance of homosexuality is a sign of social progress not capitalism.

  • Sebbe

    @Larry – me too. You very rarelly see a public backlash on any issue in China. They are few and far between. Did you make it to Taiwan while you were on the mainland at all?

  • scott

    @tallskin

    sky pixie!!! I love seeing that every time you or some else writes it. So funny.

  • hephaestion

    Cuba does not persecute gays anymore. Castro’s daughter is a gay rights activist. Things are changing there. It is pretty safe to be gay in Cuba now, and that can’t be said of any other island in the Caribbean, can it?

  • cut3

    @kevin (not that one):

    lol just so u know maoism/communism is hated in peru

Comments are closed.