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social sciences

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China  
 
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The meteoric ascension of Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) during the last years of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) invites questions as to their relationship. Gossip also has Communist Prime Minister Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) loving boys and Mao Zedong (1893-1976) himself adhering to imperial bisexual mores.

However, the introduction of Western medical and psychiatric discourse about sexuality in the 1920s and afterwards led to the wholesale integration of Western categories. Homosexuality (translated as tongxing'ai or "same sex love" and tongxinglian or "same sex passion") displaced every ancient concept. Moreover, it was deemed a pathological condition, and was regarded as "abnormal" and "inverted."

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Any sexuality contrary to the procreative "norm" was deemed worthy only of silence. Indeed, no serious account of homosexuality was published in mainland China from the 1940s to the 1990s and nothing in Taiwan and Hong Kong before the 1980s. Only in 2001 did the Chinese Psychological Association delete homosexuality from the list of mental disorders.

The general lowering of standards in the teaching of Humanities after World War II, along with the complicity of scholars in denying the tongzhi past, has meant that the history of Chinese tolerance for same-sex love was largely obliterated in China. Even today, references to homosexuality are nearly all to Western or Japanese figures and events. Thus, homosexuality can be dubbed "foreign" decadence.

While classical materials have always been available in excellent annotated editions, very few Chinese were--and are--able to understand them. Vernacular erotic literature was--and is--routinely heterosexualized, expurgated, or banned.

Chinese homophobia in the twentieth century in effect branded gay men and lesbians as outcasts. The totalitarian regimes that ruled Nationalist China and still rule the mainland forbade every kind of "deviance," generally enforcing homophobia through ostracism rather than law, using peer pressure, compulsory marriage, and the fear of being outed as a means of discouraging the expression of homosexuality.

Although no modern legislation, on either the mainland or Taiwan, criminalized homosexuality per se, gay men were sometimes charged with "hooliganism" in the People's Republic and with "indecency" in Taiwan. In both, gay and lesbian gathering places were--and still might be--subject to police harassment. The Communist Party's suspicion of any group not under its control effectively prevented the development of any activist organization. In Hong Kong, the British-imposed sodomy laws were repealed only in 1991.

Even so, however, some fiction and artwork was published during the Republican era, including some woodblock prints in the collection of political activist and writer Lu Xun (1881-1936). More surprisingly, in the early 1980s, the Communist Party's theoretical journal Red Flag (Hongqi) had its back inner cover decorated with socialist realist artwork glorifying revolutionary masses in a way that is distinctly if ambiguously homoerotic.

Moreover, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, in the 1970s and 1980s, news from the Western gay and lesbian movements began to filter through conservative and homophobic popular media. Fiction writer Bai Xianyong (b. 1937) described gay Taibei in the early 1970s in The Bad Boys (Niezi, 1983; translated by Howard Goldblatt as Crystal Boys, 1990). In Hong Kong in 1984, Samsasha published A History of Homosexuality in China in Chinese to counter the idea that homosexuality was a "foreign vice."

In 1989, the Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival was established. Organizer Lin Yihua rejected the pathologizing and negative term for homosexuality in Chinese (tongxing'ai) and used instead tongzhi. The usual translation of tongzhi is "comrade," but in this new context it came to signify the community of alternative lovers. Like queer, tongzhi is an umbrella term, embracing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and even those heterosexuals who reject the patriarchal model. Tongzhi, which is closely linked to political assertiveness and emancipation, spread into Taiwan in the early 1990s and, more slowly, into the mainland in the late 1990s.

Transsexuality was as stigmatized as homosexuality during most of the twentieth century. The earliest recorded male-to-female sex change surgery in China took place in 1983. The most publicized sexual reassignment surgery was that of Jin Xing, a male ballet dancer who was also a colonel in the People's Liberation Army. In 1995, Jin Xing underwent surgery and is now a world-renowned (female) star of the Shanghai ballet troupe.

"Comrades, Keep Up the Efforts, and the Revolution Shall Triumph!": Late 1980s to the Present

As a result of centuries of autocratic rule, in China the political tradition emphasizes compromise rather than head-on opposition. Hence, the nascent glbtq movement in China has to cooperate with the establishment. In the late 1990s, the notion of a tongzhi movement (as opposed to culture) was still problematic even for activists themselves. Since then, however, real progress has been made, especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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