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social sciences

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In both Taiwan and Hong Kong, a commercial gay scene developed early. In addition, gay groups have successfully organized, and gay media have been established.

Democratization in Taiwan, especially the election of opposition president Chen Shubian in 2000, has made possible an out and proud tongzhi political movement struggling for marriage rights and against homophobia.

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In Hong Kong, numerous activist organizations have developed, some devoted to AIDS prevention, others to religious, cultural, and political interests. In addition, a bookstore and a publishing house were established in the mid 1990s, but both have now closed.

Hong Kong's leading activist Zhou Huashan (Chou Wah-shan, b.1962) attempted to adapt the tongzhi movement to Chinese culture and realities. He advocated a strategy that is open to compromise, but also devoted to "queering the mainstream."

However, the movement in Hong Kong has suffered some setbacks. Zhou Huashan has abandoned activism, as has gay publisher Lu Jianxiong (John Loo). In Hong Kong, Beijing's heavy paw is felt more every day.

Taiwan--the only democracy in the Chinese world--has overtaken Hong Kong as a center of gay activism. A vogue for tongzhi culture, including theory, literature, and film thrived in the 1990s. In the new century, rainbow flags fly at the Official Hostel, or Gongguan, Taibei's gay district, and same-sex marriage has been debated in 2003 and 2004. More ominously, a new brand of homophobic American-style Christian fundamentalism now asserts itself in Taiwanese politics.

Although the People's Republic lags behind Hong Kong and Taiwan in activism, a certain openness has prevailed since the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997. The first three books on homosexuality to be published under Communist rule appeared only in the early 1990s and reporting on homosexuality in the official printed media dates only from the late 1990s. In 2004, however, official channels began running programs devoted to homosexuality and AIDS prevention. These developments are evidence of a gradually increasing openness to tolerance in the ruling circles.

The new era began in 1997 under Jiang Zemin (ruled 1997-2003), when the meaning of the law repressing "hooliganism" was clarified: it could no longer be used to penalize private homosexual conduct between two consenting adults. This breakthrough was followed by another in 2001, when the Chinese Psychiatric Association deleted homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

In the 1990s, a gay commercial scene evolved in large cities. It continues to expand and can be now be found even in some county towns in the more developed coastal provinces. Now provincial capitals may have several large bars, discotheques, or saunas catering to a gay clientele. The first openly queer magazine, Homoheart (Tongxin), began publishing in 2003.

In addition, a new consciousness and activist spirit has been sparked by the Internet. There are now around 300 tongzhi websites in China that provide "comrades" a national communications network on which they can find personals, queer news from around the world, fiction, advertisements for gay venues, and AIDS prevention messages.

Communist authorities will not tolerate political opposition or any endeavor aimed at undermining its power. But the government seems to have finally renounced ostrich politics vis-à-vis AIDS. It has realized grassroots groups are necessary in order to educate sex workers, gay men, and lesbians about safe-sex practices. Thus, a space for cooperation exists between local AIDS prevention efforts and tongzhi groups.

The second half of 2005 has seen the Government actually reach out to the tongzhi community as a matter of public health policy in the face of the substantial increase of HIV infection among gays. The government now grants official status as "popular organizations" to tongzhi groups that have cultivated good working relations with local officials, government agencies, and foreign NGOs (Non-Government Organizations).

However, in China relative tolerance always demands political subservience. Moreover, social homophobia has certainly not disappeared, either on the mainland or in other parts of the Chinese world. Perhaps the most oppressive aspect of Chinese life for tongzhi is the pressure to engage in compulsory heterosexual marriage. Most glbtq Chinese are married and live unhappy double lives.

The future of the tongzhi movement in China appears bright. But challenges remain, such as the persistence of the procreative imperative (if two men could sire sons, there might be no problem) and the government's uncertain reactions to political demands. The increasing influence of Christian "morality" in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even on the mainland, where it percolates quite unchecked, is also potentially dangerous to the aspirations of Chinese glbtq people.

Laurent Long

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Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology is rich in stories about homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, one of the world's most cosmopolitan areas, Chinese and Western ideas about gender and sexuality have uniquely shaped attitudes toward homosexuality and transgenderism.

arts >> Overview:  Hong Kong Film

Filmmaking in Hong Kong eventually came to terms with, exploited, and often blurred the lines between Chinese traditions of gender ambiguity and Westernized "out" politics.

social sciences >> Overview:  Taiwan

Since 1987 a vibrant, politicised, and diverse public queer culture has emerged on the island of Taiwan, though not without controversy.


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    Citation Information
    Author: Long, Laurent  
    Entry Title: China  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated November 12, 2006  
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    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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