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social sciences

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Hong Kong  
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After the Handover

The July 1997 handover to China produced a great deal of anxiety among Hong Kong residents, who did not know what to expect, and were fearful of mainland-style political oppression. However, the feared oppression did not occur. Moreover, the Hong Kong glbtq community has grown more visible and active since the handover than it was before.

In 1999 Hong Kong's first gay pride day (referred to as Tongzhi Day) was held, in conjunction with a two week festival that celebrated glbtq life with a series of parties, activities, and seminars.

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In recent years, many of Hong Kong's gay and lesbian activists have become more confrontational. For example, in early May 2001, almost fifty demonstrators clashed with police after attempting to disrupt a Red Cross event, charging that the organization was biased against homosexuals. Other activist groups have staged protests against anti-gay policies espoused by Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Church.

At the same time, however, other gay activists have eschewed confrontational strategies, which they see as a Western technique. They, instead, focus on less direct methods of protest in an effort to preserve social harmony.

While Hong Kong's gay community is increasingly visible, and services such as bars, bookshops, and saunas proliferate, nonetheless traditional, conservative values remain dominant in the greater society. Hence, many members of the glbtq community who do not identify as activists remain closeted in family and work contexts.


It has been possible to obtain sex reassignment surgery in Hong Kong since 1981. According to Sam Winter's country report on the web site Transgender ASIA, the Hong Kong government subsidizes this surgery as a treatment for gender dysphoria.

On the other hand, transgendered people have little protection against discrimination in the work force. Identification cards, which every resident is required to carry, show a person's birth sex, regardless of one's gender identity or dress. Because these identification cards are routinely demanded by officials, a disjunction between birth sex and gender identity or dress can expose a transgendered person to bias. Similarly, the gender on birth certificates is not permitted to be changed to reflect a person's new gender after sex reassignment surgery.

To the Future

Since the handover, Hong Kong's glbtq community has become increasingly visible and active. It thrives with numerous glbtq-oriented bars, clubs, and saunas, as well as film festivals, conferences, and activist demonstrations.

Hong Kong activists are struggling to combat negative colonial ideas about sexuality and to reconnect with a rich Chinese history of non-normative gender and sexual expression. They are also continuing to demand legal reforms that would protect people who identify as gay or lesbian. Whether Hong Kong will realize its potential to become a glbtq capital of Asia will be known only with time, but in recent years progress has been made to that end.

Andrew Matzner

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social sciences >> Overview:  China

The only contemporary civilization with written materials dating back some 3500 years, China boasts a rich, 2500-year-old continuous tradition of male-male love, as well as somewhat less rich traditions of what we would now call lesbianism and gender nonconformity.

literature >> Overview:  Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology is rich in stories about homosexuality.

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:  Singapore

In the Republic of Singapore, oppression of glbtq people is gradually giving way to more relaxed attitudes and greater personal freedom, but the pace of change is frustratingly slow.

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.

arts >> Cheung, Leslie

Androgynously handsome Hong Kong actor and pop singer Leslie Cheung played sexually ambiguous characters, as well as romantic leads in both gay- and heterosexually-themed films.


Chou, Wah-Shan. Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies. New York: Haworth, 2000.

Hinsch, Brett. Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

McLelland, Mark. "Interview with Samshasha: Hong Kong's First Gay Rights Activist and Author." Intersections: Gender, History, and Culture in the Asian Context. September 2000.

Winter, Sam. "Country Report: Hong Kong: Social and Cultural Issues." Transgender Asia. December 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Hong Kong  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 18, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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