glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

Bookmark and Share
Hong Kong  
page: 1  2  

With a population of nearly seven million people, Hong Kong, located in the South China Sea, is one of the world's most cosmopolitan areas. A British colony for over one hundred and fifty years, Hong Kong is now under the administration of mainland China. In Hong Kong, Chinese and Western ideas about gender and sexuality have uniquely shaped social attitudes toward homosexuality and .

Colonial History

The British used Hong Kong Island, which was home to small fishing villages, as a naval base during the Chinese Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1842 China officially ceded Hong Kong Island to the British; land adjacent to the island was added to Britain's territory in later years. Under British rule, Hong Kong became one of the world's most fascinating cities, for its mingling of Western and Eastern ideas and for its thriving free-market economy on the doorstep of Communist China.

Sponsor Message.

On December 19, 1984, China and Britain signed an agreement that stipulated that on July 1, 1997 Britain would return Hong Kong to China, which would govern the territory as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) for the next fifty years. During this time period, China would allow Hong Kong a high degree of independence, excepting issues of foreign policy and defense. Since the handover, Hong Kong's free market economy has continued to thrive, and fears of a repressive mainland China smothering the territory have failed to materialize.

Cultural Influences on Sex and Gender

Chinese cultural traditions that privilege heterosexual relationships have constrained respect for gender and sexual diversity in Hong Kong. Factors such as family obligations, including immense pressure to marry and reproduce, have traditionally made it difficult for those whom we would identify as gay or lesbian to lead independent lives.

Nevertheless, in traditional Chinese communities same-sex sexual relations were not uncommon and were tolerated as long as they did not threaten the family unit. There is little precedent in Chinese history for the kind of religious-based that has led to persecution of glbtq people in the West.

Cross-dressing is also an important part of Chinese history. In the theater, for example, all of the roles were traditionally played by men. There are numerous historical accounts of love affairs between female impersonators and their male lovers.

With British colonization of Hong Kong, Western social, religious, and legal influences worked to stigmatize homosexuality and transgenderism. Not only did the British introduce laws against male homosexual activity, but they suppressed information about the place of non-normative gender identity and sexual practices in Chinese history. The result was a cultural amnesia that led many Hong Kong Chinese to assume that homosexuality was a Western import foreign to Chinese culture.

Anticipation of the Handover: Its Positive Impact

Seeking to forestall repressive policies that might have been instituted following the 1997 handover, the Hong Kong government passed laws to strengthen human rights protections as the deadline approached. This had a direct effect on laws pertaining to homosexuality.

Under British rule, homosexual contact between men was illegal, regardless of whether it was consensual or not. (Sexual relations between women were not mentioned in the legal code.) Sentences were harsh. For example, conviction of (that is, anal intercourse) could result in life imprisonment.

Beginning in the late 1960s, liberal British government officials began to struggle with conservative members of the local Chinese community over the legalization of homosexuality. As a result of earlier British policies suppressing information about Chinese sexual history, the Chinese argued that homosexuality was a vice that had originated in the West, and hence had no place in Chinese culture.

In response to this cultural amnesia, in the early 1980s a local Chinese gay activist (known by his pseudonym Samshasha) began publishing books in Chinese in order to demonstrate that homosexuality and transgenderism had a long tradition in Chinese history.

In 1991, consensual homosexual relations between adults in private were finally legalized, 24 years after they had been legalized in England.

From the late 1980s, gay activism gained strength, and activists began using the term "tongzhi" to describe themselves. This word, which originally meant "friend" in Cantonese, then was adopted by the Communist party as "comrade," was favored because it lacked sexual undertones, and could be used as an inclusive, umbrella term to describe the diverse members of the Hong Kong Chinese glbtq community. The first Tongzhi Conference took place in Hong Kong in December 1996.

Although homosexuality had been decriminalized in 1991, bias still existed throughout society. An anti-discrimination law that would have shielded gay men and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment, and public service was hotly contested in the Legislative Council in the late 1990s. The proposed bill was narrowly defeated in June 1997.

    page: 1  2   next page>  
zoom in
Top: The Hong Kong Skyline in 2005.
Above: Women Coalition of HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) march in the Taiwan Pride Parade in 2005.

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel




This Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.