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Homosexuality in China

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Title: Homosexuality in China  
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Homosexuality in China

Young men sipping tea and having sex. Individual panel from a hand scroll on homosexual themes, paint on silk; China, Qing Dynasty (eighteenth to nineteenth centuries); Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana, United States

The existence of homosexuality in China has been well documented since ancient times. According to one study, homosexuality in China was regarded as a normal facet of life in China, prior to the Western impact of 1840 onwards.[1] However, this has been disputed.[2] Many early Chinese emperors are speculated to have had homosexual relationships, accompanied by heterosexual ones.[3] Opposition to homosexuality, according to the study by Hinsch, did not become firmly established in China until the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Westernization efforts of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China.[4] On the other hand, Gulik's influential study argued that the Mongol Yuan dynasty introduced a more ascetic attitude to sexuality in general.[5][6] It is also argued that the classical Chinese were unable to express homosexuality in a coherent and empathetic manner."[2][7] Thus, it may remain for further research to determine the question of whether anti-gay attitudes in Modern China can be significantly attributed to the entrance of Western attitudes into China, or whether opposition was merely not expressed in a coherent manner. Either way, it is indisputable that homosexual sodomy was banned in the People's Republic of China from at least the twentieth century, until it was legalized in 1997. In 2001, homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental illnesses in China.[8]


  • Terminology in China 1
  • Traditional views of homosexuality in China 2
  • Same-sex love in literature 3
  • History 4
  • Recent occurrences 5
  • Legal status 6
  • Slang in contemporary Chinese gay culture 7
  • Culture 8
    • Historical people 8.1
    • Modern people 8.2
    • Movies and TV series 8.3
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Terminology in China

Traditional terms for homosexuality included "the passion of the cut sleeve" (Chinese: 断袖之癖; pinyin: duànxiù zhī pǐ), and "the bitten peach" (Chinese: 分桃; pinyin: fēntáo). An example of the latter term appears in a 6th-century poem by Liu Xiaozhuo:

— She dawdles, not daring to move closer, / Afraid he might compare her with leftover peach.[9]

Other, less literary, terms have included "male trend" (Chinese: 男風; pinyin: nánfēng), "allied brothers" (Chinese: 香火兄弟; pinyin: xiānghuǒ xiōngdì), and "the passion of Longyang" (Chinese: 龍陽癖; pinyin: lóngyángpǐ), referencing a homoerotic anecdote about Lord Long Yang in the Warring States period. The formal modern word for "homosexuality/homosexual(s)" is tongxinglian (Chinese: 同性戀; pinyin: tóngxìngliàn; literally: "same-sex relations/love") or tongxinglian zhe (Chinese: 同性戀者; pinyin: tóngxìngliàn zhě, homosexual people). Instead of that formal word, "tongzhi" (Chinese: 同志; pinyin: tóngzhì), simply a head rhyme word, is more commonly used in the gay community. Tongzhi (literally: "comrade"; sometimes along with nü tongzhi, Chinese: 女同志; pinyin: nǚ tóngzhì; literally: "female comrade"), which was first adopted by Hong Kong researchers in Gender Studies, is used as slang in Mandarin Chinese to refer to homosexuals. Such usage is seen in Taiwan. However, in Mainland China, tongzhi is used both in the context of the traditional "comrade" sense (e.g., used in speeches by Communist Party officials) and to refer to homosexuals. In Cantonese, gei1 (基), adopted from English gay, is used. "Gay" is sometimes considered to be offensive when used by heterosexuals or even by homosexuals in certain situations. Another slang term is boli (Chinese: 玻璃; pinyin: bōli; literally: "crystal or glass"), which is not so commonly used. Among gay university students, the acronym "datong" (Chinese: 大同; pinyin: dàtóng; literally: "great togetherness"), which also refers to utopia, in Chinese is becoming popular. Datong is short for daxuesheng tongzhi (university students [that are] homosexuals).

Lesbians usually call themselves lazi (Chinese: 拉子; pinyin: lāzi) or lala (拉拉, pinyin: lālā). These two terms are abbreviations of the transliteration of the English term "lesbian". These slang terms are also commonly used in Mainland China now.

Traditional views of homosexuality in China

A woman spying on a pair of male lovers

The political ideologies, philosophies, and religions of ancient China regarded homosexual relationships as a normal facet of life, and in some cases, promoted homosexual relationships as exemplary. Ming Dynasty literature, such as Bian Er Chai (弁而釵/弁而钗), portrays homosexual relationships between men as more enjoyable and more "harmonious" than heterosexual relationships.[10] As in Ancient Rome, homosexual relationships were prevalent in ancient China and were not regarded as morally deviant prior to the influence of foreign cultures. Writings from the Liu Song Dynasty claimed that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in the late 3rd century:

All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.[1]

Confucianism, being primarily a social and political philosophy, focused little on sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. However, the ideology did emphasize male friendships, and Louis Crompton has argued that the "closeness of the master-disciple bond it fostered may have subtly facilitated homosexuality".[11] Although Taoist alchemy regarded heterosexual sex, without ejaculation, as a way of maintaining a male's "life essence", homosexual intercourse was seen as "neutral", because the act has no detrimental or beneficial effect on a person's life essence.[11]

In a similar way to Buddhism, Taoist schools sought throughout history to define what would be sexual misconduct. Consequently, the literature of some schools included homosexuality as one of the forms of sexual misconduct, while others maintained neutrality.[12][13]

Opposition to homosexuality in China raised in the medieval Tang Dynasty, being attributed by some writers to the influence of Christian and Islamic values,[14] but did not become fully established until the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China.[4] There exists a dispute among sinologists as to when negative views of homosexual relationships became prevalent among the general Chinese population, with some scholars arguing that it was common by the time of the Ming Dynasty, established in the 14th century, and others arguing that anti-gay attitudes became entrenched during the Westernization efforts of the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China in the 19th and 20th centuries.[4] Although rejection of homosexuality originating in the Tang Dynasty might also suggest Indian influences, given the fact that some Hindu and Buddhist literature disapproved of homosexuality.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

The earliest law against a homosexual act dates from the Song Dynasty, punishing "young males who act as prostitutes." The first statute specifically banning homosexual intercourse was enacted in the Jiajing era of the Ming Dynasty.[22]

Lu Tongyin, author of Misogyny, Cultural Nihilism & Oppositional Politics: Contemporary Chinese Experimental Fiction, said "a clear-cut dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality did not exist in traditional China."[23]

Same-sex love in literature

Same-gender love can sometimes be difficult to differentiate in Classical Chinese because the pronouns he and she were written with the same character, like tā (他). And like many East and Southeast Asian languages, Chinese does not have grammatical gender. Thus, poems such as Tang Dynasty poems and other Chinese poetry may be read as either heterosexual or homosexual, or neutral in that regard, depending on the reader's desire.[24] In addition, a good deal of ancient Chinese poetry was written by men in the female voice, or persona.[25] Some may have portrayed semi-sexual relationships between teen-aged girls, before they were pulled apart by marriage. Male poets would use the female narrative voice, as a persona, to lament being abandoned by a male comrade or king.

Another complication in trying to separate heterosexual and homosexual themes in Chinese literature is that for most of Chinese history, writing was restricted to a cultivated elite, amongst whom blatant discussion of sex was considered vulgar. Until adopting European values late in their history, the Chinese did not even have nouns to describe a heterosexual or homosexual person per se. Rather, people who might be directly labeled as such in other traditions would be described by veiled allusions to the actions they enjoyed, or, more often, by referring to a famous example from the past.[26] The most common of these references to homosexuality referenced Dong Xian and Mizi Xia.

The Tang Dynasty "Poetical Essay on the Supreme Joy" is a good example of the allusive nature of Chinese writing on sexuality. This manuscript sought to present the "supreme joy" (sex) in every form known to the author; the chapter on homosexuality comes between chapters on sex in Buddhist monasteries and sex between peasants. It is the earliest surviving manuscript to mention homosexuality, but it does so through phrases such as "cut sleeves in the imperial palace", "countenances of linked jade", and "they were like Lord Long Yang", phrases which would not be recognizable as speaking of sexuality of any kind to someone who was not familiar with the literary tradition.[27]

While these conventions make explicit mentions of homosexuality rare in Chinese literature in comparison to the Greek or Japanese traditions, the allusions which do exist are given an exalted air by their frequent comparison to former Golden Ages and imperial favorites.[28] A Han Dynasty poem describes the official Zhuang Xin making a nervous pass at his lord, Xiang Cheng of Chu. The ruler is nonplussed at first, but Zhuang justifies his suggestion through allusion to a legendary homosexual figure and then recites a poem in that figure's honor. At that, "Lord Xiang Cheng also received Zhuang Xin's hand and promoted him."[29]

A remarkable aspect of traditional Chinese literature, in contrast to English literature, is the prominence of same-gender friendship. Bai Juyi is one of many writers who wrote dreamy, lyrical poems to male friends about shared experiences. He and fellow scholar-bureaucrat Yuan Zhen made plans to retire together as Taoist recluses once they had saved enough funds, but Yuan's death kept that dream from being fulfilled.[30] In Water Margin, a Song Dynasty novel, male revolutionary soldiers form deep, long lasting, and arguably romantic friendships.

Other works depict less platonic relationships. A Ming Dynasty rewriting of a very early Zhou Dynasty legend recounts a passionate male relationship between Pan Zhang & Wang Zhongxian which is equated to heterosexual marriage, and which continues even beyond death.[31] The daring 17th century author Li Yu combined tales of passionate love between men with brutal violence and cosmic revenge.[32] In China's best-known novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, from the Qing Dynasty, there are examples of males engaging in both same-sex and opposite-sex acts.[33]

There is a tradition of clearly erotic literature, which is less known. It is supposed that most such works have been purged in the periodic book burnings that have been a feature of Chinese history. However, isolated manuscripts have survived. Chief among these is the anthology "Bian er chai" (弁而釵,Pinyin: Biàn ér chāi), Cap but Pin, or A Lady's Pin under a Man's Cap, a series of four short stories in five chapters each, of passion and seduction. The first short story, Chronicle of a Loyal Love, involves a twenty-year-old academician chasing a fifteen-year-old scholar and a bevy of adolescent valets. In another, "Qing Xia Ji" (情俠記 Pinyin: Qīng xiá jì, Record of the Passionate Hero), the protagonist, Zhang, a valiant soldier with two warrior wives, is seduced by his younger friend Zhong, a remarkable arrangement as it is stereotypically the older man who takes the initiative with a boy. The work appeared in a single edition some time between 1630 and 1640.

More recently, Ding Ling (丁玲 Dīng Líng), an author of the 1920s in China, was a prominent and controversial feminist author, and it is generally agreed that she had lesbian (or at least bisexual) content in her stories. Her most famous piece is "Miss Sophia's Diary" (莎菲女士的日記 Pinyin: Shāfēi Nǚshì de rìjì), a seminal work in the development of a voice for women's sexuality and sexual desire. Additionally, a contemporary author, Huang Biyun (黄碧云, Pinyin: Huáng Bìyún, Cantonese: Wong Bikwan), writes from the lesbian perspective in her story "She's a Young Woman and So Am I" (她是女士,我也是女士 Pinyin: Tā shì nǚshì, wǒ yě shì nǚshì"). Author Pai Hsien-yung created a sensation by coming out of the closet in Taiwan, and by writing about gay life in Taipei in the 1960s and 70s.[34]

Same-sex love was also celebrated in Chinese art, many examples of which have survived the various traumatic political events in recent Chinese history. Though no large statues are known to still exist, many hand scrolls and paintings on silk can be found in private collections [1].


Recent occurrences

  1. In 2009 a male couple held a symbolic wedding in public, and China Daily took the photo of the two men in a passionate embrace across its pages. Other symbolic gay and lesbian weddings have been held across the country and have been covered positively by the Chinese media.[35]
  2. In 2012, Luo Hongling, a university professor, committed suicide because she knew her husband was a gay man. She alleged their marriage was just a lie since the man could not admit he was gay to his parents. Luo was considered a 'homowife' - local slang for a woman married to a homosexual male, akin to the English term 'beard'.[36]

Legal status

Adult, consensual and non-commercial homosexuality has been legal in the China since 1997, when the national penal code was revised. Homosexuality was removed from the Ministry of Health's list of mental illnesses in 2001 and the public health campaign against AIDS-HIV pandemic does include education for men who have sex with men. Officially, overt police enforcement against gay people is restricted to gay people engaging in gay sex acts in public or gay prostitution, which are also illegal for heterosexuals.

However, despite these changes, no civil rights law exists to address discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The media tends to censor positive depictions of gay couples in films and television shows and households headed by same-sex couples are not permitted to adopt children and do not have the same privileges as heterosexual married couples.

Slang in contemporary Chinese gay culture

The following terms are not standard usage; rather, they are colloquial and used within the gay community.

Chinese Pinyin English
同性 tóng xìng same sex/chi bai
拉拉 lā lā lesbian
1 号 yī hào top (1 symbolises a penis)
0 号 líng hào/sow hai butt hole/bottom (0 symbolises a hole)
搞(搅)基 gǎo(jiǎo) jī (Canto: gao2 gay1) the activities and lives of gays
gōng the more aggressive partner
shòu the more receptive partner
T Tomboy lesbian
P (婆) po Wife (femme) lesbian
G吧 g BAR gay bar
18禁 shí bā jìn forbidden below 18 years of age
同性浴室 tóng xìng yù shì same-sex bathhouse
出柜 chū guì come out of the closet
直男 zhí nán straight (man)
弯男 wān nán gay
卖的 mài de rent boy (can also be called MB for money boy)
xióng bear
狒狒 fèi fèi someone who likes bears - literally 'baboon'
猴子 hóu zi twink - literally 'monkey'
同妻 tóng qi woman whose husband is gay man- literally 'homowife'


Historical people

See LGBT history in China.

Modern people

The following are prominent Mainland Chinese and Hong Kongese people who have come out to the public or are actively working to improve gay rights in Mainland China and Taiwan:

  • Wan Yanhai (signatory on The Yogyakarta Principles and participant of 2009 World Outgames)
  • Leslie Cheung (bisexual or gay singer and actor from Hong Kong - died 2003)
  • Li Yinhe (the well known scholar on sexology in China)
  • Siu Cho (researcher and political/ social activist in Hong Kong)
  • Raymond Chan Chi-chuen (Hong Kong legislator)
  • Denise Ho (Lesbian Hong Kong Celebrity/Actor/Singer)
  • Anthony Wong (Gay Hong Kong Singer/Activist)
  • Suzie Wong (Lesbian Hong Kong TV Host)
  • Elaine Jin (Lesbian Hong Kong Actor)
  • Gigi Chao (Lesbian Hong Kong Activist/Heiress to Cheuk Nang Holdings)[37]
  • Vinci Wong (Gay Hong Kong TV Host)
  • Dr Chow Yiu Fai (Gay Hong Kong Lyricist/Activist/Associate Professor of Humanities in Hong Kong Baptist University)[38]
  • Winnie Yu (Lesbian Hong Kong Radio Host/Ex-CEO of Commercial Radio Hong Kong)
  • Joey Leung (Leung Jo Yiu) (Gay Hong Kong Stage performer)
  • Edward Lam (Lam Yik Wah) (Gay Hong Kong Playwright)[39]
  • Alton Yu (Yu Dik Wai) (Gay Hong Kong Radio Host)
  • Chet Lam (Gay Hong Kong Indie Singer/Song Writer)
  • Ip Kin Ho (aka Gin Ng 健吾) (Gay Author/Radio Host/Journalist/CUHK Lecturer in Hong Kong)

Movies and TV series

Many gay movies or TV series have been made in Hong Kong and mainland China, including:

See also


  • Brook, Timothy. (1998). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22154-0 (Paperback).
  • Lu, Tonglin. Misogyny, Cultural Nihilism & Oppositional Politics: Contemporary Chinese Experimental Fiction. Stanford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8047-2464-4, ISBN 978-0-8047-2464-7. Pages 134-140, 151-154.
  • Szonyi, Michael. "The Cult of Hu Tianbao and the eighteenth-Century Discourse of Homosexuality." Late Imperial China (Volume 19, Number 1, June 1998): 1–25.
  1. ^ a b Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 56
  2. ^ a b Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China by Bret Hinsch; Review by: Frank Dikötter. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 55, No. 1(1992), Cambridge University Press, p. 170
  3. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 35–36.
  4. ^ a b c Kang, Wenqing. Obsession: male same-sex relations in China, 1900-1950, Hong Kong University Press. Page 3
  5. ^ Robert Hans Van Gulik 1961. Sexual life in Ancient China: a preliminary survey of Chinese sex and society from ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D. Leiden: Brill.
  6. ^ Needham, J: Science and Civilization in China: Sexual Techniques. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, Vol. 2, 1954.
  7. ^ M. P. Lau and M. L. Ng: Homosexuality in Chinese Culture. Review of: History of Homosexuality in China (Chinese ed.). Xiaomingxiong. Hong Kong: Samshasha and Pink Triangle Press, 1984. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 13: 465--488, 1989. O 1989 Kluwer Academic Publishers
  8. ^ China Decides Homosexuality No Longer Mental Ilness. Associated Press, South China Morning Post, March 08 2001. See
  9. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-520-06720-7
  10. ^ Kang, Wenqing. Obsession: male same-sex relations in China, 1900-1950, Hong Kong University Press. Page 2
  11. ^ a b Crompton, Louis. Homosexuality and Civilization. Harvard University Press. p. 221
  12. ^ The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord's Scripture of Precepts(太上老君戒經), in "The Orthodox Tao Store"(正統道藏)
  13. ^ The Great Dictionary of Taoism"(道教大辭典), by Chinese Taoism Association, published in China in 1994, ISBN 7-5080-0112-5/B.054
  14. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 77-78.
  15. ^ Manu Smriti Chapter 8, Verse 370. Text online
  16. ^ Mahanirvana Tantra 12:104
  17. ^ Abhidharmakośa
  18. ^ Abhidharma-samuccaya
  19. ^ Hurvitz, Leon (1976). Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma(The Lotus Sutra). Columbia University Press. p. 209.  
  20. ^ harvey, peter (2000). An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 421–.  
  21. ^ Cutler/Newland The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightnment p.220
  22. ^ Sommer, Matthew (2000). Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press. p. 413.  
  23. ^ Lu 150.
  24. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 16- 17.
  25. ^ Samei, Maija Bell. (2004). Gendered Persona and Poetic Voice: The Abandoned Woman in Early Chinese Song Lyrics. Lexington Books. pp. 1.
  26. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 7.
  27. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 84.
  28. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 6.
  29. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 23.
  30. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. Published by University of California Press. p. 80-81.
  31. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 24-25.
  32. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 121- 131.
  33. ^ Hinsch, Bret (1992). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 147.  
  34. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. p. 163.
  35. ^ Harris, Dan. "Homosexuality in China". Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  36. ^ Yang, Chaoqing. "Homowife Chose To Suicide To Blame Her Gay Husband". Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^

External links

  • Homosexuals and Gay Life in China,
  • First same-sex marriage in China: 26 images
  • Smile4Gay Action Network 同志你好行动网络
  • Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities (CR4SD) A rights advocacy group based in Hong Kong
  • CSSSM (Chinese Society for the Study of Sexual Minorities)
  • Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Taiwan Central University
  • Manifesto of 1996 Chinese Tongzhi Conference
  • A piece of news about tongzhi in Hong Kong
  • Chinese Tradition of Male Love
  • Male Love Art from Ancient China
  • First Chinese website to provide gay information in Hong Kong
  • Gay rights in 90s China:Paper Presented at the Human Rights Forum on People's Summit on APEC, November, 1997
  • Lesbian information for China
  • The plight of China's gays (The Peking Duck)
  • Comrades-in-arms: Gay rights in China - The long march out of the closet, The Economist, Jun 18th 2009
  • Homosexuality in China, US-China Today, Mar 10, 2010
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