During pride month in the United States, individuals, communities, and businesses show support and celebrate the LGTBQ community. Pride month symbolizes the progress that has been made and the progress we need to make for the LGBTQ community.
Unlike the U.S., China’s historical acknowledgement of homosexuality is virtually nonexistent.
Chinese society stigmatizes homosexuality, perceiving the minority group as abnormal and dirty. In particular, the media avidly censors themes pertaining to LGBTQ.
China’s LGBTQ community accounts for 3-4% of the adult population. Therefore, the lack of mainstream media representation leads to deeper oppression.
According to a self-reported survey of 1259 gay Chinese men, 62% never came out. After employers found out their sexuality, 9% were fired or forced to quit.
Shame about homosexuality stems from Chinese pressure on men to continue the family line. Deviation from this trajectory entails disrespect of the family lineage.
During the 1949 Communist Revolution homosexuality became associated with Western indulgence.
The first mentions of homosexuality in Chinese media encompassed the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This conditioned society to view the LGBTQ community as diseased.
Print media tended to solely associate gay people as criminals and ignore their human rights.
Today when the media fails to acknowlege or support homosexuality, Chinese LGBTQ lives are at risk.
In the 1990s, films became the first type of Chinese media to incorporate homosexuality. In 1993, Kaige Chen directed one of the first films including homosexuality, called Farewell My Concubine.
Chen’s film received the American Academy Award’s nominations for Best Foreign Movie and Best Cinematography. Farewell My Concubine follows the romance of two Chinese operas actors at a time when women were not allowed to act on stage.
The film initially could not be released in mainland China. However, increasing demand allowed its release in a strongly censored version.
Farewell My Concubine earned a 9.4/10 rating on the video sharing site Tudou.com, indicating a mostly positive reception of homosexual themes.
The 1996 movie East Palace, West Palace is another Chinese film about same sex romance that received great international recognition. Again, this film could not be shown in the mainland due to the “explicit” portrayal of homosexuality.
The main character, A Lan, struggles with his sexual orientation. He even checks himself into a hosptial to be cured of his homosexuality.
A famous line from the film is, “Are you a man or woman? It does not matter. When you love someone, you are a man. When you want to be someone who is loved, you are a woman.”
These words signify that love does not abide by societal boundaries.
The American film Call Me By Your Name, which features homosexual sex scenes, was pulled from the Beijing International Film Festival. Despite this, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from Chinese audiences.
More progress was made for the LGBTQ community in China when the government abolished a longstanding law forbidding homosexual sex in 1997. Four years later, homosexuality was removed from lists as a mental illness.
This progress may be due to the younger generation’s greater acceptance of the gay community. Still, media portrays homosexuality as a sin.
In addition to film, homoerotic literature is a popular medium for gay representation. Its fan base mostly consists of women who desire “sensual beauty.”
Popular Japanese cartoons have also heightened the demand for same sex love stories in China.
Public figures in China tend to avoid discussion of stigmatized topics. Contradictingly, CCTV news anchor Qiu Qiming shocked Chinese society when he went off-script to voice his support for LGBTQ rights in 2011.
He stated, “The sexual orientation of certain people in our midst are different from the rest of us, but they are also diligently contributing to society. Gay people, like us, have the right to exist and develop themselves in society, and this right should not be overtaken by any other concept.”
Qiming’s public support was courageous and greatly appreciated among the gay community. As a result, he earned the 2016’s Rainbow Media Awards, a reward for responsible reporting of LGBTQ issues in China.
Today, China assumes a vague position on homosexuality. The LGBTQ community is neither illegal nor legally recognized. No clear guidelines about the media’s portrayal of homosexuality exist, therefore creators err on the side of caution.
Chinese TV and online streaming platforms technically ban same-sex content. Media representation of LGBTQ characters cannot air commercially, whether in local theatres or festivals.
Without national recognition or support, the LGBTQ community in China cannot thrive. When one community suffers, society at large suffers.
Greater representation of homosexuality in the media will take concerted effort, but will ultimately help the gay community feel safer as their genuine selves.