Homosexuality Problem in China
In China, homosexuality has a long folk tradition, which was reflected in the historical sources, fairy tales, songs, pictures, and other forms of creativity. Until about the middle of the second millennium, the practice was not considered something reprehensible or immoral since the issue of sexuality and sexual activity existed in parallel with the idea of a perfect and harmonious marriage of a man and a woman. The issue of tolerance towards gays has been increasingly worrying the Chinese for the recent years due to the access to a huge amount of information and closer relations of the PRC with the Western world. Thus, the investigations of this issue are crucial for the development of tolerance and respect of all people regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, and any other factors since homosexuality as a natural phenomenon used to be a part of the history of all nations.
History of Homosexuality in China
Homosexual relations in China have been known since ancient times. One of the earliest mentions about homosexual relationships was a story about a Duke of the Wei and Mizi Xia. The story says that one day, Mizi shared a peach with his lover. Since that time, writers have begun to use the phrase the remnants of the peach (bitten peach) in reference to the homosexual desire (Tang 14).
A lot of emperors of the Han Dynasty had sex with men. In contrast to their wives and concubines, the male lovers were pleased by the emperor not only because of their appeal but also because of their talents, mostly in the management field. Official sources name at least ten publicly known bisexual Han emperors, who ruled in the first 200 years of their Imperial House (Tang 15). Gaozu, Wu, Xuan, Ai, and Cheng were among them. Emperor Ai is considered the most addicted to homosexual relationships among those ten. By his nature, he did not care about women and even tried to pass the throne to his sweetheart, Dong Xian (Tang 15). The most notable and touching episode in that story was the moment when the emperor, trying not to awake Dong, carefully cut off his sleeve that laid under his lover. This way, the cut sleeve became a symbol of homosexual love. Later, writers wove this image into the old story about the bitten peach and, eventually, created the phrase, which had been used to refer to homosexuality in general till nowadays.
However, in terms of female homosexuality, it is extremely difficult to find any colorful examples. In fact, the Chinese history did not pay much attention to the women, at all. Thus, lesbian feelings left an exiguous trace in the traditional Chinese culture (Tang 17).
It is noteworthy that, as a rule, except for certain situations, for instance, the case of Emperor Ai, men, known for their homosexual relationships, had heterosexual wives, at the same time (Tang 14). Thus, it is extremely difficult to tell whether a ruler was completely homosexual or bisexual unless there were some direct indications. Moreover, throughout the history of ancient China, both heterosexuality and homosexuality were considered common phenomena, without encountering any criticism or blame.
In China, the profession of a male artist-prostitute was not rare. The first mention about it is dated about the III century AD (Tang 16). Poets praised such men, and state leaders showered favors upon them. Furthermore, there also was another form of the patronage of one man to another, which was unrelated to the prostitution. Poor young men provided sexual services to more wealthy males for the career advancement and prosperity.
With the rise of the Tang Empire in the VII century, the Chinese nation began to embrace the ideas and views on the sexuality, which were strongly influenced by the West and Central Asian cultures. Thereby, the women were acquiring more power and influence in the Emperors Household (Tang 16). In turn, the male lovers were fading into the background. During this period, the first expression that denoted homosexuality and had a negative connotation appeared.
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The era of the Song Dynasty (X – XIII century) became the last page in the history of homosexual love affairs. In addition to the Central Asian influence, China embraced Buddhism, which condemned similar relationships (Tang 16). The rapid urbanization of the country led to the commercialization of sexual relations. In this era, the first law to forbid the male prostitution was adopted.
After the departure of the Song Dynasty, homosexual relationships were still common among merchants and new nobility (Tang 17). There is even some official evidence partly due to the fact that these stratums of the contemporary society documented their relationships most frequently. However, at that time, Chinese homosexuals did not experience the same persecution like the one in the Medieval Christian Europe (Tang 17). Later, under the pressure of the European civilization, the Chinese manners have also changed, and the society has become more intransigent towards homosexuals.
The times had changed, and in 1740, the Chinese Government adopted the first law against homosexuals (Mountford 19). According to this law, those individuals were punished for their relationships by imprisoning for a month and after that being stroked with a whip for one hundred times. The European influence and actual colonization of China caused the criminalization of homosexuality in the XIX century (Mountford 19). In 1896, the criminal liability was abolished in China. During the Mao Zedong’s rule, the Chinese government named homosexuality a mental disease and considered it a kind of hooliganism (Mountford 19). At that time, the state promoted a campaign to exterminate the phenomenon. The Chinese homosexuals were actively treated with the usage of an electric shock machine. The punishment for homosexual relationships was traditional for the Chinese communists and presupposed the re-education in the labor camps. Having been considered a pathology and criminal offense since the late 1940s, homosexuality officially disappeared from the Criminal Code only in 1997. In April 2001, it was also excluded from the list of mental disorders (Mountford 20). Nevertheless, Chinese doctors still prefer the corrective electrical shock therapy. Most people choose this treatment under the pressure of their relatives as there is a severe and powerful cult of a family in the country (Gerkin 58).
A significant breakthrough in the case of homosexuals in China was the adoption of the amendment to the Criminal Code by the Supreme legislative authority of the country; it came into force on 1 November 2015 (Thapa 1). According to this amendment, the male rape is a criminal offense in China and is punishable by the imprisonment of up to five years. It is a crucial step as because of years of silence and negligence of this issue, approximately 10% of male homosexuals in China fall victims of the sexual rape by the other men (Thapa 1).
Today, at the governmental level, the attitude towards homosexuals is ambiguous. Officially, homosexuality is considered a manifestation of the capitalist society that is threatening the socialist civilization (Mountford 21). In fact, however, the issue is completely tabooed. The government tries not to pay attention even if the manifestations are obvious and typically Western, for instance, the gay clubs in big cities or gay websites on the censored Chinese Internet. Such a condescending attitude to the homosexual culture has a significant reason: one of the consequences of the one family – one child policy is the fact that the number of boys in China is much higher than the number of the girls (Gerkin 58). In the spirit of the traditions and advisability, the Chinese usually try to give birth to a male. Sometimes, these instances were limited by following the heavenly signs, but occasionally, they resulted in the abortions or killings children of the undesired sex. The young men, who are simply unable to find a wife or even a girlfriend, become a source of social tension. Therefore, the government prefers not to engage in managing alternative forms of sexual relationships (Gerkin 59).
People’s Reaction and Education
The public opinion on the issue of homosexual relationships is as following: 60% of the Chinese consider it immoral, 13% believe it is moral, and 17% do not even assume that this problem is a moral issue at all (United Nations Development Programme & United States Agency for International Development 27). Generally, the attitude of Chinese to the non-traditional sex is complicated. On the one hand, the cultural tradition, according to which homosexuality is called the division of the last peach and has a reach poetry background, significantly affects people’s position concerning this issue. Furthermore, the South Asian region residents grow up being surrounded by the Buddhists; thus, they are basically tolerant to the alternative sexuality if it is non-public (however, the same applies to the traditional relationships, as well). On the other hand, the Chinese society can be hardly named tolerant due to the cult of a family and inheritors that are significantly valued in the times of the one family – one child policy (Gerkin 58). Today, a lot of the Chinese are the only children in their families. Thus, the idea that the only inheritor may not marry and leave the heirs evokes the horror in the Chinese parents. Certainly, the Chinese parents do not nurture their children, constantly telling them about the awfulness of homosexuality. Nevertheless, children always hear that when they grow up, they will get married and will have their children (Gerkin 59). Therefore, even if a person really feels his otherness in terms of sexual orientation, he still has a clear idea about the future behavior and builds the life in the subconscious. However, sometimes, having heard a confession in homosexuality of their only child, they can simply give up him or her due to the fact that their child will never endow them with grandchildren and will never please them with the procreation. Moreover, unmarried individuals face much more problems in making a career.
Thus, the consequences of this attitude are the attempts to treat homosexuality privately (including electrical shock therapy) and a huge number of heterosexual marriages, which rarely end successfully. For decades, the Chinese hidden gays have married unaware heterosexual women in order to hide their homosexuality. Today, in China, there are about 20 millions of homo- and bisexual men, 80% of whom are married to women (United Nations Development Programme & United States Agency for International Development 41). It means that about 16 million heterosexual women are married to gays. Previously, similar situations were usually experienced behind the closed doors. Nevertheless, in 2014, the general public drew attention to this issue when a 31-year-old bride from the Sichuan Province jumped out through the window after having learned that her husband was a gay (United Nations Development Programme & United States Agency for International Development 41).
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In the ancient China, homosexual love was the manifestation of the versatility of human relations. It was widely praised in the artworks and was commonly practiced by the Emperor’s House of the Han and Song Dynasties. The Chinese Government adopted the first law against homosexuals only in the eighteenth century. The rejection of homosexuality and the spread of homophobia in China resulted from the beginning of the country’s westernization and became particularly prominent in the early years of the Republic of China. After the foundation of the PRC, homosexual relations were outlawed. Any deviations from heterosexual norms are considered a mental illness, which required the toughest and sometimes brutal treatment, for instance, the electrical shock therapy. Homosexuality officially disappeared from the Chinese Criminal Code and was excluded from the list of mental disorders only on the edge of the current millennium.
In China, parents always associate high expectations with their children. Therefore, sometimes having heard a confession in homosexuality of their only child, they can give up him or her due to the fact that their child will never endow them with grandchildren and will never please them with the procreation. People of the nontraditional sexual orientation experience an intense pressure from the family and society. They are even ready to enter into a fictitious marriage, with the only goal to get rid of these problems and family conflicts. These individuals usually proceed in this way and fulfill their duty to their parents. However, these marriages end successfully extremely rarely. Thus, the overwhelming majority of homo- and bisexual men in China are married to women.