“Gay life is alive and well in China”
21 Mar 2012
Twelve leading figures from the Chinese gay and lesbian community are to speak at The University of Manchester in the first event of its kind in the UK this week (22 to 24 March).
The activists, academics, and filmmakers will share their experience with European counterparts to correct misconceptions about being lesbian and gay in China.
Europe-China LGBT Exchange is organised by Dr William Schroeder from the University’s Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS).
“This event is about dispelling prejudices about LGBT life in China: it might be surprising to some that activists like these 12 people operate openly and rather effectively there,” he said.
“In fact LGBT communities thrive in many parts of the country, especially urban centres, but also rural areas too.”
The event is funded by the Ford Foundation, the British Inter-university Chinese Centre (BICC) and Manchester’s CCS.
Though homosexuality used to fall under general anti-hooliganism laws in China, it was decriminalised in 1997 and delisted as a mental illness in 2001.
But while Beijing and other big cities are home to an increasingly long list of LGBT organisations and clubs, it is unusual for LGBT people to come out to their parents and employers.
Dr Schroeder, an anthropologist, is currently researching how Chinese LGBT people build their communities through recreational organisations.
He said: “People in China often imagine that places like the United States are gay paradises.
“But LGBT Westerners can suffer the threat of extreme violence as a result of their sexuality and authorities in some communities in the United States continue to actively persecute LGBT citizens.
“People in the West, on the other hand, imagine being gay in China is horribly dangerous or illegal.
“But LGBT people don’t face the kind of targeted moral condemnation that their American counterparts do, for example.”
Most recently, Westerners read about the Chinese government shutting down the Mr Gay China pageant in 2010.
The move reflects officialdom’s laissez-faire attitude to the gay community, as long as it stays broadly out of the public eye, says Dr Schroeder.
He added: “Pageants and parades that attract world attention are one thing. But inside China individuals and groups have long been working to create a vibrant scene and have been challenging conventions in their own way for decades.
“Many ordinary Chinese have an ambiguous attitude to gay people rather than outright hostility – though some still believe being gay is a perversion and a mental illness. But it’s most frequently seen as a social ‘mistake’.”
“Many Chinese lead a relatively open gay life – especially at the weekend when they take part in various clubs and recreational activities.
“But those same people are reticent towards telling their families and workmates: having a family and children is extremely important in Chinese culture, and ever more so as state-sponsored social security networks crumble.”
Notes for editors
Queer China will take place from 22 to 24 March. All events will be in Chinese and English (with interpretation).
The event will be launched by a talk show-style lecture hosted by Professor Lisa Rofel from The University of California, one of the world’s leading experts on LGBT China. Professor Rofel will interview avante-garde film director Cui Zi’en from the Beijing Film Academy (which produced such world-renowned filmmakers as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige) and Professor Li Yinhe from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, both of whom are outspoken and widely known commentators on LGBT issues in China.
Also taking part are Wei Jiangang, commentator, filmmaker and producer of the “Queer Comrades” website, which pays homage to seminal UK series ‘Queer as Folk’, and Shitou, Chinese lesbian actress and filmmaker.
There will also be a documentary film-screening in both Chinese and English, with the filmmakers present.
All events are open to the public.
For a full list of participants and activities visit www.
Dr William Schroeder is available for comment.
For media enquiries contact:
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790