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Homosexuals in Modern China:
Four Recent Press Reports

Taken from the QRD (Queer Resources Directory) on the Internet at http://www.qrd.org/QRD, and other sources


Hostile society keeps China's gay community cowed

by Tiffany Bown

Beijing, Dec 12 (AFP) - "David" is a 23-year-old Chinese politics student. Few friends know he is also a homosexual looking for a lover in a society where even fellow gays are disgusted by their own behaviour. While in awe of the handful of gays who are daring to speak openly in order to promote awareness in a hostile society, the student, like most Chinese homosexuals, has little intention of joining them.

"Coming out publicly would be a disaster for an ordinary person - he would be fired and ostracised," said David, who was willing to speak on condition that his Chinese name not be used. "Most just care about their own lives, they just want to try to be happy."

This is hard enough. Many Chinese gays - burdened with ignorance, discrimination and fear - are unable to comprehend their homo- sexual yearnings and close themselves off from society, tormented by self-hate, said Wu Chunsheng, one of China's few campaigners.

"It's very common for Chinese gays not to have a single homosexual lover in their life," said Wu, noting that finding a steady partner was hard even for the minority who dared to venture out to tolerated gay meeting spots like Beijing's Dongdan Park and the five-star Kuniun Hotel's discotheque.

On certain nights, more than a third of the disco's crowd are gays at their most relaxed.

But, even here, intimacy is limited to furtive glances, whispers over a can of Coca Cola or, for the daring, a brief touch on the packed dance floor. Holding hands or any openly camp behaviour is out and, to the untrained eye, the club's gay crowd remain all but impossible to distinguish.

The disco is also expensive, putting it off-limits to ordinary Chinese like David, who complains it is full of "money gays" looking only for sex. He, like many others, is also uncomfortable picking partners up in parks.

"I've been to Dongdan to look for a lover but I was disgusted. I don't think Dogdan's a good place, I don't like the atmosphere," he said.

"I'd prefer to meet someone during my normal life - but that's very, very difficult," said the student, who, since recognising his homosexuality in January, has managed to overcome his initial disgust thanks to privileged access to objective material in his university library.

Most gays are not so lucky, which their ignorance and guilt instead reinforced by scant information in the media that tends to connect homosexuals with either Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or crime.

While long-term jail sentences for homosexuals on "hooliganism" charges have become rare in recent years, police continues to promote fear in the cowed community by occasionally rounding gays up and fining them or detaining them for several days.

With so many negative factors preventing gays from nurturing a stable relationship, many instead resort to sordid, "unsafe" encounters in public toilets. Afterwards, they return home to their wives and resume pretence of a heterosexual life.

"After the age of 30, more than 90 percent of gays get married - because social pressure makes them believe they have no choice. But the continue to find gay partners on the street and have unprotected sex," said campaigner Wan Yanhai.

Wan, Wu and other activists are seeking to tackle massive ignorance about AIDS and homosexuality, in part to help prevent an explosion in sexual transmission of the deadly disease.

In their most ambitious initiative yet, they gathered some 40 nationwide specialists in Beijing for a two-day conference aimed at drawing up policy recommendations to be forwarded to the government.

Wu is meanwhile conducting a nationwide survey of homosexuals, while Wan recently resurrected a salon and hotline shut down by the government last year.

"I want to bring homosexuals out from underground and improve interpersonal relations by promoting daylight gatherings and encouraging people to discuss their problems," said Wan.

But the activist's efforts to change social attitudes are frustrated, in part by the lack of cohesion within the gay community as well as by the absence of government support.

"Change won't happen fast. We can't yet start talking about gay rights - if you push for this too fast in China then you'll just get the opposite," said Wu.

"We have to take it step by step - first by convincing the government of the need to tackle the gay issue in order to deal with urgent practical matters like AIDS," he said.

Gays Living in Secrecy

BEIJING (UPI) -- Like most Chinese homosexuals, Han Yue strives to keep his secret from all but a close circle of gay friends. Like others, his biggest fear is that someone, someday, might find out he is gay.

``I've lived with this deep fear of discovery for years, and it knocks all the self-confidence out of you,'' he says, looking much older than his 32 years. ``Now I just feel inferior.''

Han Yue, a pseudonym, has been arrested twice. Once the police beat him and then informed his boss, costing him a promising job as a clerk at the Ministry of Culture.

His first homosexual encounter at 16 was snatched in the dark during a violent earthquake in 1976 that knocked out Beijing's electricity supply.

Subsequent encounters took place in parks, toilets and once at the so-called ``Democracy Wall'' in Beijing which, he says, was a favored meeting point for homosexuals during the brief democracy movement in 1979.

Han Yue is unsure of how many sexual partners he has had, but he knows the figure is high. He knows he has never used a condom and he knows, but does not care, about AIDS.

``Most of us think, 'The sooner I get it, the sooner I'll be dead,''' he said. ``We wouldn't think like that if we hadn't been hurt so badly.''

Now he shares a cramped Beijing flat with his mother. But he leaves every Lunar New Year -- China's equivalent of Christmas when families come together -- because his elder brother a few years back stumbled across a private diary recording his homosexual encounters.

``If I'm there at New Year my brother will eat, then he'll drink, then he could start talking about me and I would be finished,'' he says.

In secret, he attends ``Men's World,'' China's first support group for gay men set up in late 1992. But he is skeptical of recent official attempts to publicize the existence of homosexuality in China.

``The newspapers talk about how hard it is abroad, about how gays in America and Europe are mistreated, but they never talk about how hard it is for Chinese homosexuals,'' he said. ``We don't live like human beings. We live the life of ghosts.''

``The Forest of Ghosts'' also is the title for a book Han Yue has written recalling his experiences and those of gay friends. Stories of arrest and beatings at the hands of the police that, he says, happen every day.

The book includes a particularly disturbing passage describing the arrest and rape of one of his gay companions by members of the People's Militia, the volunteer civilian force that often patrols homosexual haunts.

``It broke him,'' Han Yue recalls. ``He wanted to commit suicide.'' ``The Forest of Ghosts'' has attracted the interest of a state-run publishing firm in south China's freewheeling Hainan Province, but so far the company's managers say the book is too sensitive to put on the market.

To Han Yue, their decision comes as little surprise. ``This is still China,'' he said. ``I really love my country like I love my mother, but she's not perfect and in some respects I hate her with all my heart.''

Gays in Taiwan

I'm studying in Taiwan and just recently the Taiwanese government held a hearing entitled "Who cares about gay rights?" Here is how one English newspaper reported the forum.

Taiwanese Ministry of Education official condemns gays

A Ministry of Education (MOE) official yesterday compared homosexuals to drug addicts and questioned whether they should be granted basic human rights.

Speaking at a public hearing yesterday [Tuesday, December 28th, I think], Cheng Chung-cheng, a director of student affairs at the MOE, said: "Homosexuals should not pollute others with their relationships," adding that education authorities "do not know how to handle this problem."

Cheng's statement immediately sparked heated protest from a number of people present at the hearing who said, "Homosexuality is not a disease, neither a crime nor a tumor."

Six local groups later issued a joint statement protesting actions or messages which discriminate against homosexuals. They demanded that homosexuals be protected from personal attacks or discrimination in employment or education.

They also requested that homosexuals be included in and protected under the "Anti-Discrimination Law."

The six groups included "Between Us," "the Asian Lesbian Network," "Speak out," "National Taiwan University Gays and Study Club," "Comrades Club," and "Love and Happiness News."

At yesterday's hearing, the groups also criticized Taipei City police for having insulted homosexuals in various incidents at Taipei New Park in 1990 and this year.

The meeting, convened by DPP Legislator Yen Chin-fu, was held as a public forum on homosexuality.

Here are just a couple of notes about the article:

1. The use of the word "tumor" is, from what I've noticed, usually a reference to problems or conflicts which can easily spread within a group, or in this case, society in general. I have heard of a few cases where people were either not hired or fired due to their orientation, but there is no law which makes this practice illegal in Taiwan.

2. Taipei New Park at night becomes a predominately gay park.

I'm not a member of any of those six groups and I don't know anything else about what happened during the meeting nor any results (good or bad) of the meeting. I am now trying to find out what is really going on via a friend of mine who is gay and has friends in the "National Taiwan University Gays Study Club."

CHINA'S GAYS QUIETLY WORK TO RAISE PROFILE RELATIVE FREEDOM

Date: Wed, 21 Jun 1995 China's gays quietly work to raise profile Relative freedom accorded activists By Ian Johnson Baltimore Sun BEIJING -- At first glance, Wan Yanhai hardly seems the type to be on the cutting edge of social change in China. The 32-year-old's office is a small teahouse in downtown Beijing, his filing system an overstuffed briefcase and the closest he gets to the ``information superhighway'' is an old beeper. But his shoestring operation gives him the freedom to work as a researcher into gay health issues, a job that would be impossible in China if he had a big office and a big budget. Although not supported by the government -- indeed, he is sometimes harassed by the police -- Wan is relatively free to study and pursue his other interest, helping China's fledgling gay movement organize itself. ``Their attitude towards us now is not to bother us,'' Wan said. `` `Ignore and don't ask,' that's their attitude.'' This is a sharp change from several years ago, when homosexuality was considered a disease and independent scholars were singled out as responsible for instigating anti-government demonstrations. Now, as China's opening to the outside world continues and its society becomes more complex, people are forming interest groups and working on sensitive topics that the government has given up trying to control. Some headway China's gays have not gotten so far as to lobby the government for a change in laws -- such as allowing gays to serve in the military or legalizing homosexual marriages -- but Wan and a loose network of about 50 other activists in Beijing have made headway on several projects. Their work includes handing out literature on AIDS prevention, counseling gays who meet in parks, conducting opinion polls and writing up their research for health publications. With help from the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which provided a $10,000 grant last year, the research is providing the first glimpses into China's gay population and its health needs. Never strictly illegal in China, homosexuality has always been taboo, said Dr. Liu Dalin, a Shanghai-based sexologist. Traditional literature is full of references to male and female homosexuality, where it was sometimes viewed as harmless unless it interfered with one's duty to have a family, Liu said. `A gray area' ``You can never find laws or proclamations that homosexuality is illegal. But no law has ever said it's legal, either, so homosexuals have always occupied a gray area,'' Liu said. After the communist takeover of China in 1949, gays -- and anyone else engaging in other than a limited range of government-sanctioned activities -- were persecuted. Stories are told of gays being murdered during the Cultural Revolution, a 10-year period of chaos and stringent conformity that ended in 1976. Today, shame still keeps most gays in the closet, Wan said. It also encourages ignorance of health risks, with condom use limited to about 5 percent, according to one of his surveys. Partially as a result of this behavior, the official number of HIV carriers has reached 1,774, and independent experts believe the real number to be higher than 10,000. Despite the growing problem, the government has moved slowly to promote AIDS awareness. Wan's former employer, the health ministry's National Health Education Institute, has little money for advertising and does almost no social work among the gay population. Information, counseling Wan makes regular visits to Beijing's main gay hangout, Dongdan Park, and to discos where gays hang out. He distributes information and also counsels. The government's -- and perhaps society's -- ambivalent attitude toward his work is reflected in continuing harassment. He was temporarily detained on last year's world AIDS awareness day for distributing leaflets about AIDS. A hot line he started was also shut down after authorities said it encouraged immorality and human rights. Still almost unresearched is the world of Chinese lesbians, said Li Yinghe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. A newspaper last year carried a report about widespread lesbianism in Chinese prisons, but so far no lesbian organizations have been formed, Li said.