Utopia Guide to Gay and Lesbian China (first gay and lesbian guide to China)
September 2, 1997
Door to Tolerance Opens Partway As Gay Life Is Emerging in China
by Seth Faison
On a side street not far from the waterfront, a small restaurant filled up one recent evening with customers, many of them gay. Some came to see a long-haired, cross-dressing singer perform, but more seemed happy just to find a place to relax and laugh.
Plainly dressed men in their 20’s and 30’s crowded around tables overloaded with plates of steamed fish and sauteed vegetables. A singer in a slinky black gown and curly shoulder-length hair stood on a chair to croon a love song, his protruding Adam’s apple the only clue to his sex. Mixing his own suggestive lyrics with more conventional ones, the singer evoked hoots of laughter from the crowd, who thrilled to his irreverent humor. ”No one bothers about us anymore,” said a 32-year-old man with a crew cut, sitting with a half-dozen friends at a corner table.
”As long as we’re not disturbing anyone else, we can enjoy ourselves and the police will leave us alone.” As official tolerance of gay men and lesbians quietly grows in China, they are taking their first steps toward openness, as the mere existence of this restaurant — run by two openly gay managers — testifies. The last few years have brought a significant, if tentative, coming-out for gay men and women in urban China.
Until recently, gay life in Communist China existed only behind closed doors, almost uniformly considered a social disgrace or a form of mental illness, sometimes treated with electric shock therapy. Now, in cities all over the country, gay people gather and socialize in places openly known as gay hang-outs like restaurants, bars and public parks, largely unafraid of the kind of police roundups that were common only a few years ago.
Yet many gay men and lesbians, speaking on condition of anonymity, complain that they still face harsh discrimination, that Chinese society is still so closed that an overwhelming majority of them keep their sexual orientation secret from their families and co-workers. ”We all talk about it much more openly than before,” said a 28-year-old fashion designer in Beijing. ”I think most of my gay friends now accept it in themselves. But if you can’t tell your family or colleagues, how open are you?”
There is no law against homosexuality in China. In the past, the police have often arrested people and charged them with hooliganism or disturbing public order simply for gathering in places where gay men were known to meet, although such incidents are gradually becoming less frequent. Wan Yanhai, a former health official in China and now a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California, said that while life was gradually becoming easier for homosexuals, the authorities were still nervous about any sort of gay-related organization, as they are about any group — religious, environmental, political — that they could not fully control.
Mr. Wan helped set up and run an AIDS telephone line in Beijing in 1992, when the authorities also allowed several books about gay life to be published. But Mr. Wan was forced to close down the phone line a year later after he began speaking out about gay rights, and he was dismissed from his job at a public health institute the following year. ”The Government no longer has a problem with gays; it has a problem with political organizations,” Mr. Wan said. ”As long as you don’t organize or speak out, you can do what you want.”
A landmark case involved two lesbians who were arrested for living together in Anhui province in 1992. But after lengthy internal debate, the Ministry of Public Security ruled that there was nothing illegal about two people of the same sex living together. Although lesbians say life is changing for them as fast as it is for gay men, they have fewer public gathering places. ”The pickup attitude that a lot of men have is less true for women,” said a 29-year-old public relations executive in Beijing, who acknowledged that she was a lesbian. ”We use more informal networks, going through friends.”
One of the driving forces behind the growing openness, several scholars agreed, is China’s economic growth and the increased communication and open-mindedness that have accompanied it. ”People are busy, they’re making money and they don’t care about your private life,” said a sociologist in Beijing. ”Before, people were idle and liked to tell you how to lead your life, but that’s changed.”
As with any touchy issue in China, official practice varies from city to city, and town to town. In many places, gay men and lesbians still face possible dismissal from work if their sexuality becomes known to their superiors. At the same time, a growing number of their colleagues may accept it. ”Everything is becoming much more open,” said a manager at the restaurant with the cross-dressing singer. ”Gay people themselves are starting to understand that the way they live is natural.” Yet he acknowledged that one reason his restaurant was so popular among gay people was that it was one of the few places where they feel completely comfortable.
”They go to work all week, pretending to be someone they are not,” said the manager, whose white polo shirt had the word Golf emblazoned on his collar. ”When they come here, they can let it all out and feel really open.” Shanghai’s main public meeting place for gay men is just two blocks from the restaurant and directly across the street from a police station, a sign of how permissible such gatherings have become. Hundreds of men gather there each evening, some holding hands as they wander along the tree-lined paths, while others chat as they congregate on low-lying benches.
A murmur of conversation fills the summer air, relaxed and lively at the same time. ”You can do it, but you can’t talk about it,” said a 37-year-old man with short hair and a toothy smile. ”At least I’m not afraid to come to a place like this and meet other people. That’s progress.” The odd, halfway position many gay people now inhabit, this man said, was exemplified in the way he himself was quite eager to talk with a stranger about the situation they face in China, but would not tell his family or allow his name to be used. ”I think my parents wonder because I’ve never married,” he continued. ”But they still hope that I will change somehow. I know I won’t.”
A small but growing number of younger men are becoming fully open about being gay, telling their families and friends, and dressing more distinctively. A 20-year-old singer in Shanghai who uses a single name, Coco, decided last year to become openly gay. Sporting several earrings and a nose ring, torso-hugging body shirts and frequent changes of hair color, Coco says it is now possible to live a psychologically healthy life as a gay man in China.
”There is no reason to hide it anymore,” he said. ”It’s mostly about being honest with yourself. I’ve never been in trouble with the police. Why should I? I haven’t done anything wrong.” Coco added that he was surprised how many of his heterosexual friends seemed even more accepting after he told them. ”They think I’m telling them a big secret, that I’m being unusually honest with them,” he said. ”That makes them closer friends. It’s the opposite of what I expected.” Mr. Wan, the scholar, pointed out that such openness and self-awareness was greater in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which draw many gay men and lesbians from smaller cities and towns, where they often feel isolated.
”It can feel like being in jail,” he said. ”In a small place, you feel completely lonely and strange.” A common problem facing young gay men who migrate to large cities is that, unable to find other work, they sometimes turn to prostitution, becoming ”money boys,” as they are known here. Homosexuality is still classified as a mental disorder by the Chinese Psychiatric Association, and psychologists typically regard the sexual orientation of gay patients as an illness than can be cured. In the past, some doctors have used electric shock therapy, although their claims of success have been challenged by other doctors.
Many gay men say they still wonder what is wrong with them. ”I think I’m missing a gland or something in my brain,” said a 30-year-old hotel worker in Shanghai, who was looking for conversation in the park known as a gay hangout. ”I read that in a newspaper — that homosexuals are the same as everyone else except that we are missing some gland.” Back in the restaurant with the cross-dressing singer, one diner listening intently seemed to find more than the bawdy humor that other customers enjoyed. To him, the restaurant was not so much a sign of growing openness as evidence of how closed off to gay people most of China remains. ”You hear the pain in his voice?” the diner asked. ”That builds up all week long before he can come here to let it out. This is the only place he can do it. Out there, it’s not the same.”
Chinese sexual museum has high-minded goals
by Joe McDonald
Shanghai, China – Liu Dalin is no sex fiend. But even in increasingly open-minded China, his collection of 1,200 antique sex toys, fertility idols, porcelain copulating animals and erotic paintings might raise eyebrows. The retired sociology professor is the founder of the Chinese Sexual Culture Museum. He says it’s the first of its kind in a society with a vast erotic history that has in recent decades treated sex as obscene and unmentionable. Liu’s museum opened Sept. 2 in a light, airy space in an upscale shopping district. He considers it not entertainment but serious education for a nation rediscovering its sexuality.
"In order for people to understand sexuality, they must Hills will be Take A Hike know the history of sex," says the soft-spoken Liu, 67, who seems an unlikely candidate to shatter taboos. Open talk of sex is a radical turnabout for China. After the communists took power in 1949, they suppressed overt sexuality, reviling it as a plaything of the idle, oppressive rich. But two decades of economic reform have brought a relaxation. Laws against homosexuality and sex outside marriage are less stringently enforced. In bigger cities, unmarried couples live together openly. Prostitution is common. Radio talk shows discuss marital sex lives, while telephone hot lines serve gays and lesbians.
Educational books on sex are for sale, though explicit materials are banned, including imperial-era Chinese writings hailed elsewhere as classic erotic literature. Liu started collecting sex artifacts in 1989, three years before he retired from Shanghai University. His trove spans 6,000 years, from fertility idols and retiring depictions of sex organs in jade and ivory to humorous sex toys and statues of mating horses, buffalo and smiling pigs. Some pieces are from Europe, Africa and other Asian countries. Liu’s privately financed museum presents them in a setting whose tasteful décor and technical sophistication rival many state galleries. Smaller pieces are in glass-fronted wooden cabinets and bigger ones on spotlit pedestals.
Signs in Chinese and English describe exhibits and their place in history in scholarly language. Sections cover sex in religion, including Hindu and Buddhist erotic sculpture; gay sexuality in China; and the subjugation of women through foot-binding and prostitution. A locked room holds graphic paintings of sex acts from China, Japan, Thailand and India. Some date to China’s Song dynasty of the 10th to 13th centuries. "A government official asked us not to let the public see these," says Hu Hongxia, deputy director of the museum.
The museum gets only about 50 visitors a day, in part because admission is set high at 50 yuan, about $6. That is more than the average daily wage in China and 2 1/2 times the price charged by the much bigger Shanghai Museum, which is a public institution. The small turnout suits Liu. He worries that bigger crowds could make authorities look on his museum as a nuisance or hurt its high-minded educational goals. He talks with distaste of similar sex museums in Japan and the Netherlands that he says are too commercial.
"We could charge less and get more visitors," Liu says. "But we only want people who are really, really interested." Wang Yongliang, a 72-year-old visitor who got in at half-price with a retiree discount card, says he’s most interested in the history exhibits. "Sex is a necessity of life, like food. People should know more about it," Wang says. But he doesn’t think Chinese attitudes toward sex have changed much. "Some people are more open, but ordinary people still have a lot of feudal attitudes," Wang says, using a Communist Party term for backward thinking.
Liu sees a direct link between relaxed social attitudes and a flourishing economy. He points to the 7th-to-10th-century Tang dynasty — the historic peak of China’s economic power and cultural confidence — as its most sexually open era in art, literature and society. "When society is in decline, leaders worry about everything, and take away freedoms, including sexual freedoms," he says. Liu says he has published more than 60 books and collaborated on the first major communist-era study of Chinese sexuality, which involved surveys of 20,000 people in 1989.
He says his museum collection cost about $120,000. He bought about 30 percent of the pieces in Hong Kong and the rest from mainlanders who had hidden them through decades of anti-smut crackdowns. Portions have been exhibited in Berlin, Taiwan and Melbourne, Australia. Liu’s wife is uneasy about his museum, but not because she fears he might get a sleazy reputation. "She is more worried that I invested too much money in this collection," he says.
(Note from Richard Ammon I visited this museum last year. It has an interesting variety of objects from ancient to modern times. However, homosexuality is relegated to the ‘unusual sexual practices’ display and offers a single ambiguous artifact. I wrote to Mr. Liu, but received no reply.)
October 28, 2000
In Rural China, a Steep Price of Poverty: Dying of AIDS
by Elisabeth Rosenthal
Zhengzhou, China – To celebrate the Moon Festival last month, a frail retired doctor named Gao Yaojie scraped together money to hire a taxi, packed it full of medicines, brochures, sweet drinks and cakes and slipped off, once again, from this provincial capital to see patients in remote mud-brick villages where countless farmers are silently dying of AIDS.
Chinese officials here generally deny there is AIDS in rural parts of Henan Province, a farming region in central China south of Beijing. They have forbidden the local news media and government health workers to discuss the topic and blocked outside researchers from studying it. Dr. Gao, a small serious woman of 76 in dark hand-me-down clothes, is regularly chased out of the villages she goes to help. But Dr. Gao and a few others familiar with the area say small towns here and scattered elsewhere in central China are experiencing an unreported, unrecognized AIDS epidemic.
A few covert studies suggest some of the towns have some of the highest localized rates of H.I.V. infection in the world; some say 20 percent. The problem is that for many years large numbers of poor farmers have illegally sold their blood to people known as blood heads, whose unsterile collection methods have left many infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The blood donors get the virus not only because blood heads reuse contaminated needles but also because donated blood is often pooled and, after the desired elements are removed, the remainder divided and returned to donors. So blood-borne diseases spread rapidly among the blood sellers who have now passed the AIDS virus to their spouses and children, and also to patients who get transfusions made from the blood.
And while the Chinese government has acknowledged AIDS outbreaks in its western provinces and cities (caused mostly by drug use), discussion of this outbreak remains taboo. "This is a minefield, an extremely sensitive issue that is going to be a big problem for China," said one Western AIDS expert who has worked extensively in Asia. Against this backdrop of hostility and denial, the stubborn Dr. Gao is waging a lonely campaign to publicize the issue, educating the healthy and treating the sick in villages where many people have only a primary school education.
She tries to discourage women from selling their blood, hands out medicine to control the diarrhea associated with AIDS and cuddles infected infants to show neighbors that there is nothing to fear. Her medicines, like pain killers and cough syrup, cannot cure patients, only ease their suffering. "No hospitals here take these patients," she said. "Their families turn them out. There’s no option, just to die. Many people think AIDS is a bad disease, so they don’t talk about it and don’t admit they have it."
She said people are often so ignorant about the disease that they continue to sell their blood even after watching dozens of fellow villagers die, thinking that if they eat right and dress warmly, they cannot fall ill. One concerned local official said that widows and widowers of AIDS patients, many of whom were themselves infected, often quickly remarried. "They are continuing to spread the virus," he said. "When will this tragedy end?"
Because provincial officials have blocked efforts by government scientists to survey these areas, there is no clear idea of the magnitude of the problem, only disturbing hints. Working without permission, Dr. Gui Xien, a researcher from neighboring Hubei Province, drew 155 blood samples from farmers in Shangcai County in Henan, where blood selling is common; 96 of them were H.I.V. positive, including blood sellers, their spouses and children, according to another doctor familiar with the study.
Although it was not a random sample, the 62 percent infection rate was alarming. "These villages should have a rate of zero," said the Western researcher. "Even 20 percent indicates a very serious problem." He said the statistics trickling out of the countryside presented a "classic picture of a blood-associated epidemic," because rates of other blood- borne infectious diseases, particularly hepatitis C, were also very high.
In Shangcai County, more than a dozen families in one village of 2,000 people included individuals who had died from AIDS, and rates are similar in all the surrounding villages, a local cadre told a small Beijing magazine called China News Weekly, one of the few publications to broach the subject. When an infectious-disease specialist from Beijing made an undercover tour of hospitals in rural Henan this year, he saw many patients who appeared to have AIDS. When his identity was discovered, he was thrown out of the province and faced a reprimand.
"Lots of people at the center are really good and know what needs to be done," said a Western diplomat who was told by health officials in Shangcai that there was no AIDS there. But those officials are ineffective, he said, because "they depend on the provincial health folks who nominally work for then, but in reality don’t." In some of the most affected areas, a few local officials and medics have tried to help the ill with donations and improvised education campaigns.
But with no support from higher levels of government, little money and limited knowledge, they are often ineffective. "You run into many obstacles doing this kind of work, both from higher officials and from townspeople, who don’t understand the disease," said a local official, a Mr. Kong, who spoke by phone from one of the affected villages. Then he asked, "Tell me, is there a cure for this sickness?" The illegal blood trade thrives in China because of perpetual blood shortages at hospitals and at companies that make medicines derived from blood: most Chinese are unwilling to donate blood. In rural Henan, most donors are women because people here argue that men’s blood is too precious to waste, and women lose blood to menstruation anyway.
In an unpublished article circulated to call attention to the trade, a local official named Du described this scene: "Villagers became crazy about selling blood because they are so poor and life is so hard. Many had built their houses by selling blood. Some will even bribe traffickers to be able to sell more than once a day. Once we saw hundreds of people lined up there at the entrance of our village. I thought it must be a vegetable market or a movie. It turned out to be blood selling! I felt so terrified because there is no sterilized equipment at all. Villagers just tell the traffickers their blood type and then lie down on the ground to offer blood."
The practice has decreased since blood selling was made a criminal offense several years ago, but experts say it continues and black market blood is still used by hospitals and by drug manufacturers for making things like gamma globulin and clotting factors. It is a huge business, Dr. Gao said, blaming corrupt hospital officials. It is unclear how much of the tainted blood makes it into the hospitals, where theoretically it is tested for the virus that causes AIDS.
The United States government says that Chinese blood products are not sold in the United States. Dr. Gao, formerly one of the province’s leading gynecologists, was drawn into AIDS work in 1996, when she was called out of retirement to consult with younger doctors about a woman whose illness confounded them. Dr. Gao concluded that the woman had AIDS, making the patient the first official casualty of the disease in the province.
Since then, Dr. Gao has transformed the spartan unheated flat she shares with her husband into a command center, using her pension money to print educational leaflets and conduct simple surveys as well as answering thousands of letters from teachers, patients needing money, even other doctors wanting information. While local officials at first tolerated her campaign, they quickly became annoyed by her blunt talk and harsh words. She says, for example, that if the government does not confront AIDS, more people will die than during the Japanese occupation.
"Yes, they’ve threatened me," she said. "Even my friends don’t understand me; they think I should enjoy my retirement. But people are dying. And this is something that can be totally stopped." With tears in her eyes, Dr. Gao told how on a recent trip, she visited a mother and son, both near death. The mother, Wu Long, a veteran blood seller, had a painful rash that covered her body and could not eat because of the sores in her mouth. Wei Wei, her 2-year-old son, had been sick since birth with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea. His grandfather described him as gaunt "as a child from Africa." The father tried to commit suicide when he learned the child had AIDS.
To such people, Dr. Gao, with her small gifts of love, medicine and knowledge, seems the Chinese equivalent of a saint. One AIDS victim named Cheng Yan, who has since died, wrote to her, "It must be Chairman Mao who sent you here." Dr. Gao said that the local press does not print articles about the problem in Henan, and that the situation is generally ignored or covered up by local authorities, who fear it will reflect badly on their work or interfere with plans for business development. "Big officials tell small officials to deny it’s here, and so people don’t get help," she said.
In Shangcai County, the medical examinations that are required for all Chinese citizens before marriage still do not include AIDS testing or counseling, for example, said Dr. Gui, the researcher from Wuhan, at a medical lecture this year. More than half of hospitalized patients who test positive for H.I.V. are not informed of the test results, he said.
And Dr. Gui added that he was rebuffed when he approached health officials in Henan to begin an AIDS prevention program, offering to act as a free adviser. Chinese officials have made him promise not to publish the specific results of his survey. "The gravity of AIDS in Shangcai has not attracted the concern of the relevant authorities," Dr. Gui said. "And this is something I’m broken- hearted about."
July 7, 2000
China anti-vice drive nets 37 in gay brothel
Beijing – Police raided a gay health spa in southern China and arrested 37 men for prostitution as the government launched a summer drive against vice, a police spokesman said on Friday. The men were arrested at the Junjie Men’s Beauty and Health Centre in the southern city of Guangzhou on July 3 during a nationwide drive against gambling, illegal drugs, prostitution and pornography, he said.
"The men were not taken in because of their homosexuality, which is a voluntary mutual relationship, but because the centre charged from 200 yuan ($24) to 500 yuan for their services,” the spokesman said. The spa, staffed only with male hosts, was closed and the men would be prosecuted, he said. It drew hundreds of card-carrying members since it opened in February. The China Daily quoted senior national police officials on Friday as saying the July-September anti-vice drive would target nightclubs, bars, saunas and karaoke parlours.
The campaign would close down unregistered entertainment and leisure centres, inspect and re-register the existing 330,700 registered sites and ban the opening of new ones, it said. President Jiang Zemin, who has spearhead a campaign to promote upright living and Communist orthodoxy, has called on law enforcement authorities to "strike against repulsive social phenomena.”
According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy, China’s criminal law contains no prohibitions against public homosexual activities. But it said police have closed gay clubs in the past by invoking a secret 1993 directive calling for charging gays with illegal demonstrations or hooliganism. Hooliganism can result in dispatch to labour camps without trial or jail terms of up to seven years. Internal government documents and academic studies estimated the number of homosexuals among China’s 1.2 billion people at 15 million, the centre said. The literature of ancient China is rich in references to homosexuality, but Mao Zedong’s puritanical Communists stamped out anything they deemed deviant or decadent after they came to power in 1949. Relaxed social controls following China’s economic reforms in the early 1980s have given some breathing space to homosexuals, who congregate.
Chinese Psychiatrists Decide Homosexuality Isn’t Abnormal
Asia: New guidelines are hailed as a ‘leap forward’ bringing nation more in line with the West.
by Henry Chu, Times Staff Writer
Guangzhou – In a major reversal of previous policy, psychiatrists in this country of 1.3 billion people have decided to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disease. New guidelines to be issued next month by the Chinese Psychiatric Assn. will drop all references to homosexuality as a pathological condition, said Chen Yanfang, vice chairman of the association’s standing committee. The revised standards state that homosexual behavior is not to be considered abnormal by definition. While they suggest that same-sex desires can be a "mental disorder" for people unhappy with their orientation, those who are fine with being gay have no need of psychiatric help, Chen said.
The changes represent a remarkable turnaround for China’s mental health establishment and bring the country closer in line with most Western nations, which removed homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses decades ago. Advocates hailed the new guidelines as a harbinger of greater tolerance for gays and lesbians in a society that is traditionally conservative regarding sexual matters. "This is progress–a leap forward for the gay community," said Roger Meng, who manages a gay-oriented Web site in Guangzhou, in southern China. "Historically, we’ve never had anything on the books that we could turn to [for support]."
As recently as 1994, in a handbook listing types of psychoses, the psychiatric association adamantly stated its opposition to World Health Organization standards calling for acceptance of homosexuality. "Society was not so tolerant or open" then, Chen acknowledged. But five years of study by a task force assigned to overhaul China’s classifications of mental illness led to the new approach, which was unanimously approved by the psychiatric association’s standing committee last month.
Part of the task force’s research included contact with the American Psychiatric Assn., which urged the Chinese group to change its stance. The APA struck homosexuality from its own list of mental diseases in 1973, in a landmark step in the fight against discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Guidelines Reflect Those of U.S. in 1973. The Chinese crafted guidelines similar to the APA’s 1973 decision, which included a caveat about homosexuality as a psychological "disturbance" for people unhappy with their orientation. Chen said such people should be given "behavioral therapy" to change their feelings if they seek it.
Chinese mental health professionals balked at adopting the APA’s updated, more liberal 1986 policy, which scrapped reservations about homosexuality as a disorder altogether. "China has its traditions," Chen said. "This is a sensitive topic for people of different cultures. . . . The U.S. is a purely Western culture." But, he added, his organization is trying to foster a more tolerant atmosphere for gays and lesbians.
Small Communities of Gays Are Growing
For now, most homosexuals in China live under the radar, either by themselves or in small but growing underground communities. Nearly every major city along China’s prosperous eastern coastline has at least one gay bar. So does Beijing, the Chinese capital, where fashionably dressed young men–and a fewer number of women–pack a smoky gay club in an alleyway right off the city’s trendy row of bars. In Guangzhou, gays have two watering holes to choose from, one of which features regular drag and karaoke shows. Such meeting places are particularly important in China, where private space is hard to find and most young people are expected to live with their parents until they get married.
"Unlike in America, a lot of people feel greater pressure because they don’t have the economic means to be independent," said Meng, 27, the Web site manager. His site is one of about 250 gay-oriented Web sites in China. As in many other countries, the Internet has revolutionized gay life by giving homosexuals an easy, often anonymous way to find others of like mind. Homosexuality is technically not illegal in China, although up until 1997 authorities would sometimes seize homosexuals under the catchall charge of "hooliganism," which has been eliminated. Gay bars still are occasionally raided or shut down, but more rarely, members of the gay community say.
For the most part, the Communist government has been willing to allow gays their social spaces as long as they do not overtly challenge the regime. Western-style political activism is not an option for any Chinese, not just gays and lesbians. "The government keeps one eye open and one eye closed. They think, ‘OK, we know you’re there, but we won’t bother you’ " as long as you don’t bother us, Meng said.
Confucian Society Still Poses Limits
Battles for acceptance occur on a smaller scale. Only a tiny minority of gays and lesbians have dared come out to their families. The rest fear condemnation in a Confucian society that considers not having children the greatest sin a son or daughter can commit against his or her parents. Changing such deeply ingrained attitudes will take years, activists say. Key to that will be publicizing news of the Chinese Psychiatric Assn.’s revised standards. All of the association’s several thousand members are to receive a copy of the new handbook on mental diseases, but advocates say that the message needs to spread throughout society, especially among doctors, teachers and others in positions of authority.
It is highly doubtful that the government will commit resources to spreading the news, leaving that to the Internet and any media outlets that gays and lesbians can persuade to lend a sympathetic ear. A small flurry of media attention occurred late last year after a pop singer, Mao Ning, was stabbed in an attack by a young male companion. Mainstream newspapers like the Beijing Youth Daily published breathless accounts, couching the relationship between the two men in language that plainly indicated it was a homosexual affair.
Internet chat rooms–mostly frequented by China’s affluent urban youth–brimmed with comments about the incident. Many voiced support for sexual diversity. "Morality is changing and developing," one said. "Our ancestors told us that people’s desire for happiness is subconscious, so you cannot criticize gays as immoral for pursuing their own happiness."
In December, a popular TV talk show originating in Hunan province and broadcast nationwide invited gay people on to the set to talk about their experiences–a first for Chinese television. It was media exposure for gay issues that Meng never thought possible. "For so long, nobody ever paid attention," he said. "Things are changing with amazing speed."
Anthony Kuhn in The Times’ Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.
February 18, 2001
Internet opens closet door for urban Chinese
Shanghai’s gay bars are humming, drag shows are performed behind locked doors and many in the eastern China metropolis insist the country’s homosexuals are becoming more liberated. When Chinese pop star Mao Ning was stabbed by his alleged homosexual lover last year, the country’s gay community hunkered down and awaited a backlash. Gay stage performances were cancelled, and gay bars around the country kept a lower profile in the weeks after Mao Ning thrust the issue of homosexuality into the headlines. Reports that Mao Ning was involved in a love triangle and was stabbe in bed by his rent-boy boyfriend sparked a lively debate in the chatrooms of the country’s largest Websites, Sina.com and Sohu.com.
But rather than a backlash, there appeared to be a growing acceptance of sexual diversity among younger well-educated heterosexuals in urban China. While some echoed the traditional Chinese view that homosexuality was disgusting and unnatural, a significant number of web surfers argued for tolerance. "Morality is changing and developing. Our ancestors told us that people’s desire for happiness is subconscious, so you cannot criticise gays as amoral for chasing their own happiness,” said one contribution. Three months after the Mao Ning incident, Shanghai’s gay bars are humming, drag shows are performed behind locked doors and many in the eastern China metropolis insist the country’s homosexuals are becoming more liberated.
Sitting amid a cluster of good-looking young men in a gay bar in Shanghai’s French quarter, the bar’s owner Andy said: "Sexual freedom is the mark of a developed society. "When society is prosperous and at peace, gays are more obvious because there is less pressure to get married and reproduce.” Andy, who is known by his English moniker, is quite open about his sexuality with friends and colleagues but has kept the matter from his mother, although he said his father had guessed his sexual orientation. "My father found me surfing some gay Internet sites and told me to be careful because China’s public security bureau tags Internet usage, but he didn’t make a big deal about it,” he said.
The Internet has been a powerful force in revolutionising gay life by providing a safe and anonymous forum for meeting people. In a country where many assignations still take place in parks rather than bars or cafes, sites such as chinarainbow.org and gaychina.simplenet.com are changing the landscape. "Surfing the Internet is a good way of meeting people because you can come out without coming out, and you can find out where to go and what is happening around the country,” said Mickey, who runs the BetG bar in downtown Shanghai. As long as a bar has the proper paperwork and does not have dancing or floor shows, police adopt a "live and let live” attitude to gay customers, he added.
Homosexuality is not strictly illegal under Chinese law but neither are gay rights protected, which leaves gays and lesbians open to police harassment and arrests for a variety of other offences. The topic of homosexuality remained a taboo until the 1980s and during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s gays were subjected to public humiliation and given long prison sentences. Prison terms are increasingly rare but harassment remains a fact of life, and gay bars and cafes are subject to periodic raids and closures. Shanghai’s most popular gay bars, 808 and spin-off 8898, were both shut down last year while long-standing scene favourite Asia Blue has also shut its doors for the third time in the last six years.
However Zhang Beichuan, a researcher at the Qingdao Medical Institute Hospital who carried out a survey of 2,000 gay men in 30 provinces, said government attitudes towards gay people were becoming more liberal. "I’ve spoken with top officials at the Ministry of Public Security and they are concerned about the rights of gay people but the main problem remains that there is no protection for gays at a grass-roots level,” he explained. Chinese tradition and authoritarian government mean that gay people cannot demand more rights or respect through demonstrations but must use more subtle methods to win public support, Zhang added.
Family pressure remains the most significant force in keeping China’s gay community shackled, with Confucian tradition dictating that children produce heirs to carry on the family name. Li Ting, a pseudonym used by a bisexual artist, said she has told her friends and colleagues and even former boyfriends about her sexual orientation, but could not break it to her parents. "The biggest problem is family. They couldn’t understand it. I have no problem telling my friends or even former teachers,” she said.
Pressure is so intense that Dr Zhang found over 65 per cent of gay men hope to have a child through a sexual relationship with a woman, although over 50 per cent of married respondents lived separately from their wives. Only 26 per cent of people surveyed had openly come out and fewer still had told their families, Zhang noted. But that may change, because the parents of the next generation of urban Chinese have increasingly liberal attitudes.
December 30, 2001
With Ignorance as the Fuel, AIDS Speeds Across China
by Elizabeth Rosenthal
Kunming – Li Bai’s body is on the front line of the battle to prevent an explosion of AIDS in China. For the last seven years, the baby-faced 23-year-old with platform sneakers and blond-streaked hair has been using drugs – a dangerous hobby in a city where an estimated 40 percent of intravenous drug users are now infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. She has long known about AIDS, at least in a general sense.
But, she confesses, she has sometimes shared needles when shooting up. She has also sold sex on the street, she admits, and condoms have not always been a priority. Such behaviors put her at extraordinary risk of acquiring H.I.V. and of spreading it. "I’d heard of AIDS and was scared of it, but when I needed drugs or needed money, I did what I had to do," said Ms. Li, sitting in the lounge in the drug treatment clinic here where she was recently admitted.
AIDS in China is spreading at a breakneck pace – reported cases are up 67 percent this year over last – in large part because its citizens are so poorly informed about the disease. With only scattershot education programs, even those at very high risk of getting AIDS often do not know how to protect themselves; many have never even heard of H.I.V. In a country where patients generally receive no counseling after testing positive for H.I.V., known carriers often have only a vague idea of how it is transmitted, and they inadvertently infect others.
As a result, a disease that was for many years confined to certain groups, particularly drug users, has started to move quickly into the general population, generally through sex. To make matters worse, the barriers that tend to slow sexual transmission from high-risk to low- risk groups in the West are extremely porous here. In China, a huge number of poor young women work part time selling sex in a large and amorphous sex industry.
As for gay men, intense social stigma and the pressure to carry on family lines pushes the vast majority to marry and father children, so they have sexual relations with wives as well as male lovers. "China is on the verge of a catastrophe that could result in unimaginable human suffering, economic loss and social devastation," said a recent internal United Nations report that was not publicly released, which criticized China for its "weak response" to AIDS.
It concluded that only immediate and aggressive action could stem the spread: "An H.I.V./AIDS disaster of unimaginable proportions now lies in wait to rattle the country and it can be feared that in just a couple of years, China might count more H.I.V. infections than any other country." China now estimates it has 600,000 people with H.I.V., although surveillance is extremely poor in some severely affected areas and many experts believe that number is drastically low.
Although the Chinese government has admitted this year to having a serious AIDS problem and recently initiated a series of educational programs, many are still in the planning stage and others are small local programs financed by foreign organizations. Although officials here in Yunnan Province have welcomed such efforts, many provinces have not, so information has not permeated the poor rural regions where many Chinese with AIDS live.
In the largest national survey to date, conducted a year ago by China’s State Family Planning Commission, 20 percent of Chinese in 12 counties representing a cross section of the country had never heard of the disease. Only 50 percent knew that it could be transmitted by sex. More alarming, the most profound ignorance was found in Shangcai County in Henan Province, where some villages have adult H.I.V. infection rates approaching 50 percent – the result of selling blood to collectors that use unsanitary practices.
Forty percent of the county’s residents said they did not know how AIDS could be prevented, suggesting that they could be unknowingly passing it to others. Wang Zhiguo, a former blood seller from Henan Province, said in an interview that he had not even heard of AIDS until this spring, long after he began to suffer from AIDS-related headaches and fevers. Even today, he is unsure whether H.I.V. can be transmitted through sex. And from mother to infant? "I’m not clear about that either," Mr. Wang said. Dr. Zhao Baige of the Family Planning Commission, who has pressed for more aggressive education, said: "In our studies, less than 50 percent of people knew that condoms could prevent the transmission of H.I.V. That shows we have a serious prevention problem."
As the government has worked hard to rein in unhygienic practices in the blood industry, the sex industry has become for many experts an even more worrisome conduit. The relaxation of economic and social controls over the last two decades has been accompanied by a resurgence in prostitution, which had been virtually eliminated by Mao. Today, paid sex is a common activity associated with business trips, official junkets and sometimes tour packages. Even small towns have businesses that function as brothels – nominally beauty salons, massage parlors or karaoke bars.
And sex work, referred to politely by officials as "entertainment work," is often a low-wage part-time job that poorly educated rural women cycle in and out of when they need cash. Many have never heard of AIDS, and the mix of ignorance, mobility and sex is an efficient way for the disease to spread.
In a low white building that used to be a shoe factory, in a small town deep in rural Sichuan Province, five bleary-eyed young women emerged in midafternoon from the dormitory of the karaoke bar where they have found temporary employment. They cuddled together on a plush couch, next to a dance hall with thick velvet curtains, surrounded by bedrooms. "It’s hard to explain how any of us got here," said a delicate woman named Tan, wrapped in a pink quilted bathrobe decorated with little red elves. "But these days the economy is not good, and without a diploma it’s hard to find work, and I haven’t found a husband yet."
She, like others, spoke on the condition that the town not be named. A decade ago, Ms. Tan – originally from a big city in western China – would have been assigned a job by the government. But with reforms, that practice has ended, and so she fends for herself. The women tend to spend just a few weeks or months working here, before moving on to other places or careers. Their clients are local officials and businessmen, as well as the long-haul truckers who pass through. Their boss is a police officer’s wife. "I’ve come here to work several times before and stayed for a couple of weeks each time," said a woman named Zhang, a peddler in another town.
"Sometimes it’s because my finances are bad," she said. "Sometimes it’s because I’m unhappy and I want to get away." All the women said they had come to this relatively remote location because they did not want their families to find out about their work. Most said they had heard of AIDS, which they called "a frightening disease," since their boss had allowed a foreign health group to hold lectures about H.I.V. But the new arrivals were uncertain about exactly how to prevent it, believing that a douche would solve the problem. Such girls can be found virtually all over China, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, where thinly obscured sex businesses occupy many blocks.
In Kunming, a long strip of Xibao Street is lined with "hairdressing salons" where employees dress in short, tight skirts and leopard-print tops, where plush couches outnumber barber’s chairs. "In saunas, massage parlors, karaoke bars, dance halls – some of the hospitality girls also do sex work," said Wei Shanbo of the Wuhan city health bureau at a recent seminar on AIDS. "They’re in hairdressing salons, too – but they’re special salons – there’s no pair of scissors to be found."
Recent studies by Chinese researchers have found rising levels of H.I.V. among sex workers – up to 10 percent in some cities – as well as low levels of awareness about H.I.V. and condom use. In one survey of 63 sex workers in Shanghai from beauty parlors, bars and saunas, only 18 had heard of AIDS and only 2 knew how it was transmitted.
Chinese doctors tend to view sex workers as the "bridge" that allows AIDS to spread, and an increasing number of programs seek to educate this population. But then there are the men. "The government always wants to say AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases are from prostitutes," said Pan Cuiming, a professor of sociology at People’s University in Beijing. "But most of these girls are just poor children – they are victims – they didn’t have diseases when they started." He noted that some were paid as little as $1.20 for sex and lacked the power to insist on condoms.
Professor Pan and others say that education needs to focus more on the men who bring the virus back to their spouses. Research by Professor Pan and others suggests that the men tend to be businessmen, a group that previous AIDS prevention efforts have not focused on. One young man named Sun recalled his life over the last two years working in advertising in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, saying: "I was making a lot of money and going to clubs and having sex with a lot of people. I know a number were prostitutes. I sometimes used condoms, sometimes did not."
As a result of such exploits, there is a well documented, skyrocketing rate of sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea in China. That disease, for example, quickly produces symptoms, and people tend to seek immediate treatment. But because AIDS lies dormant for years, those who have contracted H.I.V. are mostly yet to be counted.
The extent of the trend among China’s gay population is a huge unknown, although some specialists in Beijing say that about a third of their patients with H.I.V. were infected during homosexual relationships. The Chinese government is addressing the trend, although the process has been moving slowly. "We realize that now is the final chance for China to control H.I.V./ AIDS at low expense," said Dr. Zhao of the Family Planning Commission.
Charged with carrying out the one- child policy, the commission has in recent years expanded its focus to women’s health and is making plans to provide AIDS education at all of its clinics starting next year. Dr. Zhao said nearly all of China’s provinces had agreed to take part in the program, although there had been some resistance at the local level and only about one-third had financing.
Indeed, previous efforts to provide H.I.V. education and raise awareness have all too often been defeated by concerns about saving face and social conservatism. Although the "entertainment workers" at the shoe- factory-turned-karaoke-bar are now learning proper condom use, prostitutes in detention are more often lectured about renouncing an immoral career than taught techniques for protected sex.
Likewise, the Jieshibang Company, a condom manufacturer, has had its safe-sex billboards removed by local authorities in 5 of 20 cities. "There is low acceptance of condom use, and people think that if it’s related to sex it’s a bad product," said Wang Xuehai, a company executive, adding, "our biggest barrier has been China’s traditional ideas."
December 11, 2001
Spread of AIDS in Rural China Ignites Protests
by Elisabeth Rosenthal
Suixian – As China’s central government takes steps to address its growing AIDS problem, officials in some of its most seriously affected areas here in central China are doing little to help patients or to curb the spread. In fact, many are redoubling their efforts to suppress any discussion of the problem.
In late November, as China for the first time marked World AIDS Day in Beijing with some fanfare, officials in Suixian County detained poor farmers wasting away from AIDS, as well as Chinese journalists who had come to interview them. At the height of the standoff, officials from Chengguan township held three journalists in a government guest house and 11 peasants infected with the H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, in the township’s headquarters. Fifty villagers, most also infected with H.I.V., gathered in protest outside the gates of the crumbling two-story building.
"We weren’t allowed in, so we just stood there shouting," recalled Xie Yan, 35, a soft-spoken mother of three whose husband died this spring and who has been told that she will be dead within two years. "We screamed: `People are dying and you do nothing but detain them,’ and `What sort of officials are you?’
"To them we are like bubbles. They know if they turn away and ignore us, we will soon pop and be gone." But ignoring such people has become an increasingly difficult task as poor farmers, emboldened by desperation, are beginning to protest and speak out. The government media have also started to report more on the issue. In three incidents in November, sick and destitute farmers with AIDS from different villages here in Henan Province were detained by the police after they tried to protest their abandonment.
Many more are seething with anger, even though rural officials throughout the province have warned residents not to make trouble or speak to journalists.
"All of us want to appeal, but most don’t dare because they’re too afraid," said one elderly woman with AIDS. "People who have tried at all are under surveillance. It’s even hard for them to leave the village."
People interviewed for this article spoke in different locations, all outside their rural villages. Although the government says a vast majority of people with H.I.V. in China became infected through intravenous drug use, the large but poorly defined AIDS epidemic among poor farmers in central China – whose epicenter is Henan – started in the 1990’s when poor farmers sold their blood to companies using unsterile collection methods.
In some villages more than half the adults are now believed to be infected. In general the blood buying schemes were geared toward collecting plasma, a component of blood used in making medicines. The collectors would remove about a pint of blood from each donor, pool it with others and later spin it in a centrifuge to separate out the desired element. The leftover, mostly red blood cells, would be divided up and reinfused into the donors – preventing anemia, but also spreading AIDS.
The epidemic is still shrouded in silence, because local officials were often involved in the profitable blood business. So while the authorities in Beijing held a big international conference in November and are airing television dramas on the subject, repression and concealment continue here. Some Chinese AIDS experts contend that at least a million people in Henan Province are infected. But a leader of the provincial health office said in an interview with a local government-owned newspaper in early December that there were only 1,495 cases of H.I.V. in the province.
"At present the AIDS disease situation in our province remains at a low epidemic level," he said. Chinese health officials estimate that 600,000 people nationwide carry the virus, although many experts say the real number is much larger. The fear that has maintained the rural victims’ silence is lifting these days as villagers learn more about the disease that afflicts them.
In villages like Dongguan South, home to the sick farmers who protested in November, the fear of a miserable death, the fear of leaving orphans behind, has trumped the fear of persecution. "Why stand up now?" said Zhao Yong, a thin man with a deep cough and sallow skin. "Because before we had no idea of what was going on. My wife died in April. My best friend’s wife died in May. At that time we had not heard of AIDS. We were using up our family’s saving on useless treatments."
A majority of adults in Dongguan South sold blood to collectors affiliated with the local hospital and the local disease prevention station from 1994 to 1997. In 1997 local health officials suddenly advised villagers to stop, giving no explanation, they said. That was about the time that the first villager died of a mysterious pneumonia, and today, in a village with 600 adults, 200 are showing serious symptoms of AIDS.
While Dongguan South had only scattered deaths from 1997 to 2000, at least 14 young people have died since spring. H.I.V. generally incubates silently for at least a few years. The villagers learned about AIDS only this year, when a Chinese reporter clandestinely delivered some copies of a book published privately by Gao Yaojie, a retired doctor who has championed AIDS awareness. There has been no official AIDS education here.
The quickening pace of death in the village has also moved farmers to action. "At first, if it was in the family, people kept it a secret," said Ms. Xie. "They didn’t dare talk about it. But now we can see that it’s so widespread. We’re in this together." Ms. Xie found herself forced into activism just this year, when her husband fell ill with severe headaches and nausea – signs of meningitis. After his death two months later, the local disease prevention station notified her that her husband’s illness had resulted from AIDS. She was then tested.
"When I got the results I knew right away I was going to die," she said, with tears in her eyes, a small thin woman with chapped cheeks, suffering from diarrhea. "Ever since then I’ve been preoccupied and depressed. "If I can’t find a hospital to give me free treatment, I should put my kids in an orphanage," she added, beginning to weep.
The recent protest in Suixian County, so far the largest by people with H.I.V., is in some ways an outgrowth of the international AIDS meeting in China. At that time, a small group of farmers from Suixian went to Beijing, hoping to get treatment and also to shed light on the local situation by contacting journalists and presenting a petition. They never achieved their larger goal. They were admitted to a government hospital in Beijing for "testing" on the day the meeting started and were released on the day it ended.But their presence put Suixian on the map, and in the week that followed, more than half a dozen curious Chinese journalists set out to visit.
A crew from an influential government television program on women’s issues called "Half the Sky" managed to meet with a number of villagers, though they soon found themselves trailed everywhere by plainclothes police officers, a person who was there said. When they tried to leave the county, they were detained and held in a government guest house for two days. A second group of journalists, from smaller newspapers, spent several days in a game of cat and mouse with the local authorities in Suixian and the next county, Weishi, which also has a serious AIDS problem. The police searched hotels and farmers’ homes in an unsuccessful attempt to find them. In the wake of those visits, the local authorities hauled in farmers who had been interviewed, warning them "not to speak out," said Wang Zhiguo, a villager who was detained.
Meanwhile, a shouting crowd of people with AIDS gathered at the locked gates of the whitewashed government compound, chanting and demanding their friends’ release. After a few hours the farmers inside were let go, temporarily defusing the situation. But the crowd reassembled again the next day to protest, this time demanding financial assistance.
Wheat and corn farming are the main income source in Dongguan South, a village of small unheated mud-brick houses. In a number of families, all adults are dead or ailing, unable to tend their fields or feed their families, let alone pay for treatment. The size of the protest in Suixian County is extraordinary, but it is not an isolated phenomenon. Recently, farmers from the villages of Chenglao and Wenlou have been detained in the city of Zhumadian, where they went to press local officials for more help.
Wenlou, the only village in Henan that the government has acknowledged by name to have an AIDS problem, has become something of a showcase for the disease, its AIDS victims visited by officials from Beijing and given a clinic and a modicum of free medical care.
But villagers say the drugs dispensed there are worthless against their disease, and at the end of November eight villagers with H.I.V. marched into the Zhumadian health office and refused to leave without a promise of more help. After a two-day sit-in, officials sent them to a detention center in nearby Shangcai County and charged them with "disturbing order of a government office." Three of the men served sentences of 15 days.
[Officials told them it was illegal to leave their village and that they would be detained again if they tried, the three said in a phone interview after their release on Dec. 8. The jail was cold, and they were given only bread, soup and gruel to eat.[One of the men, extremely ill with high fever and diarrhea, went three days without any care. When help came, "The guards wore masks and gloves and handed me the medicine in a bag on a pole," recalled the man, Wang Hongxiang. "I won’t try this again."]
It is hard to know if other villages will try go down the path of protest, which brings publicity at least, and in some cases medicine. But the reservoir of desperation created by AIDS in rural China is potentially vast. Residents of rural Henan, and experts who have traveled there extensively, can tick off dozens of places in the province with AIDS problems, most of which have received no publicity.
They add that over the course of the 1990’s, people from adjacent provinces also took part in blood selling schemes, seeding satellite epidemics. For example, Yucheng in nearby Shanxi Province has a serious H.I.V. epidemic related to blood selling, the government press has reported. More surprising, so does Zizhong in Sichuan Province, more than 500 miles from Henan. Doctors from distant Sichuan said farmers there traveled to Henan to sell blood, especially during winter when farming was slow.
"The villages that have been written about are just the tip of the iceberg," said a Chinese researcher who has studied the problem. "These were the ones that started earliest, so we’re aware of the problem. In other places it will break out in a couple of years."
November 23, 2001
Beijing’s ‘Secret’ Gay Web Confab
by Steve Friess, email@example.com
Beijing – They met in a three-star hotel that cannot be named. The event’s planner was reluctant to give out the names of any participants or their businesses. And they had to call it a "private gathering" instead of a "convention," "conference" or even "meeting," words that wave Red flags in front of Chinese authorities nervous about any sort of organizing.Yet the gay movement experienced a minor revolution here last weekend as the owners or operators of some 30 gay and lesbian Chinese websites held their first-ever – how shall we say? – get-together.
Atop the agenda was discussion of how to use the Internet to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and create a more comfortable environment for "tongzhi," or gay, people. "We provided a physical space for website owners to meet face to face and get to know one another," said Hong Kong-based gay activist Cheng To, founder of the Chi Heng Foundation that paid for transportation for many attendees. "They have the most potential to reach out to gay people in this country." Indeed, as powerful as the new media has been for gays in backwater locales in the United States, its promise is unfathomable in a totalitarian society where even such a "private gathering" has participants nervous that the next door knock will be the police. But regardless of their fears, some attendees traveled for days by train to get to the event and were excited to participate, Cheng said.
"This kind of thing is certainly very significant because people getting together to do that kind of networking is very important," said Sophia Woodman, research director for the New York-based Human Rights in China. "For groups of people who are experiencing violations of their human rights, the Internet is a very important channel to share stories, which is sort of a first step."
An estimated 250 gay-themed websites operate in China, ranging from local chat rooms to one for gay Buddhists. Even the nation’s largest Web portals, Sina.Com and Sohu.Com, offer gay sections for posting messages and chatting. The number of Internet users continues to skyrocket, too, with an estimated 27 million Chinese having access to the Web. "It’s still a small number compared with the general population, but it is growing very rapidly and it is usually a younger, better-educated, more socially responsible population," Cheng said. "It’s a different crowd than those who hang around toilets and parks looking for sex. That’s not to put a value judgment on that, but the Internet population is more likely to do something significant about being gay."
Some believe that China’s allowance of these sites is tacit acceptance of the community, although it may also be that they exist below the government’s censorship radar.Fact is, authorities do still try to block most references to homosexuality in print news media and in most literature. That’s why the anonymous author of the nation’s most popular gay novel posted it online, finding a ravenous audience of users who print it out and pass it along to offline friends.
Cheng and a co-sponsoring organization that he declined to name spent 50,000 yuan, or $6,000 U.S., to bring the participants to Beijing. Once there, the group listened to an expert explain how to prevent AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases as well as what the legal rights of gays and lesbians are in China.
Homosexual behavior is not illegal by national law, but police do have the power to arrest gays at will under a broad public disturbance statute. As a result of the meeting, Cheng said, the Chi Heng Foundation will sponsor a contest next year to name the best gay-related news coverage on a site, the best original gay fiction posted online and the best website for promoting AIDS prevention. Prizes may be as high as 5,000 yuan, or $600 U.S., which is many times the monthly salary of most people in the country.
The gathering came as other signs emerged of progress for gays. Health Ministry Vice-Minister Yin Dakui urged special attention be paid to improving AIDS education among the homosexual community, the first time an official at that level even acknowledged the community’s existence. That came eight months after the Chinese Psychological Association removed homosexuality from their list of psychiatric disorders. And last week’s first national AIDS conference in China features a panel of six experts discussing AIDS in the "men who have sex with men" community and a panel called "About Marginalized Communities" that included chatter about gay issues.
Even harassment from the police seems to be down and, in some cases, authorities are helpful to gay people. When thugs stabbed the owner and broke some furniture at one of Beijing’s gay bars in February, the police investigated with surprising intensity. Within a week, the owner of a competing gay bar was charged with hiring the attackers in an effort to scare customers and increase his own business.
Yet these measures of progress aren’t necessarily cause for too much enthusiasm, Woodman cautioned. "The difficulty of organizing remains to the extreme in China," she said. "I don’t think we should be optimistic that authorities are going to suddenly allow gay organizations and stuff like that. It’s important not to make people think that gay China’s problems have gone away just because there’s been some progress." Cheng, who lives in the far more liberated Hong Kong, said he recognizes this. He plans to set up a private e-group for website owners to continue their discussions and hopes to set up another such gathering in another city sometime next year. "We have now formed a national network of gay websites," he said. "It is a beginning."
November 14, 2001
China’s gay activists cheer new openness on AIDS
by John Ruwitch
Beijing – In a country that has long kept homosexuals in the closet, and AIDS under wraps, gay activists in China at last have something to cheer about. The Chinese Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality from a list of psychiatric disorders this year. And this week, the first national conference on AIDS has gone some way to bring into public view a problem of potentially catastrophic proportions for the gay community. Gay activists hope the next step will be AIDS education and awareness programmes among the homosexual community, which can be prone to high-risk behaviour for AIDS. "At least people are making a connection between homosexuals and AIDS, regardless of whether it’s good or bad," said Zhang Yi, who organises gay nights at a Beijing bar.
His remarks suggested that for gays in China, any recognition of their existence, even in the context of AIDS, was a step in the right direction. But Zhang and others say that after years discriminating against homosexuals, Chinese officials have little idea how to approach the community. Gays themselves are still reluctant come out of the closet. "Out of 100 of my friends, maybe only five let their families know they are gay. Maybe none," said Zhang.
The government appears willing to do something to address AIDS in the homosexual community, said one activist affiliated with what he called Beijing’s oldest, and only free, gay and lesbian hotline. "They know this group of people is very important and there is a lot of work to be done in this group. But they haven’t fully found a way to do that," he said. "And that’s because many people have never had contact with and don’t understand this group. And if they don’t understand it, or can’t come into contact with it, then it’s impossible to do this work sincerely," he said.
The United Nations estimates China has about one million carriers of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Chinese health officials put the figure at 600,000, but there were still only 28,133 HIV cases officially registered by the end of September.
High Level Understanding
Zhang Baichuan, a doctor from the northeastern port city of Qingdao who is involved in pioneering AIDS education and awareness programmes for gay men, said the highest levels of the government already backed some AIDS programmes among homosexuals. "Their understanding of gays is already basically connected with international standards," he said. Last month, the official Xinhua news agency said vice-minister of health Yin Dakui had urged special attention to strengthening AIDS education among China’s homosexuals. "This is a positive message," said Wan Yanhai, an activist who runs the Beijing-based AIDS Action Project. Despite that, however, China still does not publish statistics on homosexuals, which Wan estimated at about 100 million people, or more than seven percent of the population.
And earlier this year the government attributed more than one in five of the 28,133 confirmed HIV/AIDS cases to unknown reasons, which possibly includes homosexual activity. As with many issues in the world’s most populous country, the gap in understanding between the central government and local administrations is vast when it comes to issues about homosexuality, Zhang Baichuan said. Ignorance and prejudice are also widespread.
"My work is supported by the government. But for cultural reasons, I’m afraid change comes very slowly," he said. But Zhang Yi said in Beijing, at least, that was changing. "It’s a lot more open now than it was even three years ago," he said. Police now rarely barged into the city’s gay bars and harrassed patrons, he pointed out. "As long as nobody’s doing anything bad, getting involved in politics or at odds with the nation, the police don’t care."
January 12, 2002
Testing China’s Censors With a Gay Love Story
by Steve Friess
Beijing – It might seem that the first film made in China that uses the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre as a plot element would qualify for an automatic ban from the government for that reason alone. Yet it may be an equally sensitive issue in China, homosexuality, that dooms the chances of the film, "Lan Yu," for legal showings in this nation.
Despite both issues and other controversies, the film’s producer, Zhang Yongning, is applying for approval from China’s Bureau of Film to play it in theaters here. No date has been set for a decision. The film will have its American debut on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival and will be distributed in the United States later in the year by Strand Releasing. It has already been released in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"Lan Yu" is a gay love story shot without permission in Beijing that features full-frontal male nudity in a bedroom scene. Its lead character, Chen Handong, is a businessman who relies on official corruption and whose friends bribe judges to obtain his release from jail. The film derives its plot – the on-and-off relationship between Handong and the decade-younger Lan Yu – from an erotic novel, "Beijing Story," published anonymously only on the Internet in 1997 because another set of Chinese censors, those with authority over publishing, would not have approved it.
The novel became a cult hit among gay men and lesbians here. The principals of the film insist it is nothing more than the story of a touching 10-year romance between Handong and a student, Lan Yu (Liu Ye). Yet a 30-second sequence of gunfire and tears at Tiananmen Square is pivotal to the relationship between the men. Advocates of increased acceptance of gay men and women in China hope "Lan Yu" can give viewers a more human view of homosexual life here.
Chung To, founder the Chi Heng Foundation, a gay-rights group, cited "Lan Yu" as a landmark that emerged in a year, 2001, that saw several other promising signs for gay men and lesbians in China. Among those were the declassification of homosexuality as an illness by the Chinese Psychological Association and the Health Ministry’s acknowledgment that it must direct some AIDS prevention efforts toward gay men. Chinese film scholars and others say that the few previous efforts to portray gay men and women in China have proved disappointing because they filled the screen with negative or inaccurate stereotypes.
Mr. Zhang, a former documentarian in China for the British Broadcasting Corporation, said he became obsessed with the material in 1999 when a friend passed him a printout of "Beijing Story." He eventually tracked down the reclusive author, whom he declines to identify, and bought the rights for about $500. "I related immediately to Handong’s character because I also was in my 30’s, and having such an intense relationship with a man is something I might have wanted to do in my life," Mr. Zhang said. "I knew I had to make this into a movie." Mr. Zhang, who is married and has a daughter, is, like the leading character, well connected in China. He is the son of a 70-year Communist Party member who once served as a provincial vice governor. He contacted Stanley Kwan, a prominent and openly gay director in Hong Kong, who hesitated because the novel was so replete with explicit sex.
But Mr. Zhang persuaded Mr. Kwan to see the potential in the love story and went on to get more than $1 million to finance the project. Mr. Kwan’s award-winning work in earlier films heavy on acting and character development attracted the actor Hu Jun, a matinee idol in China, to the part of Handong despite his initial difficulty with the homosexual content. "Stanley Kwan asked two actors to play gay roles, and both were not gay, so it was hard to really act as a gay at first because I treated Liu Ye as a buddy, not a girlfriend," said Mr. Hu, 33. "I came into the role viewing gay people as abnormal, but by the end I realized that gay people go through a lot of social stresses. I understand now that they are normal."
Mr. Zhang, who also plays Handong’s brother-in-law, said: "This is not a film that contains very critical speeches. It’s not critical of the government’s policies. It is just a beautiful love story that happens to be between two men." But sexuality often intersects with politics, and its combination with the crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 makes a particularly combustible mixture.
Tiananmen Square remains so sensitive a matter today that many Internet sites devoted to it are blocked in China. "The Tiananmen Square event gave the world a very bad impression of the Chinese government, so the Communist Party hopes everyone can forget it," said Mei Fung, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy. "If, even in fiction, you use Tiananmen Square as a plot, you try to recall its memory, so it’s dangerous." Mr. Kwan said he knew this but found a scene portraying the massacre unavoidable because Lan Yu’s peril at Tiananmen forces Handong to recognize his love for the younger man.
Handong is informed by his well-connected brother-in-law that the authorities plan to clear the square that night, June 4, and that Lan Yu is there. In a fast but emotional sequence, Handong searches for Lan Yu against a screaming stampede fleeing the gunfire, and the couple embrace intensely when they locate each other. The scene then cuts to a shot of Handong holding a naked Lan Yu in bed as the youth sobs uncontrollably. "These are the times in which these characters lived, so we knew it was a risk, but we needed this traumatic event for Handong to realize how he feels for Lan Yu," Mr. Kwan said.
Mr. Kwan won best-director recognition at last month’s Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, the island’s most prestigious film honors. "Lan Yu" also received trophies for best picture, actor (Mr. Liu), cinematography and script. Issues of politics and sexuality aside, "Lan Yu" has also been criticized on an artistic level by some, like Mr. Mei and Li Yu, a writer-director in Beijing, who made the mainland’s first lesbian film in 2000 but hasn’t obtained any domestic or overseas distribution for it. Both complain that huge leaps of time in the film are poorly explained and confusing. Mr. Kwan defends the pacing as a means of paring down the story to avoid "a soap-opera style this material didn’t deserve." In an e-mail exchange arranged by Mr. Zhang, the writer of the book on which the film is based, a Beijing woman who now lives in the United States, complained that the movie, which she generally admires, failed to offer a real Beijing sensibility.
"The film didn’t emphasize much on the background of mainland China and specifically that particular time period," the author wrote. "They use lots of ‘Hong Kong Mandarin,’ which is like describing a New Yorker’s story with a British accent." But one high-profile "Lan Yu" admirer, Ang Lee, the director of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," dismissed the complaints. "It does have a lot of Hong Kong looks, but I don’t think it matters because it was filmed in Beijing," said Mr. Lee, a friend of Mr. Kwan’s and director of "The Wedding Banquet," a 1993 Hollywood film about a gay Taiwanese man.
"Stanley Kwan made a very human, well-done melodrama with great emotions. It spans some sensitive times in China in the 1980’s and 1990’s with some fresh touches to the homosexual love story that ring true for depicting the Beijing life." The likelihood that "Lan Yu" will be approved for theatrical release in China is slim. No underground film has ever been retroactively approved after being shot without permission, said Peter Lorre, an American filmmaker living in Beijing whose production company has financed the top-grossing Chinese films for each of the last four years. But a low-quality version of the film is available in China. Black-market video discs filmed off the screen in Hong Kong are sold on the street here.
March 4, 2002
Homosexuals in China: More Tolerance, Less Prejudice
Farmer Huang Zhengfu, aged 60, from south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was recently sentenced by a local court to a year’s imprisonment for deliberately injuring his male lover Luo Zhongliang.
The court verdict said that Huang and 25-year-old Luo Zhongliang, both from Bazhong Village, Tianlin County of Guangxi, privately became lovers although both men have wives. Huang struck Luo with an ax during a lovers’ quarrel. Luo was wounded in the back of his neck and in his right hand. Luo sued Huang at the Intermediate People’s Court of Bose Prefecture for malicious injury and Huang was found guilty by the court. In addition to the one-year imprisonment, Huang was also ordered to compensate the younger Luo with a certain sum of money.
The news of Huang and Luo being homosexuals spread quickly in the wake of the reporting of the court trial. Many local residents were shocked. They thought homosexuals were only found in major cities and overseas but certainly not in their village. For the Intermediate People’s Court of Bose Prefecture, it is the first criminal case concerning homosexuals ever handled by the court. "As long as homosexuals do not create a negative impact on society, why not let them go their own way," questioned a local woman who has been married for ten years. Lu Fangming with the Institute of Literature and History of the Guangxi Regional Academy of Social Sciences considers the homosexual case as an ordinary case of deliberate injury, in which Huang deliberately injured Luo, so must be punished.
Society shows more understanding
Many homosexuals have to keep their activities private and must take great caution for fear of violating Chinese tradition, admitted Lu, who added that today’s society does show more tolerance and understanding toward homosexuals. China has officially recorded an increase in the number of recorded homosexuals each year, but Yin Dakui, vice minister of Health, said that no accurate number of the homosexuals in China has been recorded.
He urges relevant departments and society to pay more attention to homosexuals. Yang Jianbao, a sociologist, said that China’s tradition advocates a harmony of Yin (feminine, negative) and Yang (masculine and positive), the two opposing principles in nature, homosexuals are often considered a marginal group whom some people link with crime and other antisocial behavior.
Dong Yongkun, secretary general of the China Association for Prevention and Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, said, "most people believe that homosexuality and AIDS are closely connected, which has been proved right by surveys in the United States." Li Yinhe, another scholar, believes that Chinese society has shown progress in no longer regarding homosexuality as a pathological phenomenon.
Though homosexuality is not listed as a criminal offense in Chinese law, China has been mounting a fight against various illegal activities connected with homosexuals. In early January this year, four youngsters from Shenyang City in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, were taken to court for blackmail after pretending to be homosexuals. In Huaihua City of central China’s Hunan Province, local police shut down an online service provider using the word "homosexuality" to spread pornographic pictures and articles. Old Man Ordered to Apologize for Sexual Harassment of Male Workers A local court in this capital of Hainan Province has ordered a 68-year-old man to apologize for harassing three young men he said were fellow homosexuals, and pay each of them one yuan for emotional suffering. It is the first such harassment case in this southernmost province.
April 12, 2002
Gays in China Step Out, With One Foot in Closet
by Elizabeth Rosenthal
Shenzhen – A pillar of Shenzhen’s thriving gay community, Mr. Wu networks his way through the noise and smoke of the packed club in this high-powered business town, bestowing greetings, drinks and hugs on men who refer to themselves, with a touch of irony, as "comrades."
Gone are the days when gays in China’s cities lived completely closeted lives, and the Galaxy Club – whose large glass doors open unapologetically onto the lobby of a government office building – is a giddy, liberated kind of place. Young men in tight jeans swoon together singing karaoke. Androgynous types drink beer and throw dice. Men sporting baseball caps search for love or sex.
Mr. Wu, an entrepreneur in his 30’s who considers himself an activist of sorts, talks comfortably above the disco beat about being gay. But when the doors close at 2 or 3 a.m., he will cross the border to the other world also inhabited by the vast majority of China’s gay men, that of husband and father, as he returns to the apartment he shares with his wife and school-age child. "In China there is a very strong tradition that to be a man you must get married and have a child, so I did," explained Mr. Wu, who refused to give his full name.
"We also respect and obey our parents’ wishes, so I did it for them, too." As gay clubs, newsletters and Web sites multiply in mainland China, gay men in a few places like Shenzhen are enjoying choices and a kind of freedom that was unthinkable only a few years ago. China effectively decriminalized homosexuality only in 1997. It came off the list of mental illnesses just last year. But now that it is practically possible to live as a gay man in China, the vast majority still exist in a strange sort of limbo.
The norm in the gay community is to get married, play it straight at work and shuttle regularly between two lives. "The first question you ask when you meet a new friend isn’t `Do your parents know?’ because in China 99 percent don’t. Instead it’s `Are you married?’ " said Chung To, founder of the Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation, which deals with issues of sexual discrimination. "Even people who are out and very active socially can’t utter the word homosexual," he said.
"There’s a lot of denial." For gay men, the increasingly open atmosphere has made it possible to air long-suppressed issues, evident in the chat room postings by gay men who are married or under pressure to find a bride. More important, the emergence of this partly closeted, partly liberated, sexually active gay community at the same time that AIDS cases are rising quickly in China has created unique challenges. Chinese doctors are just beginning to investigate and deal with AIDS in this poorly defined high-risk group, whose members are sometimes still unclear about their sexuality and frequently have sexual relations with men and women.
"AIDS education is very complicated among gays in China because the group of men who have sex with men overlaps considerably with the heterosexual community," said Mr. Chung To, whose foundation has taken up the cause on the mainland. In part because so many of the men involved do not identify themselves as homosexuals, there are almost no statistics on infection rates among gays here, although small samples from Beijing and Shenzhen have suggested that rates may already be as high as 5 to 10 percent.
Even in the far northeastern province of Jilin, which is not known to have many H.I.V. cases, a recent study found that 1.5 percent of gay men were already infected there. For two years Mr. Chung To has labored tirelessly to raise awareness about H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, among mainland gays, using his own money to buy and distribute condoms and safe-sex messages at clubs, for example. Xiao Wang, 19, is a male hustler in Shenzhen, a city where some government researchers estimate that up to 9 percent of gay men may carry H.I.V. and less than 30 percent of sex workers use condoms.
A thin, quiet young man in a psychedelic shirt, Mr. Wang believes he is gay, although he admits to some uncertainty. But he is certain of this: gay or straight, marriage is in his future. "Marriage is just part of life," he says."After a few years I’ll go to my hometown to find a bride, not marry someone from Shenzhen. Girls here just care about money and appearance. They can’t offer emotional comfort." The strange dual life that is now the norm among China’s urban gays is an odd but effective compromise between the new social opportunities available in this rapidly changing country and a still deeply conservative society, in which keeping up appearances and continuing the family line is far more important than self-expression.
The concept of an openly gay son is anathema to most families. Dr. Ma Xiaonian, a well-known Beijing sex therapist, said he saw a steady stream of homosexuals who want to be "cured," even though he assures them tnat they are not ill. "Officially, academics now say it’s not a disease, but it’s still a very long process to change how people think," Dr. Ma said. "So I’m afraid most do get married and they have a child, but these relationships are very hard to maintain." The simplest solution for those who can afford it is to lead two lives – homosexual in the city, heterosexual in the hometown – since there is a long tradition of Chinese businessmen moving to big cities to work, leaving wives and children as well as parents behind.
Because of China’s system of residency permits, families are often not allowed to make the move anyway. Shenzhen, a city of transients and traders established by the government in the late 1970’s to foster foreign trade, is the perfect safe haven for an estimated 150,000 gay men who live here. Ordinary Chinese need a permit even to enter this "special economic zone," and its morals are drawn less from the mainland than from nearby cosmopolitan Hong Kong. More important, almost everyone here works for private companies and there are no government work units tracking personal lives.
"A lot of gays come to Shenzhen because life is freer here, parents and families are far away and it’s normal to rent or share and apartment," said Peter Zhou, who started a popular gay Web site here two years ago. At clubs like Galaxy there is no sense of shame about being gay. Many men are not bothered by the compromise of marriage, which they regard as necessary for their survival. While Mr. Wu, the businessman, says that while his relationship with his wife is not very "passionate," he is nonetheless a proud papa. "How does it feel to be married?" Mr. Wu said. "I can’t tell my wife. I can’t tell my child. I can’t tell my parents. Some people avoid it by fleeing overseas. But if you stay in China there’s no choice, really."
But outside big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, a double life is less feasible, and China’s more than 250 gay Web sites serve as a sort of virtual therapist for men who have no other outlet. "They tell us how painful their lives are," said Mr. Zhou. "They want to tell their wives and parents the truth, but they don’t dare." He has solved the problem for himself by moving here and having little contact with parents, who "ask few questions."
Yi Yu, a 19-year-old from a small town in China’s distant north, has been living in Beijing for more than a year, working as a waiter, a security guard and, more recently, a part-time hustler. He says 80 percent of his clients are married. He now totes a white cellphone and wears sleek silk shirts with large cuff links.
He has come to accept that he is gay, but recalls arriving in Beijing as "a country bumpkin," a high school dropout, unqualified for most jobs and sexually confused, having heard in school that men who have sex with men are "perverts." "My ideal is to take the money I’ve earned here and go home to set up house and a store – with a partner," he said. "But of course that’s not even really possible in Beijing right now, and forget it in the kind of place where I’m from."
China Announces Jump in AIDS Cases
April 11, 2002
Beijing – The Chinese government on Thursday announced a 17 percent increase in the number of Chinese infected with the AIDS virus and sharply raised its estimate of the disease’s spread.
There are 30,736 people confirmed to be carrying the virus and 1,594 people with full-blown AIDS, though the true number of cases could be as high as 200,000, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The report said up to 850,000 people could be infected with the HIV virus, and 100,000 might have died from the disease.
The number of confirmed cases was more than 17 percent above the figure announced in mid-2001, while the estimate of people with the virus was more than 40 percent higher than the previous official estimate of 600,000. The report noted that authorities believe China’s official AIDS statistics are far lower than the true figure because of poor reporting by local health officials.
"Experts believe that over half of the 200,000 AIDS patients have lost their lives,” Xinhua said. The report added to growing official candor in recent months about the spread of AIDS in China after years of denying that it was a problem. The most dramatic disclosure came in August, when the Health Ministry said the number of confirmed cases had jumped 67 percent in the first half of 2001. Intravenous drug use accounted for 68 percent of infections, while poor sanitation at companies that buy blood accounted for 9.7 percent, Xinhua said.
That was the most specific official estimate yet of people infected by China’s blood-buying industry, which is blamed for spreading the virus to thousands of poor, rural villagers. Collectors bought blood from villagers, pooled it and extracted plasma — the liquid part of the blood sought for medical uses. Then, instead of being thrown out as is usually done in donations, the rest of the blended blood was injected back into the sellers, apparently to limit their blood loss. In the village of Wenlou in the central province of Henan, the hardest-hit area, 43 percent of people who sold blood are infected, Deputy Health Minister Yin Dakui said in August.
Authorities in Henan have detained reporters who tried to find information about the outbreak and harassed Chinese AIDS activists who tried to publicize it. China held its first AIDS conference in November, and a state-owned pharmaceutical company announced plans to produce low-cost anti-AIDS drugs. Despite increased openness by health officials at the national level, many local leaders are accused of suppressing information about the disease for fear of acknowledging prostitution or drug trafficking in their areas.
July 9, 2002
Coming out in China
by Jaime FlorCruz, CNN Beijing Bureau Chief
Bar owner Zhang Yi practices the art of mixing cocktails everyday at his On-Off Bar, a place designed for Beijing’s homosexual men and women to mix freely. It is one of the few such spots in China where the government de-listed homosexuality as a mental disorder just last year. "Through my bar I hope to help gay Chinese find their identities," says Zhang.
Today’s society shows more tolerance toward Chinese gay men and lesbians. Homosexuality is no longer considered a crime or a psychiatric illness. But there are at least three reasons why many are still afraid to come out – pressures that include the fear of being ostracized, or fired, and the family obligation to get married and have children. Such pressures compel many gays to live bisexual lives.
"That complicates the AIDS prevention work very much," says Chung To at Chi Heng Foundation in Hong Kong, "… because once the disease is spread, it spreads very quickly to the mainstream society." Gay groups are raising awareness, through hotlines and the Internet. "In our chat rooms and bulletin boards, we tell our users not to openly solicit one-night stands or prostitution, not because we discriminate against them, but because it’s not safe, " says Nan Feng, a Webmaster at ManCN.net.
ManCN.net is one of the 300 gay Web sites in China which provide news, information and virtual meeting places for gays. Some have found life partners in the Net. Web sites attacked But running gay Web sites has its share of grief. "Some heterosexuals attack our Web site or our server. They keep sending angry emails and viruses," says Xiao Qi, a Webmaster at GZTZ.org. Still, gay activists stand up against such intimidations, knowing the importance of spreading awareness.
Zhang recalls his search for sexual identity nine years ago – when he was 19. "I found a thick medical book and read this little section, which said homosexuality is abnormal and perverse and gays get AIDS. I got very scared," says Zhang. So scared that he tried to commit suicide. Later, he met other gays in Beijing. "That made me feel that homosexuality is something perfectly normal . . . There was nothing wrong with me," Zhang said.
Condor Han, the manager of Success Bar, said his relationship with his partner has been going steady for a year, but they face the challenge of keeping a lasting relationship. "We don’t have marriage as a binding institution, so you get jealous and insecure more easily," says Han. Han told CNN that they had hoped to get married in Hawaii, where they mistakenly understood gay marriage is legal. "If we were married, these things would probably not happen," Han said.
December 5, 2002
Filmmaker takes daring look at gay life in China
The poignant and surprisingly frank ‘Enter the Clowns’ embraces humanity in all its forms.
by Kevin Thomas, Times Staff Writer
Cui Zi’en’s "Enter the Clowns" is a groundbreaker in gay cinema as well as in Chinese independent filmmaking. Adapted from his own novel by Cui, a controversial Beijing Film Academy professor, this beautifully shot-in-digital film unfolds as a series of interlocked vignettes revealing the everyday lives of young Beijing gay and transgender men.
In their exploration of sexuality, they struggle to link emotions and desire more freely and matter-of-factly than one might expect in the communist nation. Screening Saturday at 7:30 p.m., "Enter the Clowns" is featured in the concluding weekend of the UCLA Film Archives’ provocative "New Chinese Cinema" series at Melnitz Hall’s James Bridges Theater. The film has terrific immediacy, and while some moments recall a Warhol-like spirit of spontaneity and others his tediousness, the film has a winning quality of being lived rather than acted.
Its seven-minute opening sequence is at once tender, startling and erotic, yet poignant. In extreme close-up we see a handsome youth (Xiao Bo) caring for his dying father, played by Cui and glimpsed only briefly. The father says, "Call me Mom" as his son helps him apply makeup. The vignette’s conclusion recalls the daring and discretion of Louis Malle’s "Murmur of the Heart" (1971).
The impact of this scene is hard to match, but numerous others come close, especially a long sequence in a which a high school-age youth pays an initially indifferent young man to hear his story. The boy spills his guilt and confusion over having rejected his best friend’s sexual overtures only to reject him again after the friend had been surgically transformed into a woman. "Enter the Clowns" embraces humanity in its infinite variety – and seeming absurdity – and its capacity for experiencing joy, anguish and pain, often simultaneously.
September 30, 2002
AIDS, gay rights activist battles Chinese mores
by John Ruwitch
Qingdao – From a tiny office in a decaying corner of Qingdao University Medical School, AIDS education and gay rights crusader Zhang Beichuan is waging war on Chinese sexual mores. Here he compiles Friend Exchange, a pioneering pamphlet on AIDS that talks openly about homosexuality and targets gay men, a high-risk group in a land rife with ignorance about the disease and just starting to admit to an acute š and growing š problem. He points to two cabinets of deep drawers cramping the office doorway that testify to the impact his simple magazine, published once every two months, has made since it began in 1998. "Those drawers are packed with letters from gay people around the country," said Zhang, a soft spoken doctor with salt-and-pepper hair and thick-framed glasses. "They talk about pressure from AIDS, or how AIDS affects their lives. Many write because they are depressed or lonely."
The letters are from men in every Chinese province, and from all walks of life. Most bear witness to social pressures that make life harder for homosexuals and AIDS victims in China, where awareness is on the rise but the subjects remain taboo. "In China, they say: ‘There are three ways of being a bad son, the most serious is to have no heir’," Zhang said, quoting the ancient philosopher Mencius. But sometimes, even having a child is not enough. "I’ve got a letter here from one man who committed suicide," he said, holding up a thick brown envelope. "This person said he’d already done his duty and provided a child for his family. But when he told his wife and parents about his true gay identity, his wife and parents rejected divorce."
Last Year The United Nations estimates up to 1.5 million Chinese are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and that number could climb to 10 million by 2010 without effective measures. The number of infected gays is unknown. Some experts put the number of homosexuals in China at about 100 million, or more than seven percent of the population. Last year saw breakthroughs for AIDS awareness and gay people in China when the government struck homosexuality from a list of psychiatric disorders and broke a long silence on AIDS. But a survey by China’s State Family Planning Commission and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July said one in six Chinese people had never heard of AIDS. And most who knew about it did not know the cause of the disease. Another done by private Chinese and European research firms showed fewer than 30 percent of urban dwellers in China knew how to protect against AIDS, the China Daily said last week.
Each issue of Friend Exchange outlines the basics of safe sex for gay men. Its white pages are also filled with personal stories about gay life or having AIDS and articles on the latest scientific developments in the fight against the disease. Zhang says his pamphlet has government support, unlike several books and movies on homosexuality banned in China. But his is distributed through the post, not on magazine stands, and he refers to it as an "internal" document. Each print run produces 8,500-9,000 copies, but Zhang says readership is wider š the back page tells readers to pass the edition to a friend once they have finished reading. It is funded largely by the New York-based Ford Foundation, but Zhang receives spontaneous donations from around the country on a regular basis š including everything from stamps costing a few cents each to as much as 4,000 yuan ($483).
Zhang’s hopes for the pamphlet, which he is loath to call a magazine because it is financed by donations and has no pictures or illustrations, are modest enough. "I hope it can gain more support in Chinese and international society," he said. But he has met difficulties and said leading the charge against wrong perceptions and widespread ignorance has been tough. "Loneliness is a very particular topic," said Zhang. "Sometimes, by chance, I experience this feeling. After all, our work is pretty avant garde." ($1 = 8.28 yuan)