The Chinese Psychiatric Association decided that being gay is no
longer a disease in the third edition of its new diagnostic
guidelines published on April 20th this year.
This landmark event - and the subsequent attention given to
homosexuality in all kinds of media in which experts discussed the
decision as progress that brings China in line with most western
nations, which do not consider being gay an illness - has helped
Chinese to rethink the specific social phenomenon of
"Just several years ago, I thought homosexuals were something far
away. Now, they are coming out, and they are around us," said Wang
Li, a magazine editor. "Today, I am not shocked on hearing that one
of our acquaintances is a homosexual."
Research shows that same-sex love has existed in almost every
culture – even in animals – dating back to the very beginnings of
history. However, it is still not an easy job for mainstream
Chinese society to understand.
Historically, the social prohibitions in China that have surrounded
homosexuality have been repressive and almost universal. Though
there are no laws against homosexuality in China, Chinese gay life
has existed solely underground for years in a conservative country
that now faces an historic reversal of long-standing social policy.
Since it was a traditional obligation in China to bring offspring
to the family, homosexuality was considered a threat not only to
families but also to the society.
"Homosexuality used to be called a perversion," recalled one source
who asked to remain anonymous.
Being a minority sexual group, Chinese homosexuals have had to
remain isolated for fear of being punished. They have had to hide
their emotions; meanwhile having to behave like others. For many,
that has proved a psychological barrier. However, the past ten
years have seen changes, and the psychiatric association’s decision
removes a final official barrier to tolerance for gays and lesbians
The change reflects an about-face in China: In 1994, the Chinese
Psychiatric Association published a handbook stating its strong
opposition to the World Health Organization’s call for accepting
homosexuality. But in 1997 the Chinese government eliminated the
criminal category of "hooliganism." Thus China followed a similar
path to that of the United States: The American Psychiatric
Association "depathologized" homosexuality in 1973; however, it
wasn’t until 1986 that the APA removed all reservations about
Prof. Liu Dalin, a well-known sociologist from Shanghai University,
said: "The general public’s understanding towards homosexuality can
be divided into three stages: in the first stage homosexuals are
sinful; in the second stage homosexuals are sick; in the third
stage, homosexuals are normal. Now China is in somewhere between
stage one and stage two."
According to an Internet survey in 2000, the tolerance level of
Chinese people towards homosexuality has already improved a lot.
The following are the figures:
Among the 10,792 surveyed, 48.15 percent (5196) were in favor, 30.9
percent (3247) were against, 14.46 percent (1560) were undecided,
and 7.26 percent (783) were indifferent.
Chinese society has become more tolerant.
"Homosexuality is as common in China as in other countries," an
official at the American Embassy to Beijing said in 1996.
Back in the early 1990s, Prof. Liu Dalin conducted a sexual survey
in 28 cities of 15 provinces in which the results turned out to be
alarming to many in society: Among 20,000 selected interviewees,
0.5 percent of married urban residents, 2.3 percent of married
rural residents, and 7.5 percent of college students were
The explosion of new wealth created by the liberalized economic
policies of the last 20 years have given ordinary city-dwelling
Chinese a measure of personal freedom without precedent in their
According to one study, Chinese homosexuals have already reached
something between 360,000 and 480,000, the majority male.
far, there are no open areas for Chinese "tongzhi," the slang for
homosexual in China, but some bars and nightclubs have irregular
parties. Most Chinese homosexuals have to have their social life on
the streets, such as crossroads, washing rooms, parks, gardens and
public shower centers.
"While life was becoming easier for gay Chinese, the gay community
in China would likely remain unorganized," according to an article
in the New York
Though it is difficult for the outsiders to tell whether one is a
homosexual or not, it is easy for homosexuals themselves, according
to several interviews with homosexuals conducted by the author.
"Only a look is OK."
Now there is a national gay hotline as well as several social
groups, including a lesbian organization called Beijing Sisters,
according to some sources.
Also helping gays in China is the spread of the Internet. It is
estimated that there are hundreds of web sites for gay Chinese.
The Times article noted that, as in the West, gay men and
women flock to the big cities from smaller towns and villages for a
deeper sense of belonging and community.
While many gay Chinese still consider their sexual orientation an
affliction or malady like so many around the world, the younger
generation are brave.
senior student of Beijing Language and
Culture University openly declared to his dormitory mates "I am
gay. Why should I hide? I am no different from others."
But there is still a long way to go for Chinese gays and
(Edited and translated by Zheng Guihong for china.org.cn according
to reports on chinanews.com.cn October 31, 2001)