Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monumental Year for China's LGBT Community

The following is extracted from China Daily, full article at

As 2009 comes to a close, it does so having been a monumental year for China's LGBT community. Beijing and numerous cities across China experienced the successful completion of 12 anniversaries and public events that expose LGBT culture and related issues like never before, see list below. China's LGBT community has adapted the terms tongzhi to refer to gays, lala for lesbians, ku'er for queer - an umbrella term for those who do not identify as heterosexual with regard to sexuality, sexual anatomy or gender identity.

The community is young. Most are in their 20s and 30s, are educated, working professionals with experience abroad who are now highly active and public organizers, authors, editors, designers, film directors, curators, activists and artists. The photos show lesbian volunteers for a wedding photo, and Shanghai Pride organisers. One catalyst was the Olympic Games in 2008, a landmark "coming out" event. LGBT websites have allowed for communities to build, to advertise events, and to allow contact and information to be exchanged between LGBT members from big cities and small towns in China with those from around the world.

Policies, too, have been slowly changing. At a national level, 1997 saw the removal of sodomy from the country's list of crimes; homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders in 2001; and since 2003 prominent sexologist and activist, Li Yinhe, has been proposing same-sex marriage legislation at the annual Two Sessions.

In China, where LGBT-themed films are prohibited and gay-themed exhibitions, novels and magazines are taboo, the success of many of these events has been years in the making. Organizers have gotten creative: they arrange other activities; they hold their film festivals and art exhibitions just outside major cities; they keep publicity to a minimum.

So with all this happening, what does the future hold for China's LGBT community? Li Yinhe has revealed plans to propose another same-sex marriage bill in 2010. And in a nation without ratings, perhaps introducing them to TV shows and films, will help lift the ban on gay and lesbian characters on screen. Perhaps China will witness the coming-out of its first celebrity.

Yet among all involved to promote awareness and to end discrimination, there seems to be a consensus: they have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.
  1. Feb 14: Qianmen Valentine's Day Photo Shoot, Beijing
  2. May 17: Rainbow In Motion Bike Ride, Beijing
  3. June 7-13: Pride, Shanghai
  4. June 14-21: Difference Gender Art Exhibition, Beijing
  5. June 17: Fourth Beijing International Queer Film Festival
  6. June 28: PFLAG China's 2nd anniversary, Guangzhou
  7. July 27-Aug 2: The World Outgames, Copenhagen
  8. August: Courage by Xiao Jie
  9. August: iLOOK magazine's "Happy Gay China"
  10. October-November : China Queer Film Talk Tour
  11. Nov 20-22: 3rd Annual Lala Camp, Guilin, Guanxi
  12. Dec 19: Gay bar opening sponsored by the government, Dali, Yunnan

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas with Chinese Characteristics

I hope you all had a good Xmas and didn't eat or drink too much. Now it's back to the gym to get my body back into shape.

I came across this article by Huang Hung (Ms) from today's 'China Daily'. I thought is was a quite interesting view on cross-cultural influences in modern China, and share it with you here.

"We can turn anything, holy or unholy, into something just Chinese. Whiskey with green tea, red wine with sprite, rice hamburgers, Peking Duck tortillas - you name it, we localize it. There are still people in China who are concerned that we might lose our own traditions by celebrating Western holidays. Several years ago, this debate was quite real. I was DJ-ing a radio program and we were told not to mention Western holidays on air. On the other hand, retailers were already enjoying huge shopping sprees around Christmas time.

But honestly, the conservatives were all worked up about nothing. They should have had great faith in the Chinese ability to localize everything. Let me just describe to you how Western holidays are celebrated here, and you will know what I mean.

First of all, "silent night" is anything but silent. In fact, it is the noisiest night in the bars and discos. The Chinese have really turned Christmas Eve into a wild party night for the young. It just happens that Christmas comes around when final exams end for college and high school students. What better way to unwind after all that exam tension than to dance the night away. I assure you the holiness of the holy night is a bit lost here.

I noticed this year that Chinese were picking up Thanksgiving as well. But without the turkey and the immigrants. What we do on Thanksgiving is send text messages to each other on the cell phone. I counted, I got 32 messages, reminding me to be thankful. None of them thanked me for anything, however. I did not send any out. Call me Americanized, I still want my turkey (with lots of stuffing) and my pumpkin pie.

The most ridiculous Western holiday celebrated here, however, is Valentine's Day. First of all, the Chinese translation is "Lover's Day". I dare say, it is the worst day of the year for married man with a mistress. Who are they going to spend it with? The ex-lover, now wife? Or the new lover, ex-secretary? Agony descends on a lot of men with very little hair and a very big belly. Not the lovey-dovey romantic picture in your mind, I bet. But people, particularly women here, take Valentine's Day very seriously. As a result, it is absolutely good business if you own a restaurant or a flower shop; this is THE day of the year that you will move a lot of merchandise.

I am glad the debate about Chinese celebrating Western holidays has kind of died on its own. I've always been jealous of Hong Kong people. They get both Western and Chinese holidays, don't they? At this point, I think we just want more holidays."

I also hope you get more holidays so you can come and see the modern (and ancient) China with your own eyes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Back in Beijing for Xmas

We got back from Bangkok last week and had a sudden 30-degree drop in temperature. Bangkok was as fun and as hot as ever. I want to retire there as soon as I can. We looked at some condos this time, but were put off by the high prices which are approaching that of Beijing. (At the beginning of the year, Beijing property prices were predicted to fall 20% but in actual fact have gone up 30%!). 

Today is Xmas Day, and it's a normal working day for most Beijingers. Offices of foreign companies are noticeably quieter, and the more generous ones give a day's holiday to their staff. Many expats have left town to go home or to some warm resort in the region. Those who stayed can celebrate Xmas in style at the various dinners put on by the 5-star hotels and restaurants, costing up to USD100+ per head.

Most Chinese however do not celebrate Xmas and will not be eating turkey or brussel sprouts today. Some of my (young) local friends just send text messages for Xmas but no cards or gifts. We did drive out last night in the windy weather to a party held by an American friend, and soon got stuck in traffic near the Third Ring Road with all the other party-goers. We sung some carols and exchanged gifts, which was fun. I got some 'fun' videos, which I can't post here, so you have to visit me in Beijing if you want to see them!

And of course now is a good time to come to Beijing since there are few tourists in the Forbidden City or on the Great Wall right now! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Capetown holiday in the sunshine

We’ve just had 10 days in Capetown, a lovely city with lots to see and experience. What is striking is that the influence of the former British and Dutch colonialists as well as of the India/East Indies, are still much in evidence. We had come not to 'black' Africa, but to a ‘white’ corner of South Africa. It felt like a mixture of Sydney, Los Angeles, Hawaii and the Mediterranean.

The famous Table Mountain was visible from many parts of the city, notably from the V&A (Victoria and Alfred!) harbour. We enjoyed walking round the city and seeing its local markets and ‘robots’ (i.e. traffic lights). The city is getting ready for the World Cup next June.

We stayed at a friend’s home which overlooked the bay of Simonstown, one of many picturesque bays in the region. The restored buildings of the main street contrast sharply with those in the local townships.

 We took the chance to eat as much local produce as possible, including ostrich meat and prawns which were a bargain at the local seafront restaurant.

We drove down to the Cape of Good Hope. Since we had just come from London, it didn’t feel strange to be driving on the left, but seeing the noonday sun in the north rather than the south took some getting used to! I had learnt about the Cape many years ago in my school geography lessons, but I never dreamt I would visit here one day. The only problem is that there were so many other tourists there, especially Chinese.

We passed by beautiful penguins and beautiful scenery as well.  We also passed by not-so-beautiful baboons, as you can see in the photo. They behave just like humans! Do you know the name of S. Africa’s national flower shown in the photo?

We also made a one day trip round the wine country, visiting the vineyards around the old towns of Stellenbosch and Franshoek, where wine has been produced for centuries, almost as long as in France.

We sampled many different wines and also visited a local crafts shop. The local people are so friendly! We didn’t bring any wine back to London because they said prices were similar in Tesco.

We were privileged to visit some local residents’ homes and see the diversity of artistic influences, including Chinese, Georgian, Zulu and Xhosa.

However, there are many not so privileged, and the huge gap between rich and poor left us feeling uncomfortable. We heard that the problem of Aids is so serious (one study estimates that 1 in 10 of S. Africans over 2 yrs old are living with HIV) that Africans especially are dying younger and in greater numbers (average life expectancy is falling fast, and is already less than 50 yrs). Even with a per capita GDP 70% higher than that of China, it made me think how lucky we all are.