As you might expect China has quite a few gay folks, in fact as estimates range between 1% and 5% of the population being gay – if it’s at the top end of that (which seems likely), there are 70 million homosexuals in China. Or to put that in perspective there are more gays in China, than there are people in the United Kingdom.
Traditionally China has always been tolerant of homosexual lifestyles, probably because the main religion was Confucianism which didn’t have much to say about sex at all and almost nothing on the subject of being gay. In fact in the Song Dynasty both men and women found it fashionable to have same sex lovers. Prior to the advent of communism the possibilities of same sex marriage were being touted in China, way before the West would catch up.
In the beginning of Communist China attitudes changed, anal sex between consenting males was made illegal (these laws were repealed in the 1980’s – before the UK managed to repeal its own laws on “buggery”) and homosexuality itself (without actual sex) was criminalized too. This was repealed in 1997, though gay people were still considered to be mentally ill (and institutionalized too) up until 2001.
Amusingly during this period two lesbians were arrested by police in Anhui province, and then had to be released when it was realized there was no crime covering lesbianism on any statute book (so it wasn’t just Queen Victoria who didn’t believe in ladies who loved ladies).
In fact life is slowly returning to normal for China’s gay community, there’s no outright hostility to homosexuals in most major cities, though often there’s a lack of understanding. This is in part due to a general reluctance to discuss sexual issues of any kind (not just gay issues) in Chinese society. Gays certainly don’t face the same level of prejudice as they do in much of the rest of the world.
Chinese historical literature is full of gay men and women, and there has been no move to censor these texts or disavow them from the state.
However gay people in China do face problems, that mainly stem from family pressures and tomorrow we’ll have a closer look at the issues that the Chinese face that might seem unfamiliar in the West today.