China is changing with regard to gay people and one area that can be seen in, is the emerging club scene. Most major cities now have gay clubs, some like Guangzhou are fairly Westernised with an unapologetic take from their clientele, in other places these clubs and bars are much more discrete. However, the opportunities for gay night life in China are still very limited in comparison to the West and given the size of most major cities in China with populations of 10 million people plus, on any given night there’s not much choice for homosexual men and much less choice for lesbian women.
In Chengdu for example, men tend to frequent a local park due to the lack of options for clubbing and companionship elsewhere. Even in Shanghai where there is a gay bar district, currently the only one its kind in China, many gays feel forced to cruise the Bund after sunset as they aren’t convinced of either the safety or quality of the emerging scene.
Many gay men complain about the difficulties of finding a partner that could be trusted from the “open” scene. And most still rely on the Internet for meeting a long-term lover rather than the one night stands available from the more public venues.
Lesbians have almost no options outside of the Tier 1 cities, and it’s been said that most lesbians meet through informal network events. There is one lesbian support group who meet publically in Beijing, and reports suggest that occasionally two lovers will get “passionate” (one presumes this means that they will kiss – given the reticence of China’s overall approach to sexuality) there.
For Western gay men living inside China there’s another problem to be faced, particularly outside of the Tier 1 areas, that of racism. Not all gay clubs in the country are created alike and foreigners are often feared or mistrusted when they arrive in a new area.
As with all clubs in China, there is also a thriving prostitution market for gay men and as with the male prostitute who serves women, a rent boy is also known as a duck. Which I suspect makes for some confusing conversations at times.
There have also been a couple of fairly unsuccessful attempts at hosting Gay Pride events in the country. Beijing’s event in 2010, was cancelled not because of the homosexuality, but because public gatherings are frowned on without the right permits. Which weren’t obtained – though the reasons why not are unclear. However undeterred by this setback the organisers picked a Mr. Gay China anyway, who went on to win third place in the Mr. Gay World contest.
Shanghai’s event in 2009 was slightly more successful in that it went ahead, though many of the planned activities were cancelled also due to permission issues. It is said that by the last night the party was in full swing and that China finally had its first Gay Pride moment.