Tongzhi Culture

Introduction: Homosexuality and Tongzhi Culture in China - Remy Cristini
As published in: Davis, Edward (ed.): Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture. London [etc.]: Routledge, 2005.

In China, homosexuality has always conflicted with the traditional importance of marriage and posterity, but rarely been regarded a crime. In the 1980s, homosexuals in the People's Republic developed their own subculture, referred to as 'tongzhi culture' (同志文化). Tongzhi literally means 'of the same intent'. In Chinese communist discourse, it means 'comrade', and it was widely used as a form of address until after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Nowadays, the word tongzhi has been appropriated by homosexuals to mean 'gay'.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, homosexuals in big cities secretly met in parks and public toilets, and sometimes in clandestine gay bars. They were occasionally arrested for 'indecent behaviour'.

The rise of the Internet in the 1990s provided Chinese homosexuals with a convenient medium to communicate, and Chinese gay and lesbian websites have mushroomed ever since. These sites spread information about homosexuality throughout the Chinese-speaking world. As a result, some bars and clubs in big cities are now commonly known as 'gay places'. The Internet also forms a breeding ground for 'tongzhi literature' (同志文学). Gay novels often reflect on problems that a Chinese gay reader has to deal with in daily life: coming-out, social pressure and relationship problems. Some stories have an erotic or pornographic character. Most authors are amateurs, but some have become celebrities among their Internet readership. One of the earliest and best-known stories in this genre is 'A Story From Beijing' 《北京故事》, that has been circulating on the Web since 1996. Hong Kong film director Stanley Kwan based his movie Lanyu (2001) on this novel. After the movie had won prestigious awards in Taiwan and Hong Kong, it immediately appeared in PRC video shops.

Many Chinese know about homosexuality through television and popular journals. The issue is no longer a taboo. In the official guidelines for Chinese psychiatrists of April 2001, homosexuality is no longer listed as a mental disorder. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, transvestites go to public places without being arrested. However, homosexuals in the PRC still feel heavily pressured by mainstream morality, and sometimes enter into heterosexual marriage to please their families. For the time being, heavy restrictions remain for free discussion of politically sensitive topics, such as gay rights and the government's attitude towards the growing AIDS problem in China.

Tongzhi Culture in DACHS

This section in DACHS tries to capture relevant selections from Chinese gay websites and discussion forums. Additionally, it will contain publications on homosexuality in China either as published online or as donated to DACHS by scholars in the field, and multimedia resources (e.g. films, documentaries, music). Please use the links below or in the sidebar menu to navigate.