Sociologist Li Yinhe,
expert on the study of homosexuality in China, will tell you about
the conditions of homosexuals in China, a social phenomenon that
should not be neglected.
Li Yinhe, who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University
of Pittsburgh, is one of the famous sociologists with the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences. She mainly focuses her research on social
phenomena such as marriage, family, women and sexuality in China.
Her main works include Sexuality and Marriage of Chinese People,
Chinese Marriage and Family and Their Vicissitude, Emotions
and Sexuality of Chinese Women and Subculture of Homosexuality.
As the first woman scholar to study homosexuality in China, Li Yinhe
did a large amount of research both in the field of western theories
and the actual cases of the homosexuals in China.
Reporter: As far as I know, you began the research on homosexuality
in China from 1989. How did you get the idea to do such research?
Li Yinghe: When I came to the Sociology Institute of the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences I had prepared several subjects to study,
such as the phenomena of singles and divorce in China. Homosexuality
was also one of these subjects. Because, before 1989 there was not
any studies on the homosexuality in China, I thought it was absolutely
wrong that we neglect a group of people who account for approximately
three to four percent of the adult population, according to estimates
in China. With a curiosity for this group of people who have different
sexual tendency and lead a unique life, I began to study the subculture
of homosexuality. I wanted to fill the gap in this field and tell
people the facts about homosexuals.
R: In your book you give us a lot of specific
cases of the life of gays in China. Was it difficult to find the
research subjects? Were they willing to tell you their stories?
L: Actually, I started my survey on homosexuality from a single
man. I had originally interviewed him for my study on singles. He
told me that the reason he kept single was that he was a gay. From
him, I got to know his gay friends and began my further research.
I don't feel it is difficult to make gays speak about their feelings
and stories. Most of them were willing to tell their experience
and are very cooperative. I also received a lot of letters from
gays and lesbians who knew that I was doing such a study. When I
was talking with them I found that the interviewees were very calm
and had a well-adjusted mentality. They want other people to know
what they really are and to have a better understanding of them.
Of course, a few gay males felt embarrassed to tell me their experience,
since I am a woman; so, my husband has helped me with this. There
were also some gays who were not willing to speak to anyone about
their life. They have a strong sense of guilt and great mental pressure.
R: What are the reasons for homosexuality?
L: Experts have done a large amount of research in the field of
physiology, psychology and sociology, but now it is still not clear
what will cause homosexuality. At present there are two main views
about the causes. One is that homosexuality is a congenital sexual
tendency due to the effect of the genes, or the level of hormones
or the structure of the cerebra. The other is that homosexuality
is acquired and caused by the environment and a person's experience,
which affect one's psychology. There is no last word yet as for
the causes, but no matter if it is nature or acquired, according
to our statistics and some medical reports, it is very hard or impossible
to change a person's sexual tendency. If you want to change them
it is as impossible as trying to make heterosexuals to love the
same sex. Therefore, I am rather confident in saying that homosexuality
is the natural and normal sexual tendency of a small percentage
of human beings.
R: Are there any differences between the
homosexuals in western countries and China?
L: Yes, there are some big differences. The biggest difference is
that Chinese homosexuals face greater pressure in their lives. Expectations
that one should have a heterosexual marriage are the first biggest
pressure they have to cope with. The traditional idea that a person
must get married and have his or her offspring in his or her life
profoundly influences their parents, the last generations and sometimes
the homosexuals themselves as well. According to a statistic, in
the 1980s, people who choose a single life account for only about
three-percent of the Chinese population. Through my study, I don't
think that figure would change very much today. However, in the
western countries, such as France and the US, one fourth of the
population choose to not marry, so it is very normal for one to
not get married in the West. In China one who does not get married
until 30 years old is regarded as abnormal in the eyes of many Chinese
people, especially the older generations.
In addition, the percentage of homosexuals in the western countries
is much bigger than in China and they are much more powerful because
their liberation movement had already begun in the 1960s. They are
more open in public. They have their organizations and clubs, such
as Ten Percent Society (the homosexuals make up about 10 percent
of the population in a few western countries), and have demonstrations
against the discrimination and prejudice against them or have protests
for their equal rights on the streets. Chinese homosexuals are still
more hidden and are not so known by the public, but they already
have had their own web sites to exchange with each other all over
R: Could you tell me something about the marriage life of the homosexuals
who have already been forced to marry the opposite sex?
L: There are mainly three kinds of modes in these kind of marital
relations. One is that a part of gays try to inhibit their antipathy
to the opposite sex and cultivate a very strong consciousness of
family responsibility. They try their best to practice the duty
of being a good husband and a father, since they feel guilty towards
their wives. For them the relation with their family members can
be maintained well. The second are the gays who choose sexually
impassive women as their wives or try to change their wives into
being suitable to their situation after marriage. The third is that
all their efforts end in failure and the divorce is the final result
of their marriage. Since most of homosexuals are forced to marry
with the opposite sex by the secular ideas in China, the possibility
of a broken marriage is much higher than in the true heterosexual
marriage. Most of the wives of gay males are not always told the
truth by their husbands and it is not easy for them to discover
the behavior of their husbands behind their backs, since their husbands
hid their behavior well. I would like to suggest to the wives of
the homosexuals to get rid of the tragic marriage once they know
the truth. But if the wife loves her husband very much and is reluctant
to leave him, she should be sure if there is the possibility that
her husband can be a bisexual person before she keeps the marriage.
R: What is the situation of Chinese homosexuals at work?
L: In the workplace, homosexuals hide their sexual tendency and
their work is not greatly affected by their sexual tendency. Many
of them can do their job very well. However, a few cases show that
the homosexuals are discriminated against in their work. Take a
man who has worked in the public security department for example.
He is a gay and lacks the masculine appearance, so his boss does
not like him and finally fires him without any reasonable excuse.
Obviously, it is unfair that he or she is deprived of the right
to work only because of one's appearance or different sexual tendency.
R: Because of this, should the rights and
interests of homosexuals be protected by a special law?
L: Yes. Although historically Chinese law does not have discriminatory
clause against homosexuals, China does not have a protective law
for them at present. This is different from the West, where there
is a history of laws prohibited homosexuality. However, from the
interviewees I discovered that in the last several years homosexuals
who gather together in public places have been detained by the police
for being rascals or bad people. Most of them receive the punishment
of several days of detention. In the western countries, because
of the active movement against prejudice and for gaining the same
rights launched by homosexuals since the 1960s, the law has been
changed to admit the legitimate rights of the homosexuals, so they
now enjoy equal rights in employment, sexuality and marriage. The
countries, such as Holland and Belgium, already allow same sex marriage.
Compared to them, there is a long way to go for the Chinese homosexuals
to receive equal rights under the law.
R: What do the homosexuals think about their
L: Many Chinese homosexuals think that the biggest difficulty they
face now is not that there is no law to protect their legitimate
social status; it is that the society does not understand and accept
them. At present they mainly face the neglect and disdain from the
mainstream society, instead of cruel persecution and extreme hostility.
Therefore, many of them do not want or dare to launch a radical
movement against the prejudice and to gain equal rights. The doctrine
of Confucius and Mencius still deeply rooted in the mind of Chinese
people. So the conservative homosexuals leading a secret life only
expect understanding and tolerance from the public, instead of launching
a large-scale movement like those took place in the western countries.
Just a very few homosexuals, usually young and well-educated, have
a stronger awareness of rights, hoping China can establish a law
to protect their rights and restrain the unlawful behavior against
homosexuals as well.
R: At present, what are the Chinese public's
attitudes towards the homosexuality?
L: As time goes on, the Chinese public is better acquainted with
the phenomena of homosexuals than before. The public has a better
understanding of them and is more and more tolerant of them in the
open. China's third edition of "Standards on Classification
and Diagnosis of Mental Disturbances," published this April,
does not treat homosexuality as a mental disorders anymore. It is
social progress to not treat homosexuality with a morbid mentality.
However, there are still a lot of people who keep their negative
attitudes toward this minority group. Some think that homosexuality
is a kind of immoral conduct, others that it is a kind of mental
disease, still others think that gays are perverts and fear them.
They regard them as queer people and do not want to approach them
and even laugh at them. In fact, many people do not know, or even
do not want to know, the truth that homosexuals are only a group
of people who have different sexual tendency and lead a different
sexual life from us. Refusing to know the truth is the obstacle
to understanding homosexuals.
When people got to know that homosexuals might cause AIDS, some
newspapers or magazines said that such behavior is one of the main
public harms that can affect health and corrupt public morals. In
fact, the main channel of getting AIDS in China is through blood,
which accounts for about 80 percent of the entire cases. It is not
fair to condemn those homosexuals who do not hurt anyone and have
a correct sexual behavior. Only sexual promiscuity could cause AIDS,
which also happens to heterosexuals.
R: What attitude do you think we should
take towards homosexuality?
L: I believe that there are two ways to treat homosexuals. The low
level is that at least you should regard them as equal, instead
of discriminating against them just because they have different
sexual inclination or tendency. On the high level, heterosexuals
should realize that homosexuals reveal a complete new relation among
people and a possible lifestyle. According to the Queer Theory (a
theory on homosexuals) the phenomena of homosexuals challenges the
current marriage and sexuality in today's society. The Queer Theorists
propose a lot of very challenging questions against the traditional
views, such as why people must get married, why people must practice
monogamy in a society, why people can not have open relations with
each other and why one must have a child. According to the French
philosopher Michel Foucault, the lives of homosexuals are absolutely
not poor and seamy. On the contrary, the lives of the homosexuals
have their own value and create a more open relation among people.
For me, I agree with multi-culturalism and think we should be ready
to listen to different voices.