China was relatively late in openly acknowledging the basic civil rights of its homosexual population – it wasn’t until 1997 that the Communist government decriminalized “hooliganism,” as it was officially known. However, the acceptance of non-heterosexuals into a mainstream societal position has been complicated, although the resistance bears no resemblance to the religious-fueled homophobia that has become commonplace in the United States. Indeed, the film explains that same-sex unions are seen by many as a disruption of the yin-yang harmony within the Chinese mindframe and the disruption of the cohesive family unit that was stressed since Mao Zedong’s rise to power.
There is also the consideration by many of an unpleasant Western influence in pushing gay rights – or, at least, the Western version of the subject. Actually, the preferred word in China is not “gay” or “queer,” but “tongzhi” which means “comrade.”
Still, progress has been sincere. As late as 2000, television programs with such awkward titles as “Approaching Gay People” were being used to address the subject. Today, predominantly gay and lesbian bars, publications, telephone hotlines and social organizations are commonplace in China’s major cities, and the subject of same-sex marriage has been politely debated within the government. Research has also determined relatively low levels of homophobia among the population, especially among those who favor a liberalization of China’s economy.
Yet problems persist and resistance can still be found, most notably in the abrupt closure of gay film festivals at Beijing University in 2001 and 2005 and problems in obtaining official permits for gay pride events. However, distinctively Chinese approaches to the subject – such as the encouragement of flying rainbow kites – shows that the hinges are very much off the closet door.
The film includes a large number of scholars, activists, filmmakers and writers who speak frankly on the subject. If one can tolerate the film’s somewhat erratic style – with constantly switching between full-, split- and partial-screens plus a surplus of Chinese and English subtitling – there is a genuinely fascinating look at Chinese sociology in a state of continual evolution.