Homosexuality in China: An Introduction – How Paradigms Form Our Perception, by Mel

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The framework of what we think and believe. Something we are often unaware of because these paradigms seem unquestionable and universal to us. However, even commonly acknowledged ‘truths’ are subjective and I think it is important to know that paradigms exist and influence us and also that they can change.

Since I started studying Chinese, I have been confronted with this phenomenon several times and it is something I actually find incredibly fascinating. Some things I would never have thought to second-guess and I found revelatory to realise that they are actually not a given and are viewed differently by people with different kinds of backgrounds and paradigms.

In my studies, I focus on Chinese queer and gender studies and while it is absolutely not surprising in itself that homosexuality is and was different there than in the West, I am again in parts astonished as to where all the differences lie.

Reading the following quote, I don’t think it is unusual that there not only was homosexuality in ancient China and that it was common and normal, but what stuns me is how homosexuality was not conceived as a sexual identity:

“During the ancient and imperial periods in China, same-sex desires were deemed normal and were enjoyed by many emperors and upper-class scholars and bureaucrats. There was never a fixed or reified sexual identity linked to a sexual preference. Sexual fantasies during these many centuries in China were fluid, diverse, and in constant flux. At the turn of the twentieth century, the onslaught of Western medical knowledge changed this cultural tradition and indoctrinated in society heteronormativity and a pathologized and vilified vision of homosexuality.”

Zheng Tiantian. Tongzhi Living. Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis. London. 2016. p. 28

Although Manchuria introduced a more negative view on homosexuality when they conquered China and thus started China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty, it is within the frame of imperialism of the West that the Chinese actually changed their attitude towards homosexuality. I want to stress, however, that China generally did not just take Western theory and practice and blindly copied it but that they adapted it and made it their own. The critique of homosexuality fit China’s own agenda at the time.

Apart from finding the history of sex and gender incredibly interesting, what I take away from this course of happening in history is that I, that we, should question the ideas, theories, and paradigms that we take for granted in life more often. With regards to gender and sexuality, for example, I think there is a tendency to believe and be sure of the newest theories, but we should be aware that this is all they are: something that we think of as true at this point in time.



My three passions in life are my family, books, and China.

I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for nearly 16 years, have the loveliest 11 year-old daughter, and we live together in Berlin’s beautiful quarter Prenzlauer Berg. We spend as much time together as possible and enjoy a quiet life — well, next to a job and school…

Spending two years abroad in Macao SAR China made me want to change my profession, and so I’ve been studying Sinology since fall 2014. My focus, next to learning Chinese, lies in the field of gender and queer studies, and I am working on my thesis on the portrayal of homosexual sexual practices in Chinese literature and their relation to gender and class right now.

In my free time and on my long commute, I love to read and I like my books to be diverse, surprising, and genre-bending. I will read the occasional contemporary romance, but my heart actually beats faster for genre books like fantasy, science fiction, or steampunk. Since for me, love is love, I read stories about people of all gender and sexual identity.

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2 thoughts on “Homosexuality in China: An Introduction – How Paradigms Form Our Perception, by Mel

  1. This is very interesting. Thank you for sharing. Many historians would say this philosophy was true of early Western culture as well — Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, etc. They would not have seen same sex and opposite sex desire as completely separate or mutually exclusive. They would not have expected people to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual — those categories and concepts simply didn’t exist. That perspective also fits in well with the Kinsey scale’s view of sexuality.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you and it was my pleasure 🙂

      I also just read Gender Trouble by Judith Butler for my thesis and she generally argues against binary categories, so a timeless sexual identity of being either homo or hetero is something she does not believe is true – if I understand what she’s saying correctly…such complicated stuff.


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