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Tongzhi LivingMen Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China$

Tiantian Zheng

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780816691999

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816691999.001.0001

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Popular Perceptions of Homosexuality in Postsocialist China

Popular Perceptions of Homosexuality in Postsocialist China

(p.47) Chapter 2 Popular Perceptions of Homosexuality in Postsocialist China
Tongzhi Living

Tiantian Zheng

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 2 captures current social attitudes toward homosexuality in postsocialist China. This chapter argues that social attitudes toward homosexuality are not as open and tolerant as previous researchers have ascertained. Interviews with civilians and an analysis of media coverage suggest a common understanding of homosexuality as a perversion often caused by poor parenting, mistakes in child-rearing techniques, traumatizing experiences with the opposite sex, and misidentification of gender roles. Homosexuality has become a scapegoat on which is displaced anxiety over current social problems such as dissolved marriages and the AIDS epidemic. Although a dissolved family is pinpointed as one of the key factors that can lead to a child’s homosexuality, the media also portray homosexuality not only as a public menace and a threat to the family but also as a metaphor for passive masculinity and a national crisis, reminiscent of the colonial past when China was defeated by the colonizing West and plagued by its image as the Sick Man of East Asia. It is believed that building a strong manhood and sharpening proper male gender roles are required to revive and strengthen the nation.

Keywords:   Postsocialist China, cultural critique, media and culture, social issues, homosexuality, manhood, gender studies

Homosexuality is an impediment (zhang ai). Homosexual men are afraid of women and have had unhappy experiences with women. I feel disgusted by them. It’s natural to have a male and a female together, otherwise it’s unnatural and pathological. They may have experienced sexual abuse or something that made them go astray. Our country should make them illegal. Our country should imprison them and attack them. They are abnormal.

This quote is representative of local people’s attitudes toward homosexuality in my interviews. As I demonstrate in this chapter, such attitudes dovetail with media representations of homosexuality in postsocialist China. Based on around sixty interviews and research analysis of coverage in the media including newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and online articles, this chapter scrutinizes the cultural milieu that structures the everyday lives of Chinese tongzhi.

In China studies, researchers such as Li Yinhe (2008) have argued that social attitudes toward homosexuality have become increasingly open and tolerant in postsocialist China (see also E. Zhang 2011). Li (2008) claims that this accepting attitude stems partly from China’s homoerotic tradition; she also attributes her survey results, which demonstrate that the Chinese public’s tolerance toward homosexuals is higher than in the United States, to China’s not sharing the Western Christian prejudice against homosexuality. Li’s survey includes questions about whether a person would like to make friends with a homosexual, whether a homosexual should be allowed to be a teacher, whether a homosexual should have equal employment opportunities, and how a homosexual should be treated by family members. Li concludes that her findings of a positive (p.48) attitude are very inspiring and portend a future where homosexuals will enjoy improved equal rights and minimal prejudice (see also Z. Pan 2011).

To argue that Chinese society has become as open or more open to homosexuals than American society is certainly wrong and misses several critical changes that have happened in the United States. President Barak Obama has spoken out in favor of gay marriage, and it is now legal in thirty-six states; its status is currently being considered by the Supreme Court. But even before these developments, there was a strong gay political action movement gaining support within the Democratic Party and influencing legislative as well as judicial decisions. Perhaps more significantly, American media have produced sitcoms such as Modern Family, which has done for the gay community what the The Cosby Show did for African Americans; that is, portray them as sympathetic and normal human beings. There is no equivalent phenomenon in China. For instance, when Sex and the City came to China, the dialogue of “I am a lesbian” was translated into “I hate men.” Recent polls in the United States reflect the impact of political actions and media portrayals, showing that a significant majority of Americans are now accepting of homosexuality.

It is true that both Catholic and fundamentalist religious groups condemn homosexuality, but to argue that the absence of these religions in China has made China less homophobic is to ignore the twentieth-century history of China. Although homosexual practices were common among upper-class males in China, the New Culture Movement in the early twentieth century vehemently rejected homosexuality as part of the decadence of traditional Chinese culture. My extensive interviews of local people and my survey of Chinese media make it clear that this point of view continues to be dominant in contemporary China.

Through an analysis of interviews and media coverage, this chapter argues that social attitudes toward homosexuality are not as open and tolerant as previous researchers have claimed. Rather, interviews with civilians and media coverage depict homosexuality as a perversion and abnormality often caused by poor parenting, mistakes in child-rearing techniques, traumatic experiences with the opposite sex, and misidentification of gender roles. The media portrayal not only influences local people’s opinions about homosexuality but also reinforces the borders of mainstream heterosexual culture and perpetuates a heteronormative paradigm in framing homosexuality as distasteful and deviant.

(p.49) Discourse and Representations

Unpacking media representation is vital because the media not only shape social reality (e.g., the cultural meaning of homosexuals) but also are a powerful mechanism through which common stereotypes and understanding of social groups are inscribed and constructed. The power of discourse in knowledge production has been argued by many theorists.

Power, originally theorized by Parsons (1963) as the influence of one person’s actions on another, is expanded on by Foucault in the first volume of his History of Sexuality (1978). Foucault defines power as the will to knowledge produced from multiple discourses. Power is ubiquitous, without which neither history nor culture can be understood. It is initiated and perpetuated by different forms of institutionalized knowledge, discourse, and representation. In his works, Foucault exposes the ways in which subjects are constituted through institutionalized knowledge in clinics, prisons, asylums, and so on, as power. Power is thus an instituted and reproducible relationship of force. Foucault’s close scrutiny of the micro-politics of power relations in different localities, contexts, and social situations leads him to conclude that there is an intimate relation between the systems of knowledge (discourses) and of domination within localized contexts.

As such, Foucault and other French poststructuralists such as Lacan and Derrida articulate that subjects are constructed and constrained by the power of discourse—a “discourse regime” of signification, through the historical process of “reiteration and citation” (Derrida’s term is later used by Butler 1993). According to them, the development of self and self-awareness is both discursively and practically produced and maintained (Bourdieu 1977, 1990).1 Discourse, as Butler notes, has the power to call a subject into being and ascribe identities and characteristics to a subject. In other words, the subject does not come into being until repetitively “being called, named, interpellated, and addressed” (Butler 1993, 225; see also Gupta and Ferguson 1997).2

The repeated naming process in the discourse fixes values to social groups and reifies, materializes, legitimates, and congeals the group as a natural sort of being (Butler 1999). As Stein and Plummer note, “Modern sexuality is a product of modern discourses of sexuality. Knowledge about sexuality … constitutes that sexuality itself” (Stein and Plummer (p.50) 1994, 183). This politics of knowledge production about homosexuals through discourse has been rendered the root of oppression of minority sexualities (Butler 1990; Gamson 1995; Sedgwick 1990; Seidman 1996; Warner 1993; Wilson 2007).

Appadurai contends that our lives “are inextricably linked with representations” (1996, 64). In attributing values and characteristics to certain groups and bodies, representations can be diffused into the social milieu and accepted as reflections of authentic, real people and groups. A symbolic violence can result from the deleterious effect of representations in constituting and imposing a social reality that devalues and demonizes certain social groups. As shown in this chapter, there is a convergence between local people’s attitudes toward homosexuality and the media construction of homosexuals, accentuating the pernicious reach and impact of the latter. In this chapter I unpack such media representations.

High-Risk Group of HIV/AIDS

Although homosexuality was virtually silenced in the public discourse during the Maoist era and the early 1990s, the years since have witnessed an increase in media coverage of homosexuality. China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic has constituted a platform and catalyst for the mediation of knowledge by naming homosexuals as a high-risk group.

At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, homosexuality was portrayed as a corrupt Western import that was alien and foreign to Chinese culture (Jones 1999). Officials insisted that the low figure of only 5 percent of the total reported infections in 1997 and 1998 was due to homosexual transmission indicated that homosexuality was not widely practiced in China (China Ministry of Health and UNAIDS 1997, cited in Jones 1999).

In recent years, HIV/AIDS prevalence has acted as a catalyst for knowledge production within the cultural environment. The growing public discussion about the HIV/AIDS epidemic was seized on to underscore the intrinsic tie between homosexuality and this disease. Homosexuals were depicted as a high-risk group transmitting the HIV/AIDS virus to the “general public” (Bai 2001; Z. Ji 2006; K. Xing 2005; Zhang and Yu 2009). Since 2000, it has been ubiquitously reported that homosexuals belonged to the second highest risk group for HIV/AIDS, after drug users but higher than prostitutes, and had the fastest-growing HIV infection rate (Chai 2005; F. Chen 2008; N. Ji 2011; Z. Ji 2006; Wei 2009; S. Yi 2007; Zhuang 2008).3 (p.51) News articles contended that because the HIV infection rate through male homosexual contact was twenty times higher than through heterosexual contact, it was easier for male homosexuals to get HIV/AIDS (Ru 2001; Yan Wu 2007; K. Xing 2005; Zhang and Yu 2009). It was highlighted that the first AIDS patient in China had many same-sex sexual relationships and that 48 percent of Beijing AIDS patients in 1996 were male homosexuals (K. Xing 2005). Details of the lives of homosexual AIDS patients were also shared in the media (Bing 2006).

Media coverage reflected a shift from a denial of the existence of homosexuality in China to a campaign to demonize homosexuality. News articles highlighted the association between homosexuality and male prostitution, promiscuity, and HIV/AIDS, interpreting HIV/AIDS as rooted in a promiscuous and perilous homosexual desire (Ai 2007; Lao 2007; P. Xia 2008). Many articles portrayed homosexuals as male prostitutes (Shuai 2005; P. Xia 2008); for example, a news report titled “A Scan of Shanghai Homosexuals: The Lives of Three Boy Prostitutes” equated homosexuals with prostitutes (Shuai 2005).

Homosexuals were thus portrayed as promiscuous, and this promiscuity—​particularly, illicit homosexual behavior in prostitution—​was viewed as the connecting link with HIV/AIDS. Homosexuality was linked not only with the promiscuity of prostitution but also with extramarital sex, rape, incest, and sex abuse as crucial factors leading to transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (Jiu 2008). In turn, it was reported that promiscuity led to violent and harsh sex that could destroy membranes and cause abrasions, torn issues, and bleeding (W. You 2012). Because few people belonged to this “pervert group,” as noted by media articles, HIV/AIDS was transmitted faster within this limited circle and infected more people than did heterosexual sex (Fi 2007; W. You 2012).

Media reports also associated homosexuality with multiple, indiscriminate sexual partners, one-night stands, higher sexual frequency, and orgies, thus making homosexuality synonymous with both immorality and HIV/AIDS (Ai 2007; Bai 2001; Fi 2007; Z. Ji 2006; D. Nan 2011; K. Xing 2005; M. You 2005).4 One media report publicized a study in a college that showed 90 percent of male homosexuals engaged in one-night stands (Fi 2007). Other media reports noted that homosexuals were satisfied with sex with strangers in unsafe, filthy environments (X. Wang 2006; Zhang and Yu 2009). Because these journalists also reported that most Chinese (p.52) homosexuals married, the implication was that their promiscuous behaviors could transmit the virus to their wives (Shi 2007; X. Wang 2006). This led some commentators to characterize homosexuals as lustful, immoral, and perverse as opposed to heterosexuals who were portrayed as pure, moral, and responsible (Bai 2001; Z. Ji 2006; K. Xing 2005).

AIDS was appropriated as a proof of the danger of homosexuality. The media construction centered on the causality between sexual promiscuity and disease, thus making promiscuity the defining property of homosexuality. Headlines and news stories dramatized the dangers of casual sex among homosexuals and the existence of homosexual AIDS patients, rendering homosexuals a public health threat (Bing 2006).

Deviant Behavior

I interviewed sixty randomly selected, self-identified straight people from all walks of life in Dalian whom I met via different venues through informants and friends during my fieldwork. They included taxi drivers, businesspeople, office and business employees, hotel workers, college professors, and government officials. My interviews showed that the most common perception was that homosexuals were deviant; their deviance was believed to be caused by pressures in life, influences of the West, or negative experiences with women. In each interview, words such as “sick,” “disgusting,” “sickening,” “abnormal,” “freak,” and “not moral” were invariably invoked by interviewees in discussions about homosexuals.

One local man in his forties said, “They are sick. I am extremely disgusted by homosexuals. They make me want to vomit. How do they even do it? I think they masturbate for each other? That sounds really dull and no fun at all.” When I asked an interviewee if he was accepting of homosexuals, he answered, “Accepting them? Are you kidding me? They make me vomit the food that I ate ten years ago! Disgusting! Terrifying! Sickening! How do they even do it? I can’t understand.” Others made comments such as the following: “They are abnormal freaks (ji xing) and not moral. I feel extremely disgusted by them. If they were my friends or part of my family, I would not accept them.” “Our ancestors told us that males should repel males and males and females should attract each other. Homosexuals run against this ancient truth. They are disgusting, stupid, and have psychological problems. Women are so pretty and beautiful—​why (p.53) are they not interested in them? How can they like men? How do they even have sex? These people are abnormal! People these years are turning crazy.”

One interviewee said that he had been chatting online with a male friend for a while but did not know he was a homosexual until he disclosed his sexual identity. He said, “Hearing that he was a homosexual, I terminated the chat immediately. I was so terrified that every hair on my head stood up straight because of the fear. I got rid of him as a friend after that.”

One female interviewee who practiced Buddhism and Taoism categorized homosexuality as one of the fifty-one evils (mo) that stem from a person’s corrupt, insidious heart and lead one to be possessed by the devil (xinshu buzheng, zouhuo rumo). According to her, to counteract evil forces in the universe, you needed an upright and righteous spirit or a strong physical body so that evil forces would not be able to affect you. A strong physical body could house the spirit securely so that the spirit was safe and would not be disrupted by the evil forces. The ideal state of harmony between the body and soul would guard against the infringing evil forces.

My interview results dovetailed with the harsh online comments found attached to articles about homosexuality (S. Bao 2008; M. Da 2008; C. Qiao 2005; Tang 2007).5 For instance, one comment read, “Homosexuals are worse than pigs and dogs! Even pigs and dogs distinguish females from males when mating. We despise mentally perverted people” (Junyong Wang 2008). “A normal man should kick a homosexual couple in the park into the lake and a homosexual couple in the bus off the bus. … Those who have money can solve the problem with transgendered surgeries and those who do not have money can find a place to castrate themselves with a knife. Those who have neither money nor courage should find a tree and hang themselves so that they can be reincarnated as a real man” (S. Bao 2008). “We should castrate these people first and then insert a 40-mm steel club into their rectum, and then transport these perverts to Tibet to build railroads” (M. Yi 2008). Health-related websites also published articles labeling homosexuality as a crime against humanity and calling homosexuals “disgusting, shameless, filthy perverts” (S. Bao 2008; Shi Bo 2012; Si Bo 2012; M. Da 2008; D. Qiao 2005; Tang 2007).

Not surprisingly, such depictions of homosexuals sparked discrimination. A news story told of a mother who brought her twenty-year-old homosexual son to see Professor Zhang, who was identified as a national (p.54) expert on homosexuality. The mother said to Zhang, “Had I known that (he would grow up to be a homosexual), I would have strangled him to death upon his birth” (Chai 2005). Media reports also related stories of doctors refusing to provide medical care to HIV-positive homosexuals (Chai 2005).6

These negative depictions also aligned with the opinions of many Chinese psychiatrists in spite of the official recognition of homosexuality (H. Wu 2011). In the 1997 and 1998 debate about whether homosexuality should be removed from psychiatry as a perversion, Shanghai psychiatrist Jia Yicheng published a number of articles arguing that a population of less than 5 percent should be considered abnormal from a statistical point of view and that homosexuality could lead to “spiritual pollution, moral degradation, promiscuity, crime, destruction of family happiness, and suffering of family members, as well as transmission of HIV and STDs” (Jia 1997). In 2001, after the removal of homosexuality from the category of mental illness, a reporter interviewed the vice president of the Psychiatry Council, Chen Yanfang, who was responsible for stipulating the diagnosis criteria and categories of mental illness (Honggu Li 2001). When the reporter asked if homosexuals were normal because homosexuality was no longer considered a mental illness, Chen responded, “No, you cannot use this logic. A negative statement is not equivalent with a positive statement. To say that they are normal has to be proven. People with mental illness are insane, but homosexuals are not insane” (fengzi) (Honggu Li 2001). Chen continued, “These people suffer a sexual impediment and require medical help because their sexual orientation is unique. Under this circumstance, we cannot assume that they are normal people. For us who are normal, is there any need to diagnose impediments?”

This viewpoint seemed to be representative of experts’ points of view as portrayed in media articles. For instance, a woman sought advice from a psychiatrist about her homosexual husband (D. He 2012). The psychiatrist responded that homosexuality should never be supported as normal because it negatively affected psychological and physical health. According to the psychiatrist, no matter how progressive a society was, homosexuality would never be considered normal because it was against evolution. Although the Chinese Psychiatric Council declared that homosexuality is not a pathology, psychiatrists continued to see it as a moral deviation and an impediment to a healthy society.

(p.55) A critical question for society is whether or not the individual has made a moral choice to be homosexual or is genetically predisposed to homosexuality. The Chinese Psychiatric Council simply ignored this question, which is, after all, central to the moral issues it has raised. To hold a person morally accountable, we must assume he is making a free choice. If he is born with a homosexual proclivity, he cannot be held responsible because he clearly is not making a free choice.

Homosexuality was labeled a “disease of sexual perversion” to be cured or corrected, as suggested by this article title, “What to Do If a Child Gets Homosexuality” (W. You 2012; see also Jian 2009). In general, homosexuals were called “patients” in the media (Wei 2009). According to many counselors, sexual orientation was a choice; to deem homosexuality genetic and for an individual to claim that he was unable to change was to avoid his personal responsibilities (G. Huang 2006; Z. Zhong 2006). Using terms such as “mistaken love” (cuowei de ai) or “impediment in sexual orientation,” it was reported that the passive role in male homosexuality and the active role in female homosexuality were the real signs of perversion, caused by parents’ misguidance, because the concept of yin and yang in Chinese culture insists that the yang (male) should be aggressive and the yin (female) should be passive (Pin 2004; Ru 2001; M. Yi 2009; W. You 2012). Doctors and psychiatrists claimed it difficult to correct and cure this kind of patient (Pin 2004; Ru 2001), yet these patients were urged to seek psychiatric help and undergo corrective treatments such as repulsion therapy and “early prevention in childhood” (Bai 2001; Xinyue Li 2009; Liu and Lu 2005; Ony 2007; H. Wu 2011; M. Yi 2009).7

At times, marriage was recommended as the “the best curing method,” with doctors stating that “after you have a normal heterosexual life, your problems will disappear naturally” (Qi 2001, 2). For instance, a college student sent a letter to the Chinese Health Magazine requesting help (Qi 2001). He wrote that he was brought up by his sister because his parents were too busy working. His behaviors and mannerisms were affected by his sister, and he took on women’s characteristics and became weak and effeminate. When he was eleven years old, he was sexually assaulted by a twenty-year-old man and later realized that had an interest in men’s bodies. He wanted to stop having those desires. In the response letter, the counselor/psychiatrist stated that this story recorded the development of his psychological perversion. The counselor advised the student that, to (p.56) have manly behaviors and take on a man’s role, the most important thing for him to do was to marry a woman: “If you don’t marry, you cannot experience your manly spirit. Once you experience it, you will have a man’s courage. You can use this experience to be transformed into a normal person. Marriage is the best cure. After you have a normal heterosexual life, your problems will disappear naturally. Behaviors and psychology are learned and you need to start solving your marriage issue first” (Qi 2001, 5).

In contrast, the active role in male homosexuality and the passive role in female homosexuality were deemed “easy to cure” or “heal without treatment” through education or marriage because these homosexual activities stemmed from temporarily unfulfilled sexual desires (Bai 2001; D. Liu 2005; Pin 2004; W. You 2012).

Counselors and psychiatrists were cited throughout the media proposing methods to correct homosexuality. An article titled “How to Correct Youth Homosexuality” defined youth as a messy period and the process of correcting mistaken sexual orientation as going “from disorder to order” (S. Xi 2012). It recommended four steps: overcoming inferiority complexes, interacting with the opposite sex, learning about gender differences, and understanding that homosexuality could be corrected if there was a will on the part of the subject to overcome it (S. Xi 2012; see also D. Nan 2011). Boys were encouraged to overcome fear and hesitation and “feel a man’s pride and prowess” (S. Xi 2012). One sign of success was a boy’s active interaction with girls. In addition, the article put forward the following questions for the youth to consider: What is the difference between a man and a woman? What are the social demands and requests of gender behaviors? How do you happily accept your own gender? The youth were encouraged to observe people, discuss the topic with friends and classmates, consult with adults, or find answers in literary works (S. Xi 2012).

The media put forth the reassuring message to youth that the “homosexual proclivity” could be corrected easily (S. Xi 2012). As noted by the psychiatrists, the reason why boys loved muscular men was because boys lacked masculinity and suffered “an impediment toward gender recognition” by believing that it was better to be a female. This impediment was explained as an expression of psychological immaturity. Boys were advised to exert efforts to improve the self and become mature, a stage when homosexuality would be corrected (Ony 2007; S. Xi 2012). A counselor in Jilin noted that setbacks in love made college students unable to form correct gender recognition, suffer distorted mentality, and exhibit unhealthy (p.57) homosexual tendencies (Ony 2007). According to counselor Li Min, college students were not mature enough to tell right from wrong, and hence it was imperative to offer them education and treatment. Students with “abnormal sexual orientation” were encouraged to recognize their problem and get treatment from college counselors and psychiatrists in the community (Ony 2007).

Hospital websites also published articles that appealed to homosexual people “to bravely treat their disease to safeguard the happiness of their family” (Ning 2010). For instance, the Ningbo hospital publicized an article that called on homosexuals to use a wide array of imported cutting-edge technology to “cure their disease.”8

These depictions of homosexuals had two interesting implications. First, the assertion that homosexuals create chaos and disorder in a society that emphasizes harmony and order suggests the role that the Chinese cultural inclination for harmony plays in determining the way homosexuality is conceived. Second, even though the psychologists and doctors were trained as scientists, they did nothing more than make simple conjectures about the causation and the harmful effects of homosexuality that fit the cultural pattern in China without any kind of empirical follow-up to test their validity. As a result, these conjectures are clearly little more than a reflection of common prejudices in the society. This is particularly insidious because for ordinary people these speculations both had the power of scientific validity and reflect the lowest common denominator in the society.


Homosexuals were castigated and reviled as borderline criminals associated with a plethora of crimes, including prostitution, murder, rape, child molestation, deliberate transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, abetting others to be homosexuals, and engaging in homosexual activity in public (Lai 2006; Yuan 2007). Following the disorder theme, some social scientists argued that homosexuals tend to feel hatred toward society and employ extreme measures to gain revenge against society for the ostracism they have received (Ony 2007). In a media report, two experts from the Chinese Medicine and Science Council and the Chinese Xiehe Medical University advised homosexuals to control themselves and avoid any defiant behaviors against the law (Bai 2001).

(p.58) Even female homosexuals were considered a threat to society and were often portrayed as sexy, murderous psychopaths in popular murder mysteries (see Y. Zhong 2007). For instance, a media article reported a murder mystery involving a homosexual couple who turned into enemies (Zhuan 2004). In the story, Qian, who was a very attractive woman, broke up with her long-term lesbian partner Lan in search of a man to marry. Furious that Lan deliberately destroyed her relationships with men, Qian invited Lan out one night, clubbed her, and pushed her into a river. This story suggested a connection between murder and homosexuality (Zhuan 2004).

The predator theme in the media associated homosexuality with the rape and molestation of teenage boys. In a news story, Zhi was described as “different from normal people” because he was interested in members of the same sex. He watched homosexual porn at home and afterward looked for opportunities to release his sexual desires and “satisfy his abnormal habit.” He used money to lure two teenage boys to a cave where he raped both of them. Later he invited his homosexual friend to reenact the crime, raping two boys multiple times. Zhi was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and his friend to two and a half years (L. Xuan 2006).

Many media articles associated homosexuality with blackmail. For instance, in one news story, a homosexual man, abandoned by his lover, not only stole his lover’s computer and printer but also blackmailed his lover with a threat to publicly reveal his homosexuality (S. Lan 2006).9 In another article, a homosexual man sued his ex in court for blackmail, asking for compensation for financial losses and spiritual damage (N. Jiang 2003). In a third news story, when a year’s relationship ended with Yong’s breakup with Zeng, Zeng took out a DVD of their love making, which he planned to share online to blackmail Yong for 200,000 yuan (Liao Wang 2009). Yong first decided to commit suicide but eventually reported it to the police and had Zeng arrested (Liao Wang 2009).

As mentioned earlier, the media feature many news stories concerning prostitution and homosexuality. In reports about homosexual prostitution the settings varied from personal residences to homosexual bars, bathhouses, clubs, and websites (Cui and Xiao 2012; W. He 2009; X. Lan 2006; M. Liu 2005; Tian 2009; X. Yan 2009; N. Zheng 2003).10 The following three examples help illustrate the nature of the news reports. In the first story (Tian 2009), two homosexual men rented a place and recruited young men to engage in prostitution. Both were arrested and sentenced to five (p.59) years in prison with a fine of 5,000 yuan for disturbing the social order and destroying social morality (Tian 2009). In a second story (Cui and Xiao 2012), it was reported that the police destroyed an “organized male prostitution gang” at a Nanjing homosexual bar. The boss was a homosexual man who kept a male mistress. He and his wife recruited a large number of young, handsome men to offer sexual services to homosexual customers. The organizers were arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison and a fine of 60,000 yuan (Cui and Xiao 2012). In a third story, it was reported that Hangzhou police stopped group sexual activity involving forty men in a homosexual bathhouse and subsequently closed down this “homosexual prostitution place,” which housed eight good-looking young male prostitutes (Hu 2008). As reported, this homosexuals’ “free heaven” visited by homosexuals twenty-four hours a day was the first and biggest orgy site closed by the police (Hu 2008).

In these crime stories, with the police’s intervention, a healthy, social order was protected from a homosexual threat. Homosexuals were depicted as undesirable, distasteful, and repellent murderers, rapists, prostitutes, predators, recruiters, and sex maniacs—only interested in satisfying their own perverted lust.

Effeminate Images

In my interview with a local man in his forties, he said, “I can spot a homosexual immediately because they look effeminate with an inadequate yang energy force (yang gang qi bu zu, niang niang qiang) and they talk like women.” In Taoist ideology, yang represents the masculine principle, which is defined as being positive, bright, active, dry, and hot. According to Taoist ideology, it is natural for men to be dominated by the yang principle, and it is natural for women to be dominated by the yin principle. In this interview, my respondent perceived homosexuality as violating the natural order of things. He used the term “yang energy force” to refer to masculinity, and the Chinese derogatory category niangniang qiang (literally, “women’s voice”) to refer to effeminate, sissy men (see also Sears 2005a, 2005b). His perception was a representative one in my interviews. Indeed, images of homosexual men are almost always couched in effeminate representations. The popular media are filled with effeminate homosexual men who look more feminine and alluring than real women; they are defined as “fake women” (weiniang).11 Fake women originally (p.60) appeared in Japanese animation and comic games, where male actors displayed feminine beauty and, after the extensive use of makeup, possibly equaled or at times exceeded the beauty of real women (J. Xia 2010).12

This phenomenon of fake women has sparked competing media discourses. On the one hand, commercial interests have appropriated the phenomenon to sell commercial products, thereby driving and reinforcing the trend. On the other hand, indignant discourses abound in the media chastising this phenomenon as an epitome of the loss of Chinese manhood and a threat to the nation-state. Experts, counselors, and educators have called for “saving boys” through revamping the education system and emphasizing gender-difference education in schools and families.

In the 2010 Happy Men’s Singing contest, a TV show similar to American Idol, Liu Zhu, a teenage boy dressed as a woman, participated in the event. Wearing a rainbow blouse and blue skinny jeans, Liu appeared as a beautiful woman. Due to his strikingly feminine voice and his own stylish long hair, Liu’s performance was interrupted three times by the judges who questioned his gender and even threatened him with a strip search. In spite of the setbacks, Liu’s performance of the song he wrote won over the audience and made him famous overnight. Pictures of him as a woman abound in the online media.

Special interest groups immediately took advantage of Liu’s fame and his portrayal as a fake woman to sell their products. Accessories that helped men look like women proliferated in online and brick-and-mortar stores; these products included male bras, male perfume, male skin care products, male makeup, and male wigs. Displaying photos of Liu and of other fake women, advertisements read, “Do you believe that they are men? You can also be this sexy and alluring!” “This is the tribe of Fake Women. We are a supermarket to mold Fake Women!” (P. Liu 2012; J. Xia 2010).

Commercial interests in fake women heightened society’s worries about the loss of manhood and the growth of the homosexual orientation. Through the prism of the burgeoning homosexual bar scene, newspaper reporters went undercover to explore the “secret” homosexual population. In the stories, they portrayed them as fake women wearing outlandish, ostentatious clothes (Ai 2007; Ju 2009; Ony 2007; D. Qiao 2005; Ying 2009).

News reports rendered the stereotypical image of a homosexual man as effeminate, a comic spectacle for the heterosexual audience. For instance, in a visit to a Dalian homosexual bar, a reporter categorized the clients as ecstatic when they were called “sisters” (Ying 2009). The report (p.61) called them “female customers” and depicted them as slender “fake women,” wearing makeup and women’s clothes, speaking in a feminine voice, having undergone cosmetic surgeries, addressing each other as “sisters,” and extolling each other as “beautiful” (Ying 2009). Similarly, another newspaper reporter paid a visit to a “homosexual bar” in Taiyuan city and wrote a piece on Taiyuan homosexual men. The report also described these men as effeminate fake women who either underwent or pursued breast augmentation surgery and “looked more beautiful than ordinary women” (Ai 2007). The report stated that these men appeared as men during the daytime but as women at night: “Meng Meng who had had breast augmentation surgery wore a low-cut dress to show off her cleavage. Xiao Yu was tall, slender, white-skinned, with long and beautiful hair. I would have never believed that he was a man” (Ai 2007, 2). These two reports were representative of a host of others that focused on how these homosexual men used thick facial powder and makeup to make them look like women (D. Qiao 2005).

Media reports not only stereotyped homosexual men’s effeminate appearances but also underscored their feminine personalities. Recalling our earlier analysis of yin and yang, it was reported that homosexual men’s energy level was lower than “ordinary men” and that they rarely liked outdoor activities or bodybuilding, probably because “they tried to protect their skin” (Y. Lan 2008, 3). It was said that they only relished singing songs and playing musical instruments and that they were more emotional than “ordinary men,” yet rarely displayed their true emotions (Y. Lan 2008, 4).13 Like women, they also enjoyed eating snacks. One account was written by a female college student who was dismayed that male students in her college liked to eat snacks. One summer when she was riding the train home, two male students sat across from her, carrying two huge paper bags. They took out a huge amount of snacks from the bags and were eating them for one hour straight without rest. She wrote, “How womanly these male students have become! Men nowadays—why are you all turning into women?” (Sheng 2009). Because of their “feminine traits and personalities,” media reports stated that it was not surprising that their typical work was as hair stylists and makeup specialists (Ju 2009; J. Xia 2010), although many were not able to land a job because of their effeminate personas (Zhuang 2008).14

Demeaning and mocking commentaries about effeminate homosexual men proliferated in the media (S. Bao 2008; M. Da 2008; Y. Lan 2008; D. Qiao 2005). Juxtaposed to “normal men,” homosexual men were (p.62) described as “despicable fake women,” “whining,” and “swinging hips while walking (yiniu yiniu)” (S. Bao 2008). A reporter wrote that he was so petrified that his hair stood up when he saw an effeminate homosexual man dressed up like a woman, raising his pinky finger, and calling another man “husband” with a coquettish voice (M. Da 2008).

Effeminate Homosexuals, Manhood, and the Nation-State

The anti-feminized men discourse suggested a serious crisis of manhood and a crisis of the nation-state. “A China with too many “fake women” is dangerous,” the media bellowed (Yue 2012). Deviation from the heterosexual norm and feminization of men were castigated as symptoms of social degeneration, ultimately becoming a trope denoting a nation-state put in danger by a dysfunctional Chinese manhood. Experts, educators, and counselors argued that the feminization of males in the past had led to the colonial domination of China. “The future of our nation is worrisome with the disappearance of manly heroism and masculine spirit,” as the discourse lamented (Yue 2012). Authors contended that a harmonious nation should have men who behave like men and women who behave like women; otherwise the nation would cease to be harmonious (Limei Zhang 2012). To save the nation, men’s gender-appropriate code of conduct needed to be emphasized and reasserted.

The ideal attributes for men were defined as fearless, heroic, and militaristic—a vital component of the national spirit. In 2010 Yuan Luo, general of the Chinese Military Council, published an article that was posted, cited, and disseminated throughout the Internet (Y. Luo 2010). For China to become the strongest nation in the world, he contended, men’s militaristic, fearless, heroic spirit was imperative. Luo traced the problem back to China’s humiliating past when military backwardness caused China to descend into a semi-colonized nation after losing the opium war and being forced to pay war debts to colonial nations. Military power, according to Luo, reflected national integration and economic power. Now that China’s dream to become a strong nation was finally realized, it had to be supported by a strong military.

The “bad phenomenon” of effeminate men and fake women, according to Luo, was an imminent disaster to the nation-state (guonan lintou), especially when China was still not unified and separatists constituted a (p.63) threat (Y. Luo 2010).15 He lamented that this phenomenon of “yin waxing and yang waning” (ascending female role and descending male role) would destroy national integration and vitality. “A nation that does not valorize heroes will have no heroes” (Y. Luo 2010).

Luo’s indignant diatribe about the phenomenon of feminized men echoed the feelings of many commentators, pundits, politicians, scientists, and military men (Chong 2010). They articulated men’s proper code of conduct: “A man should be like a man. A man needs to be strong and resilient. Men are born to protect and care for women” (S. Bao 2008; Sheng 2009). “The true meaning of masculinity lies in the spirit of exploring nature, challenging physical limits, and having an unyielding will, rather than sissy clothing and outlook” (Yue 2012). Many people formed “antifake-women” groups. A C-block (sissy-block) group appeared at the Happy Men’s Singing contest, waving a flag that read “Protect pure men. Eliminate fake-women folks” (Chong 2010). An online Anti-Fake-Women League under the banner of “Real Chinese Men” was also formed (Chong 2010).16

Invoking the self-strengthening movement at the turn of the twentieth century, the creator of the Anti-Fake-Women League castigated fake women for damaging the image of Chinese men in an article titled “Protect Our Testosterone!” Chong, a young professional, asked, “How do youth without testosterone make the country dominate the earth? When the youth are strong, the country is strong. When the youth dominate the earth, the country dominates the earth” (Chong 2010).

Many people joined him in the league, agreeing with this declaration: “At this juncture of the dearth of pure, real men, a man should live like a man” (Chong 2010). Fake women, according to the league’s members, suffered from psychological perversion and biological regression. Self-defined as “pure men” (chun yemen) and “real men,” members claimed that they loved sports and outdoor activities, did Wushu (kungfu), performed sword play, revered real men such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alain Delon, and worshipped brotherhood and army troops (Chong 2010). Chong himself spent 10,000 yuan on a heavy Tang Dynasty sword, waving it every night and imagining himself as a hero rescuing the good and combating evil. An ex-soldier member went through survival training in the woods with little sustenance for seven days during which time he drank spring water and ate snakes, rats, and birds. Members convened online every night to discuss strategies to fight the phenomenon of fake women (Chong 2010).

(p.64) Effeminate Men, Gender Confusion, and Gender Misrecognition

Criticisms of a profit-making consumer society and of an education system that was believed to perpetuate the phenomenon of effeminate men abounded in the media. Articles proclaimed that companies should stop using fake women in advertising and instead should guide youth toward the “correct gender recognition”; schools and families should also underscore gender differences and enhance boys’ gender-specific education (J. Xia 2010; Limei Zhang 2012).

The consumer society was partially blamed for the loss of manly traits in society as commercial interests appropriated fake women to sell products and increase sales (P. Wang 2012; J. Xia 2010; Limei Zhang 2012).17 For instance, companies hired members of the Wuhan Fake-Women’s League to perform at sales events at the price of 500 yuan for each performer. These fake women provided entertainment and were treated as a comic spectacle, as audiences received pleasure through deriding and taunting them (Limei Zhang 2012).

Yet companies were called upon to exercise their social responsibility for the betterment of youth and to stop the negative influence on them by terminating their use of fake women performers to advertise their products (Limei Zhang 2012). These performances were criticized as misleading youth and affecting boys’ sexual orientation, leading to “gender misrecognition,” which “was not beneficial for their healthy growth” (Lu 2012; see also Limei Zhang 2012). Articles pointed out that the advertisements inverted gender by employing “beautiful boys” to sell products. For instance, the famous female impersonator and Peking opera singer Li Yugang impressed the audience with his effeminate performances and both female-voice and male-voice singing. He was made a star overnight in the CCTV Spring Festival gala show, thereby creating a vogue and example for boys to follow. Commentators pointed out that this kind of entertainment, in which boys were no longer like boys and girls were no longer like girls, affected boys’ values and sexual orientation (Lu 2012). One news editorial asked, “Under the influence of special commercial interests, when real men have disappeared as fake-women, who will assume the roles of father and brother for our kids?” (J. Xia 2010).

Although media portrayals were criticized for their harmful effects, family and schools were identified as the source of gender misrecognition. (p.65) The current education and exam systems, as well as parents’ guidance, were conducive to the phenomenon of effeminate men (Y. Luo 2010; Yue 2012). Sun Yunxiao, editor-in-chief of Youth Studies and board director of the Chinese Family Education Council, published a book entitled Saving Boys (Y. Sun 2009). Sun believed that the education system that focused on college entrance exams was the most violent killer of manhood. He stated that boys’ testosterone level was fifteen times higher than girls, which determined the difference between boys and girls on birth and led to boys’ sports-oriented, adventurous, and competitive traits. He argued that because schools planned no outside activities, provided no sports equipment, and prohibited students from running between classrooms, boys, whose biology required extracurricular activities, believed that schools were set up against them. Schools did not recognize boys’ natural advantages in sports and visual and spatial competence. Girls, he stated, could sit still, but boys tended to jump around, which was incompatible with the school system and led to boys’ lower grades than girls. The educational model that lacked recess and enslaved students with books repressed boys, and the lack of positive feedback in schools also damaged boys severely.18

Sun’s criticism of the education system reverberated throughout the media. Many agreed that the stringent education system rewarded obedience and docility as the only criteria for a good student, thus robbing children of ingenuity and creativity, extinguishing their personalities, and turning them into domesticated cats (Lu 2012; Yifei Mu 2012; Yue 2012). Authors also affirmed Sun’s argument that a lack of outdoor activities and the enclosed school-home environment hindered the development of masculinity (Lu 2012; Yifei Mu 2012).

The education system was berated for generating a “yin waxing and yang waning” phenomenon. Because girls were more meticulous than boys and had better self-control and better memorizing skills, their grades tended to be higher than boys and allowed them to enter better schools, putting boys at a disadvantage (Lu 2012). In one junior high school, only three of the twenty-six leaders were male (Yifei Mu 2012). Women also eclipsed men in professional performance and exam grades for government work (Yifei Mu 2012). Science majors in universities used to be dominated by males but were now equally divided between males and females; equal admission of women into medical schools also ended the era of male domination (Yifei Mu 2012).

(p.66) Others such as Shao Yiming, committee member of the Chinese Political Association, also pointed out that the ratio of male to female teachers resembled an inverted pyramid. Almost no male teachers could be found in nursery schools, and very few taught in elementary schools (D. Gu 2012). Shao concluded that the lack of contact with male models led to the lack of “manhood education.” Having almost exclusively female teachers bred delicate boys who lacked manhood (D. Gu 2012; Lu 2012; Yifei Mu 2012).19

The family was identified as the other source of mistaken gender (Lu 2012; D. Xu 2005).20 Parents were blamed for their many failings. They were castigated for making too much demands on boys to study and for fostering an “excessive timid and weak” personality in boys (Yue 2012). They were also chastised for doting on only children and for prohibiting boys from climbing trees, climbing mountains, or playing in water, thereby preventing boys from being independent, adventurous, and taking challenges, and robbing them of strong wills and sharp edges (D. Gu 2012; Yifei Mu 2012).21 Boys were described as “little emperors,” enjoying the love and care of both parents and four grandparents (Lu 2012). They were also depicted as seedlings in a greenhouse that could not withstand any wind or sunshine: In an enclosed environment, it was natural for boys to “degrade” into fake women (Lu 2012; Yifei Mu 2012).

Fathers were specifically blamed for failing in their role (Y. Sun 2009). In his book Saving Boys, Sun identified the father as the key to nurturing manhood in his son. When fathers were busy advancing their careers, they deprived the boys of an opportunity to learn to be a man.22 Hence Sun argued that the lack of the father’s role led to the lack of manhood in boys.

In turn, mothers were criticized for being domineering in families. Authors pointed out that in too many families, mothers were dominant and fathers were submissive like lambs (Lu 2012; S. Xi 2012). Domineering mothers affected sons in a negative way (Lu 2012). Sun’s book intimated that mothers should safeguard fathers’ images in front of boys, which would stimulate boys’ yearning to assume a man’s role (Y. Sun 2009). One media story described Luo Ming, who grew up in a family where the father was weak and the mother was strong and dominant; he later discovered that he was a homosexual and exerted all efforts to change it (Z. Zhong 2006). In another media story, a man was brought up by a timid father and a fierce and violent mother who often beat him, and he later became a homosexual because he did not like his mother or any other women (p.67) (D. He 2012).23 A psychologist provided commentary to this story that underscored the overwhelming role parents play in inducing children’s “mistaken sexual orientation” toward homosexuality. According to the psychologist, in normal situations, daughters are closer to their fathers and sons to their mothers. A disruption of this normal situation by a bullying mother and a weak father and child abuse by the opposite-sex parent could cause boys to feel fearful of women and be embarrassed by their father’s humiliation and, consequently, develop a “mistaken sexual orientation” (D. He 2012).24

Many online websites on homosexuality cited sociologist Li Yinhe’s analysis of the relationship between gender misrecognition and child rearing. In her book on Chinese homosexuality (Li and Wang 1992), Li argues that her research demonstrated that the lack of their fathers’ love and participation in child rearing is the underlying cause of homosexuality. Li also notes that boys who look effeminate are likely to be homosexuals. The causation process is as follows. First, the missing father leads to the son’s attachment to the mother and distance from the father. As a result, the son self-recognizes as a female rather than a male, exhibiting timid and submissive sensibilities and displaying female postures, female mannerisms, and a female disposition. In addition, his mother worship either causes an inability to feel attracted to any woman, who is seen as far inferior to his mother or makes him revere all women as holy, inaccessible mothers.25 Second, parents who raise their boys as girls, requiring them to wear girls’ clothes and teaching them female-specific work such as knitting and embroidery, are also an issue. Third, effeminate looks and a weak physique make some boys want to play with girls and miss their male-role education. Because of their lack of courage and decisiveness, these boys seek protection from strong men and attachment to strong lovers.26 Fourth, abuse by women in childhood leads to their disgust toward women (Li and Wang 1992).

In consonance with Li’s theory, “abnormal gender misrecognition” as a result of poor parenting was repeatedly reported as the predominant reason for homosexuality throughout the media (Lun 2005; Pin 2004; H. You 2005; Z. Zhong 2006).27 Gender misrecognition was also recognized to be a two-way street. In a media story, a college sophomore in physical education stated that she had been raised as a boy by her parents (Wo 2006). At the age of six, she learned to play basketball and spent her time playing with boys. In college, she had a girlfriend. A psychiatrist in (p.68) Changchun Sunshine Psychiatric Center offered commentary on this story, attributing the student’s failure to recognize her own gender and her homosexuality to her parents (Wo 2006).28

There seem to be considerable inconsistencies in the examples given by media stories. Although the prevailing narrative seems to be that dominant mothers create homosexual boys, it is also possible to find stories in which the opposite is the case. For example, in another media story, a homosexual man, Lu Tu, came out to a news agency and asked that his story be reported. In the published news report, a section on causation had the headline, “These environments easily brew homosexuality,” under which were listed parents’ divorce, boys living with the father or girls living with the mother, and so on (Qi 2001; M. Yi 2001; Zhuang 2008).29 Parents were urged to visit a counselor’s website and consult with the counselor (Zhuang 2008). Dr. Kong Fanyu, a counselor for the Nanguan Counselor’s Center, was cited as an expert who stated that gender-role education provided by the parents from the age of two to six was imperative. He noted that the problem of homosexuality was difficult to resolve, but that through counseling, he had discovered that many homosexuals became so because of their parents (Zhuang 2008).30

Allowing homosexuals to become parents was deemed extremely detrimental to children’s growth and therefore was to be rejected (Shen 2007); these homosexual parents’ distorted value system would be the root cause of their children’s crimes and social chaos. The children of homosexuals would suffer serious damage both physically and psychologically and would themselves become homosexuals (Shen 2007).31 Because homosexuality was not normal from the perspective of human reproduction and social development, Shen’s article recommended that the marriage law should stipulate the prevention of homosexuality and that homosexuals who are willing to seek treatment should receive a discounted price from the Hygienic Development (the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health). Schools, army, and other social institutions were also advised to establish approaches to prevent homosexuality (Shen 2007). In the news report described earlier about Lu Tu who came out to a newspaper agency, Lu expressed his trepidation that his child would also be a homosexual (Zhuang 2008).32

Psychiatrists in counseling centers advised parents to prevent homosexuality beginning in early childhood (Si Bo 2012). The most crucial time (p.69) for intervention was between the ages of one and three, and certainly before the age of twelve. Parents were urged to look for preliminary “symptoms” to “diagnose” whether their children had developed a “gender recognition impediment.” These “symptoms” in children were deemed discernible between the ages of two and four. They included the child wishing to become the other gender, wanting to wear the opposite gender’s clothes, imagining the self as a different gender, aspiring to participate in the opposite sex’s entertainment or games, and yearning to become playing partners with the opposite sex. It was noted that boys’ feminine behaviors led to homosexuality when they grew up. On discovery of these issues, parents were advised to work together to solve the problems or seek guidance from counseling centers (Si Bo 2012).

Parents’ prohibition of opposite-sex interactions was also blamed for resulting in effeminate boys and homosexual relationships. Media reports were filled with panicking parents who feared their kids’ homosexual inclinations (H. Pan 2009; X. Zi 2010; Zuo 2006). According to counselors and health educators, the prohibition of heterosexual contact at an early age made kids fear the opposite sex. Parents’ rejection of early heterosexual relationships caused children to seek intimacy and emotional needs through homosexual relationships (X. Du 2007; Lin 2012; H. Pan 2009; X. Zi 2010; Zuo 2006).33 Early heterosexual dating was believed to encourage independence and adaptability to social situations (X. Zi 2010). This led parents to encourage kids to become involved with the opposite sex at an early age (X. Du 2007; Lin 2012).

In one rare instance, when a mother actually supported her son’s homosexuality in public, online posts responded quickly with condemnation (M. Yi 2008). The case of this mother was unusual in that she had displayed a nude portrait of herself, hanging on the wall of her bedroom, which the TV report emphasized; online posts immediately latched onto the hanging of that portrait as the cause of the child’s homosexuality. The bizarre nature of this situation made the mother an easy target; she was labeled as “disgusting, perverted trash” (M. Yi 2008). Although the intense criticism of this mother does not have the analytical quality of the previous criticisms mentioned, what ties it to the theme is the failure of the mother to accept social norms and thereby once again introducing social chaos and disorder. Disorder is not only a result of homosexuality but, apparently according to this criticism, also a cause of homosexuality.

(p.70) Solution: Revamping the Education System and Reinforcing Gender-Difference Education

Educators around the country criticized the phenomenon of feminized men and declared that China was facing “a crisis of manhood” and that China was losing a generation of men (D. Gu 2012; Y. Sun 2009). In the 2012 National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, Ronghua Wang, the head of the National People’s Representatives and board director of the Shanghai Education Development Council (the equivalent of a U.S. state school board), called on the nation to pay attention to the “crisis of manhood” and recommended gender-difference education (yinxing shijiao) (D. Gu 2012; Y. Sun 2009).

As educators and the media discourse argued, the education system had to change (Yue 2012). Ronghua Wang contended that the crisis of manhood was inextricably linked to problems in the education system: The exam system and evaluation standards failed to build on boys’ advantages and led to their setbacks in study. He argued that gender-difference education should be carried out nationally and men’s junior high schools should be established to provide boys with multidimensional educational choices (L. Zheng 2012). The lack of coherence in the strategies to fight the feminization of boys is made clear in the recommendation to create men’s junior high schools in which boys would be separated from girls during the critical period of their development. As we saw earlier, encouraging heterosexual dating was seen as one solution to stopping the growth of male homosexuality in China.

The new men’s junior high schools would reverse what was perceived as a trend toward the feminization of Chinese men. First, national educators and leaders, following the lead of General Yuan at the Chinese Military Council, argued that a militaristic, patriotic, heroic, and fearless spirit training should be incorporated in the national education system (Lu 2012; Y. Luo 2010; Yue 2012).34

Second, gender-difference education was underscored as urgent and pressing (Y. Sun 2009). In his book Saving Boys, Sun argued that it could combat the phenomenon of feminized boys and gender ambiguity, thereby creating a new generation of real men.

In addition, boys and girls should be placed in segregated classes, and the education system should apply different evaluation standards to each (p.71) gender. Evaluation of boys should emphasize their sporting and adventurous nature, whereas evaluation of girls should be based on their superior memory and language skills. Because playing sports was in boys’ nature, Sun argued, a sports-oriented education would sharpen boys’ will and increase their ability to withstand setbacks.

Third, parents, especially fathers, were called on to assume the prominent role in educating boys (Y. Sun 2009). They should encourage boys to accept challenges in life, provide boys with personality training, and inculcate in boys the meaning of manhood (D. Gu 2012; P. Wang 2012; L. Zheng 2012).35

Following national educators’ call to battle the phenomenon of feminized men, some schools have already started to change. For instance, in Zhengzhou City, the Eighteenth Junior High School has stipulated twenty-eight evaluation standards for boys and twenty evaluation standards for girls, requiring boys to be masculine and girls to be demure (D. Gu 2012).36

In Shanghai, East China Normal University signed a contract with Huangpu District Government to turn Shanghai’s Eighth Junior High School into a men’s junior high school (Yifei Mu 2012; L. Zheng 2012). The headmaster Lu Qisheng stated that the primary purpose of establishing the men’s junior high school is to combat “the crisis of manhood” and solve the problem of “yin waxing and yang waning” (Yifei Mu 2012; see D. Gu 2012). It will instill in boys a sense of manhood and terminate the phenomenon of feminized men.

In this men’s junior high school, as reported, boys’ needs would no longer be ignored, nor would their advantages be undercut as in coed schools (L. Zheng 2012). As noted by the headmaster, this school would tap into experts’ resources and employ a model of boy’s education to mold boys’ personalities and advance their latent talents. This personality education was designed to take advantage of boys’ perceived logical superiority and to target their disadvantages of weak will and poor planning. The “masculine” curriculum would include boxing, Chinese chess, and male music bands. The faculty, as noted by the headmaster, would continuously adjust and perfect its teaching techniques to increase boys’ self-confidence and make up for their disadvantages (L. Zheng 2012). On March 30, 2012, the Shanghai Education Development Council authorized Shanghai’s Eighth Junior High School to establish trial classes of a men’s junior high school (C. Ji 2012).

(p.72) Although the Shanghai Huangpu government, the Education Bureau, and East China Normal University supported the establishment of this school and believed that this environment would benefit boys and ensure their growth as real men, some expressed worries that a few qualified, real men trained by the men’s junior high schools would not be enough to change the entire society’s problem of feminized men (Yifei Mu 2012; L. Zheng 2012). To completely eliminate the problem of gender misrecognition, authors argued that both schools and parents, especially the fathers, should indoctrinate boys with male gender roles and girls with female gender roles (Limei Zhang 2012).


Media discourse about homosexuality in postsocialist China is responsive to the broad cultural changes produced by market reforms—reflecting the anxieties about gender, social security, and the nation-state. In this chapter, I argue that underpinning the discursive depiction of homosexuals as deviant, effeminate, criminal, gender confused, and HIV positive is the need to ensure the heterosexual matrix, safeguard the immutability of gender roles, build the prestige of medical professionals, and strengthen the nation-state.

Indeed, as we have seen, homosexuality has become a scapegoat on which anxiety over current social problems such as dissolved marriages and the AIDS epidemic is displaced. Although a dissolved family is pinpointed as one of the key factors that can lead to a child’s homosexuality (X. Zi 2010), the media portray homosexuality not only as a public menace and a threat to the family but also as a metaphor for passive masculinity and national crisis. Homosexuality is considered a peril to the security of the nation because it reflects powerlessness, inferiority, feminized passivity, and social deterioration, reminiscent of the colonial past when China was defeated by the colonizing West and plagued by its image as the Sick Man of East Asia. Reviving and strengthening the nation require building a strong manhood and sharpening proper male gender roles.

Distinctive gender roles, considered crucial in safeguarding the security of the nation, are supported and controlled through media discourse. Indeed, sexuality is appropriated to control gender in the same way that gender is used to control sexuality. Although homosexuality is pathologized, the central concern of media discourse is gender behavior, rather (p.73) than sexual behavior. As illustrated, media articles focus on homosexuals’ deviant or mistaken gender behaviors and lack of understanding of gender distinction. The characteristics ascribed to homosexual men—​ being effeminate, passive, and weak—​are considered deviant. Their mistaken gender identities and misrecognition of gender are depicted not only as creating a crisis of manhood in the nation but also as an indicator of poor parenting and a problematic education system. As shown in this chapter, educators, psychiatrists, and psychologists have proscribed myriad preventive strategies involving parenting and the education system to strengthen socialization and education of proper gender roles and combat “the crisis of manhood.” As such, gender deviance is governed and controlled to prevent and control sexual deviance.

In exploring the root cause of homosexuality and methods to avoid homosexuality, the scientific expertise of doctors is sought. Media articles tend to end with a doctor’s comments and appraisals, thereby emphasizing the authority of doctors. The kind of power and authority that media bestow on doctors’ “scientific” narratives exerts far-reaching impact in the social milieu. This resonates with Foucault’s (1978) theorization of governance operated through professional discourse by experts and scientists.

The attitudes of medical professionals, as this chapter illustrates, reflect the social mores of postsocialist China. The rising middle-class medical professionals in contemporary China subscribe to the mainstream sexual morality and advocate cures and prevention of homosexuality. In an effort to advance their profession and procure influence, medical professionals have a vested interest in producing narratives that do not counter cultural norms. Producing such narratives will not only ensure their prestige and influence but will also draw more income to their profession, as parents and homosexuals continuously pay fees to seek their professional advice.

It is the application of the scientific method that is the basis of medical professionalism, and yet ironically that is exactly what is missing in their analysis. Rather than making a hypothesis and empirically testing it, the medical professionals simply have made a hypothesis based on common cultural biases. In fact, the conclusion they draw seems very much at odds with Western studies about homosexuality that are empirically based. Although not absolutely conclusive, evidence at this point seems to suggest that homosexuality is not caused through socialization, but is something with which people are born.

(p.74) The question arises as to why this masculine narrative is so popular in China. To understand why, we have to look again at Chinese history. In traditional China, a self-contained culture that paid little attention to outside opinion, there was a masculine ideal that gave prestige to those who were not particularly physically robust. The mandarins who represented the highest social ideal in China were people who worked with their minds rather than their bodies. The symbols showing that they worked with their minds were their long robes, which today we would consider feminine clothing, and their practice of allowing their fingernails to grow into extraordinary lengths of six inches or more, making their hands unfit for physical labor. These were powerful status symbols that rejected physical activity as a defining factor of masculinity. When China finally succumbed in the twentieth century to Western aggression after stubbornly clinging to this traditional culture, it rejected its traditional culture in favor of what was called a New Culture Movement. This movement accepted Western culture and, with it, Western definitions of masculinity as sexually potent and aggressive. Implied in this acceptance were great shame about China’s past and a belief that the traditional male’s feminine nature was the cause of China’s troubles in the twentieth century. In spite of Mao’s rejection of the Four Olds—his attack on traditional Chinese culture—in many ways, Mao represented a return to traditional China. Mao represented himself as an all-knowing emperor whose wisdom brooked no challenge and required complete conformity with his values. Mao’s emasculation of men certainly did not follow the traditional lines, but nevertheless was very effective, even while ironically using the Western ideology of Marxism. The rejection of Marxism in 1978 and the affirmation of the need for a new culture and a new economy led, once again, to a rejection of the traditional view of masculinity as emasculated and feminized and an affirmation of a macho, Western-style masculinity in its place. The powerful driving force in the post-Mao reaffirmation of a Western-style masculinity was a new capitalist economy that emphasized a masculine entrepreneurial spirit (T. Zheng 2009a).


(1.) Bourdieu and Margolis have argued that the power to name, to define a social identity and to ascribe characteristics to that identity is a political power. The “rights and needs” of particular individuals are established through the naturalized differences between the identities (cited in Moore 1994).

(2.) Gupta and Ferguson (1997, 13) point out that the subject is not simply affected by changing schemes of categorization and discourses of difference but is actually constituted or interpellated by them.

(3.) It was reported that the transmission rate in Guangzhou was more than 8 percent in 2009 and the national transmission rate was 4.9 percent in 2008 (F. Chen 2008; N. Ji 2011).

(4.) The article pointed out that 60 percent of homosexuals in an investigation did not use condoms during sex (M. You 2005). AIDS experts, as reported, contended that it was extremely difficult to ask homosexuals to have a stable sexual partner or to reduce sexual partners. In addition, highly frequent unprotected oral sex also exposed this group to a high risk of getting HIV.

(5.) It was said that homosexuality epitomized society’s moral degradation because it could lead to tolerance of group sex, incest, human-animal sex, and the extinction of humans (C. Qiao 2005). It was claimed that ancient Rome was destroyed by such moral degradation (C. Qiao 2005). Homosexuality was also described as despicable (S. Bao 2008). In another media article (M. Da 2008), it was said that to a normal Chinese person, homosexuality was a disease: “When they refuse to be cured, they are no different from those who run around soccer playground naked, attached to a tag that reads ‘proclivity to expose sexual organs.’ ”

(6.) A media article related a story that a man from Qingdao was refused medical care by local doctors beause of his homosexual identity. The man said that the doctor cared for many prostitutes and drug users but not him. The doctor said to him, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? What are your kind of people going to do in society?” He knelt down in front of the doctor seeking help, but the doctor refused (Chai 2005).

(7.) The adults were urged to look for the antidote: “What you need to remember is that corrections take a long time. So you must have sufficient psychological preparation and exert continuous efforts” (H. Wu 2011).

(p.201) (8.) It was said that the Doppler machine was imported to help identify the reasons for problems in sexual functioning.

(9.) At a homosexual bar, Zhang befriended a man who arranged for him to work in his company and live in his home. Zhang later on found that he had a new boyfriend, so Zhang quarreled with him. As a result, Zhang was fired and asked to move out. Zhang opened his door with a duplicate key and stole his computer and printer and asked for compensation of 8,000 yuan for a break-up fee.

(10.) One story described a new residential community in Wenzhou in which scores of “mysterious,” well-dressed men entered and exited a suite (X. Lan 2006). The police raided the suite one night and discovered that it was a homosexual club where prostitution took place. Forty members took saunas in the living room and then lay on the sofa resting and watching TV. If they liked other members, they would pay 30–60 yuan and enter a suite. The report cited law professor Zhang Jinsong, who said that homosexual clubs seriously damaged social morality (X. Lan 2006). Another story related a skirmish between a woman and her boyfriend that disclosed the crime of her boyfriend who had paid a male prostitute he met online for sex (M. Liu 2005). In the last story, it was reported that homosexual websites were filled with photos of male prostitutes and sexual transactions they helped to arrange (N. Zheng 2003). Through investigation, the reporter noted that 80 percent of the men in the online chat room were engaging in sexual transactions.

(11.) “Fake women” is a role created by Japanese ACG (animation, comics, and games).

(12.) A Japanese movie, Born for Myself, recounted a story of a man with “a gender impediment” who was in love with his boyfriend and, after painful struggles, decided to go through a transgendered surgery (J. Xia 2010). Chongqing counselor Hu Hui told the reporter that this movie had a negative impact on kids by encouraging transgender identification.

(13.) This article attributes homosexuality to sexual liberation and material desires.

(14.) Lu Tu, the man who came out to reporters at a newspaper agency (Zhuang 2008), pointed out that many homosexual students could not find a job appropriate for them because of their feminine image.

(15.) Luo (2010) defined the future mainstream society as a society with a sound legal system, a masculine and militaristic spirit, and a patriotic and heroic sentiment. Without a strong military, the country can never be a strong nation: “A country is not strong until we retrieve the land neighbor countries have plundered from us.” Luo reminded people that Communist Party founding generals sacrificed their lives for this land and this kind of militaristic spirit should be advocated.

(16.) The report stated that “the initiator was originally silent about the rampant fake-women disaster, but was dismayed at the sight of several fake-women high school students and finally decided to act” (Chong 2010).

(p.202) (17.) Commercial interests were blamed for pushing the disappearance of manly traits. Articles pointed out that many men worked in “women’s professions” such as stylists and makeup specialists. This, according to a Chongqing counselor, provided fecund soil for fake women (J. Xia 2010). Other authors contended that the phenomenon was a result of the profit-driven consumer society where fake women became stars to earn profits (P. Wang 2012).

(18.) Sun Yunxiao (2009) points out that boys’ grades were lower, boys’ advantages were not advanced, and boy’s development was not guided.

(19.) Yifei Mu (2012) states that feminized education starts in nurseries and it is too late to start saving the boys in junior high. The seriously unbalanced gender ratio of teachers facilitates the cultivation of boys who lack manhood.

(20.) Authors claimed that another source was family education (Lu 2012).

(21.) Yifei Mu (2012) points out that parents dote on boys, following them everywhere until they scream in terror at the sight of a roach. These boys, according to the author, can only be tender leaves in green houses and will easily degrade into fake women.

(22.) Sun Yunxiao (2009) points out that boys need the discipline and supervision from fathers to learn how to be a man.

(23.) It was said that he liked to feel protected by other males and did not like females. He was ostracized for acting like a woman (D. He 2012).

(24.) It was noted that a boy would yearn for a masculine man and would therefore assume a female role in a homosexual relationship. Having a weak father leads to the boy’s mistaken gender identification, and the imperfect mother affects the boy’s understanding of the opposite sex: Such setbacks led the boy to pursue same-sex partners (D. He 2012).

(25.) Li and Wang (1992) point out that many homosexual men could get along with older women but are unable to relate to young and beautiful women because they feel in awe of these women.

(26.) Li and Wang (1992) contend that the reason that the youngest son tended to be a homosexual is because he usually did not like boys’ activities that were risky and wild. It is difficult for a loner boy to relate to other boys.

(27.) In a media article (Lun 2005), a female homosexual, because of poor child-rearing experiences, self-identified as a male and was repulsed by her female identity and sexual organs.

(28.) The psychologist categorized her conduct as gender confusion because she felt disgusted by her female gender and female sex organs and emulated male dress codes (Wo 2006).

(29.) It was said that the father or mother’s extramarital affairs would lead to the child’s hatred of women or men (Zhuang 2008). In addition, extramarital affairs, same-sex sexual harassment, extreme curiosity, weak fathers and dominant mothers, and parents’ neglect could also cause the child’s homosexuality.

(p.203) A media story told of a homosexual whose mother died young and he grew up with his father (M. Yi 2001). At the age of thirteen, he was sexually harassed by a grown-up male neighbor. That experience made him not interested in women and only interested in men.

(30.) Dr. Kong noted that many visitors were parents (Zhuang 2008).

(31.) It was noted that children would consider homosexuality normal and therefore join the homosexual group (Shen 2007).

(32.) Lu was married and tried every means to force himself to change, but was not able to do so. Later he divorced. In this report, Lu revealed that after he married and had a child, he was afraid that his child was also a homosexual (Zhuang 2008).

(33.) Haijiao Pan (2009) contends that the lack of resistance to making same-sex friends led children to transplant their emotional needs to same-sex friends and mistake themselves as homosexuals.

(34.) Others argued that adversity education to train boys’ tenacity and perseverance should be instilled in boys too (Lu 2012).

(35.) Commentators also argued that more male teachers should be teaching in nursery schools (D. Gu 2012).

(36.) In China, schools are usually given a number to name them.