What China's Talking About Today: Anniversary of a Gay Icon's Suicide

China remembers Leslie Cheung, an actor and the founding father of Cantopop.

cheung april2 p.jpg

Flowers and photographs left outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong Reuters

One of the founding fathers of the Cantopop -- Cantonese pop music -- Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, leapt from the 24th floor of Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, this week in 2003. Cheung was 46.

Nine years later, micro-bloggers on Sina Weibo are commemorating the death of the gay icon, whose roles in films like Wong Kar-wai's 1997 blockbuster Happy Together helped advance a dialogue on homosexuality in Chinese society.

Discussion of Cheung's death spanned a whopping 5.5 million comments in little over a day.

In a poll asking micro-bloggers to choose their favorite of Cheung's movies, 31 percent of roughly 20,500 voters chose Farewell My Concubine (1993).

The film, directed by auteur Chen Kaige, illustrates the effects of Chinese revolutionary history on a traditional opera troupe. Cheung portrays Cheng Dieyi, an opera singer who interprets the female lead in Chinese operas and falls in love with his heterosexual leading man.

Tormented by the turbulence of 20th century Chinese history and his unrequited love, Cheng Dieyi commits suicide while performing the part of a concubine, who kills herself before Han soldiers enter territory belonging to the king, her lover. The scene is especially chilling, given Cheung's real-life suicide -- which is officially attributed to depression and widely rumored to have resulted from problems with his relationship.

Many Weibo commenters wrote of Cheung's role in changing Chinese perceptions of homosexuality.

"It was Leslie Cheung who helped change my impression of gay people," wrote user Smokerlou.

Homosexuality was removed from the Chinese Health Ministry's list of mental diseases in 2001.

User Vickybaby1 summed up the sentiments of most other comments, saying, "Miss my older brother Cheung, on this 9th anniversary [of his death]."

Presented by

Massoud Hayoun is a digital-news producer for Al Jazeera America.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In