There's actually some public awareness of gay marriage in China. In 2009, the China Daily ran a cover photo of two gay men getting married (symbolically --
gay marriage isn't legal in China) in Tiananmen Square. This actually started a trend where gays and lesbians "married" each other in public in cities
throughout the country, and in general media coverage of these events has been positive.
But generally, China remains a difficult place to be gay. Gay people are stigmatized, and don't come out to their parents unless the parents are very
liberal, and there are few openly gay people outside of China's cities. I do see, though, a gradual shift occurring, as younger Chinese people are more
tolerant of homosexuality.
As for marriage, the sexologist Li Yinhe has attracted a lot of attention for saying gay marriage should be legalized in China where, she points out, there
are likely at least 40 million gay people. Her outspoken advocacy of gay marriage has gotten her into hot water with authorities though. Two years ago, she
put up a famous blog post (translated here by ChinaGeeks) announcing that politicians told her to shut up, that they didn't want to hear about gay
marriage, and to let her know that this topic is taboo. So with this in mind, I think it'll take several generations before something like gay marriage
will be put into action.
What are the origins of homophobia in China?
Gay people in China began to be stigmatized during the Qing Dynasty. One reason was the presence of Christian missionaries in China,
who imported the Western notion that homosexuality was a sin and worth criminalizing. Secondly, after China lost the Opium Wars to Britain, the country
began to wonder how these foreigners could defeat them so easily, and a result began to study Western ideas more carefully -- including texts that
described homosexuality as a deviant behavior.
Under Mao Zedong, gay men were frequently arrested for cavorting with partners in public parks, and they'd be publicly shamed and imprisoned. The
psychology of homosexuality being a sickness and a crime went on for the entire duration of Mao's tenure and most of Deng Xiaoping's time in office, too.
It just isn't something China can shake that easily.
To what degree is homophobia in China influenced by cultural factors?
Well, one reason I'm skeptical of the cultural argument is that in other places with large ethnic Chinese populations, like Singapore and Taiwan, there's
far more tolerance of homosexuality. In fact, when I lived in Taiwan several years ago I witnessed a gay pride parade. Basically, in places like Singapore
and Taiwan people are more willing to come out of the closet than in China. There are still phobias about homosexuality in those places, of course, but
it's just a matter of degree.
Is there much difference between tolerance of homosexuality in China and that of, say, the United States?