Fabien Baussart
Fabien Baussart

China’s LGBTQ students experience crackdown

China’s communist government is coming down heavily on the LGBTQ community, initiating measures to keep them under constant surveillance in a university and instructing broadcasters to stop using “effeminate men” in television programmes in order to promote “revolutionary culture”.

In a country where there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships or marriage, the attempt of the Chinese Communist Party to gain control over the country’s education, culture and entertainment is ending up interfering in people’s private lives.

In the latest crackdown on entertainment programmes on television, the Chinese television regulator is hear saying, “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics”. The insulting slang used for “effeminate men” is “niang pao”, literally, “girlie guns”.

The official concern is that television programmes are not encouraging China’s young men to be masculine enough, instead copying, as some Chinese pop stars do, the sleek, girlish look of some South Korean and Japanese singers and actors.
The Diplomat echoed the concern of the LGBTQ community in China: “There are concerns that the official emphasis on masculinity – as the party defines it – will evolve into a formal crackdown on gay Chinese in the name of protecting China’s youth, similar to campaigns seen in Russia. Already, China has instituted stricter censorship of LGBTQ and related terms on social media. Earlier this summer, social media giant WeChat deleted the official accounts of over a dozen student-run LGBT groups.”
The social media swoop down came as a surprise because in recent times the Chinese government had left the LGBTQ community alone. Apart from denying several rights to them, the government has over time done things like equating homosexuality with violence and obscenity, censoring references on television, and promoting books referring to homosexuality as a mental illness. It was only in 2001 that China removed homosexuality — decriminalized in 1997 — from its official list of mental disorders.
Pride Month — an entire month dedicated to the uplifting of LGBTQ voices, celebration of their culture and the support of LGBTQ rights – was being celebrated in several Chinese cities every year. In fact, the Shanghai Pride Month became a regular event since 2009. Last year, it was suspended on account of Covid-19, but this year it was mostly underground.
CNN quoted an activist as saying: “Every year it becomes more and more challenging. Events are fewer and advocates are finding it more and more difficult to raise acceptance.”

The government appeared to be grudgingly accepting the LGBT people in recent years even though same-sex marriages are still illegal and authorities clamp down on what they call “abnormal sexual behaviors”.

However, with no serious action forthcoming, the community assumed that its members were free to take part in their activities as long as they were away from public glare. But then, the crackdown happened.

In July first week, WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, shut down without notice scores of LGBTQ accounts operated by university students. It came as a shock, because it was the biggest and coordinated censorship targeting the community in several years.

State-owned Global Times claimed there was “no restriction” from the Chinese government on the “lifestyle choices” of sexual minorities, but the world knew better as the closure of accounts was flayed for days. Suddenly aware that the government was serious about shutting down LGBTQ freedom, some in the community appeared disillusioned.

CNN spoke to the manager of one of the deleted groups who said: “Our goal is to simply survive, to continue to be able to serve LGBT students and provide them with warmth. We basically don’t engage in any radical advocating anymore.”

Given that the Chinese authorities have long since attacked “non-socialist” elements, including homosexuality, followed by nationalist trolls insulting LGBTQ activists on social media and other platforms, there appears to be a larger plan afoot.

An indication is the response to an event in China a few weeks ago. Soccer star Li Ying created history when she became the first woman sportsperson to come out openly as gay. She posted a series of photographs on social media, including some with her partner.

The post on Weibo went viral and suddenly without explanation it was deleted. The soccer star has not posted anything ever since. The Chinese state media did not report the incident at all. There is no official reaction till date.

Worse things were in store for the community. The media has reported that Shanghai University, which has three campuses in the Chinese city, is preparing a list of “non-heterosexual” students and those belonging to “LGBTQ rainbow groups”.

SupChina, an American news platform on China affairs, reported in late August: “Although it’s unclear at this point what the university needs the information for or whether the move was ordered by Chinese authorities, a large number of LGBT+ activists and supporters have raised serious concerns online, saying that they fear the school’s LGBT+ community will face unfair discipline and other forms of persecution.”

The issue came to light when a Weibo user posted the information saying “whether the school’s intention was good or not, this is horrendous”. His “post is accompanied by a screenshot of what appears to be a directive handed down by school officials at SHU…Titled “Campus Survey,” the document says that “in accordance with relevant orders,” the university needs all of its schools to “investigate” and “report” information about LGBT+ students”.

The reported document clearly spelt out the details expected about the targeted students: “Details demanded by the university include students’ “ideological positions” — such as descriptions of their political stances, social contacts, and life plans — as well as students’ “psychological condition,” including summaries of their overall health and “mental disorders” if they have any.” The university is yet to confirm or deny the document.

About the Author
Fabien Baussart is the President of CPFA (Center of Political and Foreign Affairs)
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