Sun, Apr 23, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Homosexuality in Chinese history

By David Evseeff

An article by correspondent Emily Rauhala in the Washington Post (“A backlash against same-sex marriage tests Taiwan’s reputation for gay rights,” April 20) caught my attention, as it addressed the ongoing same-sex marriage debate in Taiwan and the counter-push by certain conservative Christian groups in Taiwan against equal marriage rights.

Having lived in Taiwan for five years now and writing my MA thesis on the topic of homoeroticism in traditional Chinese history, culture and literature at National Taiwan University (NTU), I have a few relevant thoughts to add to this discussion, which may provide a more accurate socio-cultural context in which to examine this contentious topic.

The article quotes Minister of Justice Chiu Tai-san (邱太三), who argued that same-sex relationships are a “newly invented phenomenon” unlike “social norms and mechanisms formed by the people of our nation over the past 1,000 years,” and that same-sex marriages would create problems as related to elements of ancestor worship.

Others who oppose same-sex marriage agree, believing that same-sex love and marriage are a Western invention, and not part of traditional Chinese and Taiwanese culture.

Sadly, the opposition could not be more wrong. They are not only on the wrong side of history on this issue, but have a clear lack of understanding of their own “traditional culture” when it comes to same-sex relationships.

The phenomenon of same-sex relationships in Chinese culture and history actually goes back much further than just the “past thousand years,” appearing at least as far back as the Book of Songs (詩經), written between the 11th and the seventh century BC. It is a phenomenon that is pervasive throughout all of the dynastic histories and popular literature.

The tradition of same-sex love, or “homoeroticism” (男色) as it was more commonly known, can be seen in a multitude of deeply revered Chinese literary and historical works, from the Biographies of the Emperors’ Male Favorites (佞幸列傳) in the Records of the Historian (史記) and A New Account of Tales of the World (世說新語) to Cao Xueqin’s (曹雪芹) masterpiece Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢), to name just a few out of many hundreds of well-known examples.

Well-known expressions such as “cut sleeve” (斷袖), “half-eaten peach” (餘桃) and the “passion of Lord Longyang” (龍陽之情) clearly prove that same-sex love and homoeroticism have played an important part in Chinese culture.

In fact, it was with the arrival of the Western missionaries that the acceptance — and celebration — of homoeroticism changed.

Westerners did not, as anti-same-sex marriage campaigners believe, bring the concept of same-sex love to Asia, but rather the opposite: Using a contorted view of Judeo-Christian moral standards, they sought to diminish and erase an illustrious and unique Chinese tradition spanning thousands of years.

There are even stories of actual same-sex marriage in China’s Fujian Province — where most Taiwanese trace back to — as far back as the Ming and Qing Dynasties, such as in the story A male Mencius’s mother raises her son properly by moving house three times (男孟母教合三遷) by the great author Li Yu (李漁).

With such a well-documented tradition, people who oppose same-sex relationships — and marriage — on grounds of “tradition” or “conservative values” clearly lack a well-rounded knowledge of the traditions, customs and culture of which they speak. They might want to consult a copy of my master’s thesis or any number of other well-researched books and academic articles that discuss this topic at much greater length.

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