Homosexuality in China : 余桃断袖

Initially, I’d very much assumed that in China, like many western countries, homosexuality was frowned upon, or seen as sinful and evil, at least until recent years. However much to my surprise, especially so in the earlier generations, homosexuality was seen as a very normal, and regular way of life in China. Homosexuality wasn’t frowned upon in China until the 19th and 20th century through the spread of westernisation and Christian and Islamic beliefs. In time it was banned in the People’s Republic of China, and only 15 years ago in 1997 was the ban lifted and legalised once more.


Homosexuality in China has been documented since ancient times. There have been many documented cases of high authorities and people such as emperor’s having one or more male sex partners, while also maintaining heterosexual relationships. Emperor Ai of the Han Dynasty was one such emperor who was very devoted to his male companion, stated that he “did not care for women”, he even tried to pass on the throne to his lover. Another was General Liang Ji, again of the Han Dynasty, who was happily married, but also owned a slave who was publicly acknowledged as a concubine.

Homosexuality was the norm back in these days, so cases weren’t taken much note of unless there were odd circumstances surrounding them – Emperor Ai was noted as he once cut off his sleeve that his lover was sleeping on as not to wake him, which was then imitated by many people in court leading to the expression “breaking the sleeve”, and expression for homosexuality, which was paired with an early story of an emperor sharing a peach with his lover “the leftover peach” to create “yútáo duànxiù” (余桃断袖), a term for refering to homsexuality in general. General Liang Ji’s case was noted because he was extremely devoted to his wife, and shared his slave with her in a 3-way sexual relationship, rather than having them both only aim to please him. Male prostitutes was also not unheard of, younger or poorer men would provide sexual services to a man in a higher power in return for a political advancement.


Marriage between males also came about in the province of Fujian. The older male would play the masculine role as an “adoptive older brother”, pay a price to the family of the younger man, virgins reportedly fetching higher prices, the younger man would be the “adoptive younger brother”. They would carry out the ceremony much like a regular wedding. The younger male would move in the older’s home and would become completely dependant on him. They would even possibly go on to raise adopted children. Marriages like these would last up to 20 years before they were both expected to marry women and carry on their family name.

There is not much documentation of relations between women in Chinese history, with most of the reason being that the role of women is not given much positive emphasis, and that it can only be assumed to have been a rare occurrence.

China would keep these very open views, and deem homosexuality the norm for years to come, until the west began advancing into their territory. It is highly argued that the influence of the west is the reason that China took on the view of the majority of the rest of the world – that homosexuality was unnatural and wrong.

From the 19th and 20th Century onward, homosexuality was banned up until 1997, however it was only removed from the Ministry of Health’s list of mental illnesses in 2001. Not much was known about the Communist Chinese governments official policies in regards to homosexuality prior to the 1980’s, however many were imprisoned and executed – whether for oppression or sexual identity is unknown but Mao was believed to have supported castration of “sexual deviants”. Even in the 1980’s the Chinese government treated homosexuality as a disease and would subject people to things like electric shock therapy  to change their orientation.


Today, homosexuality in both males and females is becoming much less taboo, or shunned as it was during the 19th and 20th century. It is increasingly becoming more widely accepted among Chinese people, though there are still some limiting factors such as gay movies being banned from being shown on TV or at the cinema. In Chinese countryside it’s still as heavily frowned upon as it was before, what with lack of internet, city lifestyle and breaking out from the traditional norms, homosexuality is, when spoken of, usually considered as a disease.


While widely more tolerated, many individuals are not inclined to “come out” to family or friends – to not marry and have a child is seen as largely disrespectful to their parents. Some also feel that revealing themselves will have an impact on their career. People who have come out to parents, and even those who have not but the parents know, often face the “don’t ask; don’t tell” attitude; if it’s not talked about it won’t/hasn’t happened, they will often bring up marriage and children even if they know their child is gay, which can lead to many cutting of a huge chunk of their life off from their family. Older generations maintain the heterosexual lifestyle and carrying on the family name and heritage, but newer generations are beginning to branch out and embrace themselves rather than cling on to age old ways.

More recently there has been a trend growing in China of gays marrying lesbians to lead the “heterosexual lifestyle” that their parents desire, but while also leading their own lives, rather than past generations of homosexuals who would simply marry and have children, and stay hidden about their sexuality forever. They believe in China that this is a “temporary fix” to deal with social and family pressures, because for some the cost is too high for them to come out.

Homosexuality, until the 19th century really didn’t seem to be any sort of issue in China at all, in all generations past. It’s only since the coming of the west and their religious beliefs, and possibly Mao, has China taken on the same  questionable stance as (most of) the rest of the world. Though with the silenced attitude of many older generations, violence against gays and lesbians isn’t as prominent as it is in countries like the USA. With the way things are now in China, especially so with the current younger generation, it can only be a matter of time before homosexuality is once again, nothing more than normality, and with equality for everyone.

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Because it’s cheap!

I am currently studying jewellery design, but I will not be writing about beaded necklaces that are made for Mardi Gras. Actually, we do not celebrate it in Europe in the same way that it is celebrated in the United States. I am mostly going to express mine and others opinions about daily life and how we deal with jewellery and clothes shops in Dundee, the UK, France, and Europe.

In order to find the opinions of other people, I sent out a questionnaire to teenagers, workmen, students, unemployed, and retired individuals. I tried to ask people from different social classes to find if money made a difference. The questions I asked were simple and were based on questions that I was curious to find the answers to. After the answers I received, I also came up with a few more questions to ask.

The first question I asked was, “When I say ‘Made in China’, what does that mean to you?” The replies I received were very similar, ranging from “huge factories, poor people working, children workers, rapidity, profitability, cheap goods, bad quality”.  Almost everyone thought the same thing, more on a negative side. The question is, “do people continue to buy Chinese items even if they criticize it?” I found that people do still continue to buy items despite what they know.

Even as a jeweller, I admit that I buy cheap jewels that are made in China (Claire’s, Topshop, New Look, Primark). These jewels are the kind that are easily breakable, lost, cheap, and are not important.  I always check the labels of things I buy out of curiosity, including clothes and jewellery. Honestly, I know where and how the stuff I buy are made when it says “Made in China”, but out of habit I still continue to buy it. It seems wrong, especially when I am aware of the bad conditions, pollution, and other factors. Why don’t I change? It is probably because it’s a habit. I’m still a student so I always try to find the cheapest deal when I buy clothes and jewellery. Many people I interviewed do the same. Even though we are aware of what is happening, we live too far from the reality of the other side of the world and are more concerned about the money in our purse.

I’ve asked my friends and myself the reasons as to why we continue to buy cheap things all the time, especially when we don’t need it. Why do we not keep our money in order to buy something of better quality, made in Europe in good working conditions, but more expensive? The response that came up was quantity. Our society is a consumer society. The fashion society will tell you what to wear and say that what you are currently purchasing will be outdated in a few months! We do not want the expensive brand made by a fashion designer. Instead we prefer similar clothing just for the attitude and look. Most people don’t have the money to buy designer brands, unless they are from the upper class! You can just ignore that and try to buy “ethical” clothes and jewellery that was made in better working conditions or go to second hand shops. I try to do that sometimes, but I find that things made in Europe are too expensive to buy all the time or items in second hand shops are not “fashionable”.  I received similar responses from my panel. Some people are not interested in buying second hand clothes, but more to try less but Asian goods.

I’ve asked some people the reasons why they want to stop buying jewellery and good “made in China” and they reply, “ because Made in China items are destroying western jobs, factories, and the economy.” When I ask them about the working conditions, people are aware of how the products are made and feel guilty, but most of them admit that this is not the first thought that came to mind.

A few friends have argued that products “Made in China” are everywhere, so it’s kind of hard to boycott it. We can’t really do that because China has such a large export industry worldwide and it’s probably not a wise thing to do either. Europe is in a huge crisis and people are very aware of their money and how much things cost. We may tend to blame China, but actually they are just making what we want and ask for: cheap, consumable, but a detriment in quality and working conditions.

We tend to blame China for many reasons, but goods produced from other Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, South America and Turkey are all made in poor working conditions. The quality for products from these countries is similar to Chinese goods and pollution from clothing factories is quite harmful. A large number of jeans are made in Turkey and sadly workers in textile factories have serious health injuries. The public tends to turn a blind eye towards these issues. Why do we only really focus on what happens in China? I asked this question to my panel and gave them information about jean factories in Turkey as a comparison. Some people came up with interesting responses. They said that China is one of the most powerful countries in the world, western people and westerns factories are possibly afraid of that. They try to make China the black sheep because they were able to increase their economy so quickly. Chinese made goods quickly and at an affordable price in large quantity, due to the large numbers of workers they have! Westerns try to use the guilt factor with consumers in order to keep their economy alive.

Chinese Web Design

When you think of Chinese design you think of ancient practices and styles that have been around for centuries, but China has evolved and is still evolving along with the rest of the world, and design for digital media is now an important outlet. It’s a fair statement to say that although the Chinese are masters in many areas, innovation in digital and interaction design is not currently one of them. In this respect they are followers and not leaders, at the moment anyway. There is a very stereotypical view that Chinese children are pushed by their parents to succeed strongly in academia, and not really encouraged in creative subjects, but with more than four hundred design schools in China to date, clearly China is growing up into a creative nation. The proof for this is that good Chinese generated design is in a rapid state of growth.

China found itself following in the paths of nations that are already developed in digital design. They may be the forerunners in production, but many of the plans and designs for goods and services manufactured for retail and use in the West came from the West and had just been brought to life in China, and often design originating from China was actually imitations from other nations, with China following the “fashions”. Was this partly because China was impeded from absorbing from and keeping pace with other countries because of a lack of open web environment? With restriction on Internet usage in China, perhaps spending time creating great design and content for the Internet wasn’t really seen as appealing or worthwhile.

A few years ago there was a trend where Chinese websites were imitating Korean ones, they were vibrant, colourful and heavily flash based. All focus was on the visuals but as the average Chinese Internet user developed, the websites and designers were forced to develop too. Website’s aren’t now shunning the heavy visual basis for their sites, but they are making a big effort to incorporate good content hierarchies and design to optimise their sites to suit Chinese Internet users, and not the users of any other country.

 

It’s important to realise that China is developing a web style all of it’s own, it is not just trying to match the quality and character of other countries that are web leaders. China is such a huge country and therefore has an instant huge market, it can easily thrive without trying to gain business from the rest of the world. This allows Chinese web designers to design for China and nobody else, so naturally as culture plays a massive role in the lives of the Chinese, it also plays a big role in the messages they communicate through the medium of web design.

 

Lytous Zhou, a Shenzhen based visual designer and author of the book UI Evolutionism provides an example of the differences between an American site and a Chinese site, both selling the exact same product but offering different experiences.

 

“Pizza Hut China, which is an example I like to use every time I explain cultural differences, uses Chinese elements heavily all over its website: in the color scheme and family theme. Warm reds and yellows are colors symbolic of festivity in China, and the family dinner is highly regarded in Chinese society.”

 

 

“By comparison, Pizza Hut US highlights fast food and online ordering on its home page. Red is also Pizza Hut US’ theme color, but it’s more solid, darker and cooler than the warm red on the Chinese website.”

 

 

Zhou also states that when targeting a Chinese audience a websites profile should reflect the profile and aesthetics of its users.

 

This is not the only difference in approaching web design that Chinese designers take note of. The Chinese use the same keyboards as the West and typing Chinese on an alphabet based keyboard is hard, therefore sites are designed so that users can click their way though the site rather than searching. To Western eyes the sites just look complicated and cluttered, but for the Chinese it’s practical.

 

 

Back to the point in the beginning paragraph, that the Chinese are followers and not leaders when it comes to website design. This may be true for the techniques and technologies used, but for style and usability they are designing for their own unique market and are therefore not trying to follow anybody else. Chinese web design is moving into a category of its own.

Chinese Philosophy in the Western World

Ancient Chinese thought was a blend of two philosophical movements. In 500 BC, Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) was teaching from the Six Classics, ancient Chinese books about art, philosophy and history. He combined these books with his own ideas to make what would be called Confucianism – a philosophical system studied all over the world. Within China this system would become a part of society, affecting the education system, influencing social behaviour and developing customs and traditions in family life.

In balance with this was the school of thought called Taoism, established at about the same time by Lao Tzu. The Taoists drew their inspiration from nature and focused on observing and understanding its Tao, or ‘Way’. The Way is interpreted as the ultimate force that pervades all matter and events. It is the process of the universe and is known as Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya or ‘Suchness’ in Buddhism, and is what Christianity might call God.

These two different philosophies both appreciate the underlying principle of balance in the universe. The idea that any two opposites are bound together. In the West we are familiar with the ‘Yin and Yang’ symbol. It illustrates the endless cycle of change, which is the main focus of the I Ching – a Confucian Classic that has a following in the western world. I Ching translates as ‘Book of Changes’ and focuses on understanding the flow of change in the world. The system described in the book can also be applied in day-to-day life, and for this reason it seems more accessible to Westerners.

In attempting to study Chinese thought, the main problem is with the vast difference in language. Mandarin is an emotional language – the characters are pictorial. They haven’t totally lost their visual meaning the way the western alphabets have. Words in Mandarin seem to be sung in tones, their words have different meanings and can be nouns, verbs, adjectives. The language conveys emotions and feelings on a level that is hard for Westerners to pick up on unless they are fluent.

Because Mandarin is fundamentally different from Western languages, it is very difficult for people in the West to access the wealth of philosophical and mystical knowledge available in China. This is the same reason the ‘Yin and Yang’, known in China as T’ai-chi T’u (‘Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate’), is recognised in the West as an icon  depicting the constant flow of change and the balance of opposites. It was designed, like many logos and motifs, to transcend language.

Another way to bypass the language barrier is using physical movement and meditation. In Taoism, as in Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is used to clear the mind and find balance, and ultimately to observe and understand the universe. But as well as having spiritual value, meditation can be helpful in everyday life. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a meditative martial art that has close links to Taoism. Its philosophical aim is to combine the two opposites, yin and yang, into a Supreme Ultimate, but T’ai Chi Chuan has become popular all over the globe for its health benefits and as a self-defence technique, as well as its value as way to clear the mind and relax.

Both Taoism and Confucianism have become recognised and studied in the world outside China. Books such as the I Ching are available online anywhere. Confucius is a big name in philosophy studied and appreciated internationally, and T’ai Chi Chuan is practised in many places in the world. But because of their complex, malleable language and very different customs, much of the knowledge and wisdom of the old Chinese masters seems unobtainable in the West.

China’s Peaceful Rise

America has only been known as a ‘Super Power’ for 67 years, since the end of World War II, along with Russia and the British Empire. However after the ‘Cold War’, America continued to grow in power and reputation than the other nations. And that is the way it stayed… until now.

 China has been making massive trade and investment deals with Latin America and Africa, allowing them to make their stand as one of the players for being the new superpower. The media have been saying that the 21st century is China’s century. Very much like the 20th belonged to the Americans and the 19th to the British.

Barry Buzan is Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. He has been following China’s Economical growth and asserts that,

“China certainly presents the most promising all-round profile”. Of a potential superpower. Buzan claims that,

“China is currently the most fashionable potential superpower and the one whose degree of alienation from the dominant international society makes it the most obvious political challenger.” China has entered its new ‘Golden Age’ of prosperity. Since the loosening of the chains of Communism, China has grown considerable wealthy. Although the wealth is confined to the major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Chongqing. The wealth gap doesn’t seem to deter the Chinese from going to strength to strength in the world rankings. This growth in the economy hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the world.

Many critics cite this as China’s down fall. History tells us that the Chinese people only allow a governing body to rule when there is prosperity in the land, this may be true for some but the vast majority of people living in China are living a poor life. In June 2011, there were riots in the Guangdong province of China, the manufacturing heartland. The riots were over unpaid wages and the heavy-handed response to the workers upset. This shows the social unrest of China’s poor majority, migrant workers from the countryside, the mainstay of China’s Economy. Working away from home, for little wages and long hours

‘Unrest is thought to have become increasingly frequent, although data is hard to come by. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated that there were more than 90,000 mass incidents in 2006, with further increases in the following two years. ‘ 

Tania Branigan, the Guardian Newspaper.

However China fails to recognise this at the moment and ploughs on developing its cities and businesses. They have even published a White Paper called, ‘China’s Peaceful Development’, the name was changed from ‘China’s Peaceful Rise’ as it may have been misconstrued as threating.

Five Chapters of ‘China’s Peaceful Development’

The report’s main aim is to assure America and the rest of Asia that China’s ‘Military and Economical prominence will not pose a threat to peace and stability, and that other nations will benefit from PRC’s rising power and influence.’ 

Over all China has accomplished so much progression in the past decades and deserve to be an accredited country, however there is still serious issue within China and they will not progress more unless they realise their own problems, instead of what the world thinks of China, especially the USA.

Potential Superpower: China

Chinese popular culture. Comics and Religion

When you think of comics you think of Marvel or DC from America or Manga from Japan. When asked, many do not know of Chinese comics, many believing that they are merely translated Japanese or American comic books. Chinese comics are called Manhua. The eldest being stone reliefs from 11C BC and on pottery from 5000 to 3000 BC. Chinese manhua was born roughly between the years 1867 and 1927. Because of the introduction of lithograph printing from the west, satirical drawings soon appeared in newspapers and periodicals. By the 1920’s palm sized books had been printed and were considered the predecessor of modern day manhua. Chinese comic books are seen as a way to entertain and educate the public of China. It’s content can include anything from literary classics, fiction and non fiction, fairy tales, myths and biographies. Due to the rising interest in Chinese visual art, popular culture and media, comic books have gained a lot of attention from academics in the more recent years. Around the time of the Cultural Revolution, politics showed up in in almost every aspect of everyday life. The comic book was no exception. Due to the content and artistry of comic books of the period of Cultural Revolution, these books are popular topics of study for modern day Chinese history as well as the communistic propaganda and the relationship between politics, art and education.

 

When thinking of religion in China, we think Buddhism or perhaps the worship of ancestors and deities. Mostly what we have seen in films or television adaptations, but what is the Chinese view on religion? Many travelling to China for the first time are often surprised or shocked at the differences between China and the western world. Beliefs and values play an important in the culture. The word religion only exists in western languages. In others a word had to be created. This is much the case with China. At the beginning of the century, the Chinese borrowed the Japanese word for religion. Currently there are five religions in China: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Though due to the fact that religions are family based they do not demand the support of its members. Many believe that the term “religion” is inaccurate when speaking of Taoism or Buddhism and tend to refer to them as “cultural practices”. Much of who or what should be called religious in China is up for debate. It has been said that the general percentage of people that regard themselves as religious in China is amongst the lowest in the world.

Since it’s introduction in the first century, Buddhism has remained a popular religion in China. However the largest religious group in China is that of Chinese folk religion otherwise known as “Shenism” . It is the collective which includes Taoism and the worship of the shens. The shens are a collection of local deities, heroes and ancestors, and figures from Chinese myths and legend. Most recently Mazu, goddess of the seas; Huangdi, divine patriarch of the Chinese nation and the Black Dragon Caishen, god of prosperity and wealth.

Although Christianity in China is well established since the seventh century, it declined in the tenth through fourteenth centuries due to persecution. It was reintroduced in the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there had been an influx of European ideology in China. The Communist party of China, when it came to power in 1949, was seen as an atheist faction and viewed western religions as a tool of western colonialism and since then has preserved a separation of the church from state affairs. By the 1980’s more religious freedoms were granted and the traditional values and beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism were supported as a necessary part of Chinese culture.

Nowadays, Shenism-Taoism and Buddhism are the largest religions in China with around 30% of its population. Around 10% of the population are counted as non-Han ethnicities who follow their own tribal religions. It is believed that Christianity only covers around 3 or 4% of the population and Muslims are around 1 to 2%. It would seem that most of the population art agnostic or atheist, this being around the region of 60 to 70%. Confucianism is widely popular amongst intellectuals.