The lesbian Chinese and their historic past
We recently mentioned the growing LGBT market in China, but we wanted to know: how are the lesbian Chinese doing in China?
What we’ve discovered is that, as mentioned earlier, the Chinese LGBT aren’t outright condemned, but neither are they fully accepted.
This also applies to the lesbian Chinese, who call themselves “lazi” or “lala.” What’s more, they also have to deal with the patriarchal tradition of inequality among the sexes.
The lesbian Chinese in ancient China
The LGBT can be found in the rich culture and history of China as their Chinese dynasties and emperors also had romances between same sexes.
But because of China’s patriarchal traditions, there was more documentation of male homosexuality. In this case, the first recorded homosexual romance was way back in the Shang Dynasty (the 16th to 11th century BC).
Likewise, there is the story of Emperor Ai who– so as not to disturb the sleep of his lover, Dong Xian– cut off his sleeve rather than move him. This became the basis of “duanxiu”– or the act cutting of sleeves– to refer to homosexuality.
For lesbians, there are less records of romantic stories between Chinese women. But the famous Chinese writer Pu Songling wrote many stories about female romances.
Likewise, Ming paintings– believed to have come from the Qing Dynasty– portrayed erotic images of two naked women in bed, all of them suggesting sexual interactions.
In fact, the term “dui shi” was created for pairs of palace women who developed a relationship akin to husband and wives. The writer and historian Ying Shao described them as being “intensely jealous of each other.”
The lesbian Chinese in modern China
The Cultural Revolution later drove gays and lesbians underground thanks to the stricter rules imposed under the Communist rule, especially with same-sex relationships.
Just as the Westerners did, homosexuality in China was ruled as a mental illness. Fortunately, homosexual conduct was decriminalized in 1997 with homosexuality being removed as a mental illness in 2001.
However, this viewpoint is limited to the cities while many in the rural areas still consider homosexuality as a disease.
Ironically, being queer nowadays is somewhat better for the lesbian Chinese than for the gay Chinese due to their tradition that men have the responsibility of carrying their family line. But queer women still feel the pressure of getting married as well.
To avoid the stigmatization of unknowing straight women marrying gay men (or “tongqui”), gays have started going into fake marriages with lesbians– which was filmed by Sophia Luvara in her documentary, Inside The Chinese Closet.
In fact, an online app was later developed to help gays and lesbians connect with each other.
“The lesbian story is less offensive to mainstream society. When people see two men in love, they only think of them having sex. They don’t treat lesbians seriously because they don’t understand how women can have sex without a man, without a penis,” said Beijing-based lesbian activist Eva Lee.