I remember my first visit to Shanghai, over a decade ago, where I was told by a Chinese-American professor I had known for some time that “China will never go back to Communism!” I asked why, and she said, “Shanghai is filled with gay bars. Once you get the gay bars, the communism is finished.” As an empiricist, she had done a lot of field research and had dragged her tall Euro-American husband through the many gay bars of Shanghai, asking patrons questions about how life had changed. The answer, she told me, was not the legal code, which at that time still punished homosexuality, but private property rights in housing. Under state ownership, apartments were assigned to people by the authorities, and only married couples qualified; no spouse, no apartment of your own. But with transferrable property rights, “The owners don’t care if you are purple and wear horns, if you pay what you agree to pay.”
Now, Shanghai will have its first gay pride festival, albeit with “Chinese characteristics,” i.e., nothing that could be construed as a political movement, and hence threatening to the hegemony of the one-party system. According to the BBC (“Shanghai to show pride with gay festival“),
Sociology lecturer Yu Hai from Shanghai’s Fudan University thinks it is unlikely the authorities will try to stop it.
“Ordinary people won’t be surprised, or shocked about this,” he says. “There’s enough space in Shanghai to hold a gay event.”
And yet a few gay venues in Shanghai are not taking part because they do not want to draw too much attention to themselves as gay businesses, Pride’s organisers say.
“In the past homosexuals were regarded as bad people,” says the lecturer.
“Nowadays no-one thinks they are bad, but they are still considered to be ‘alternative’. What’s changed is that people think they are alternative, but they believe they should have their own rights, be able to make their own choices.”