Hòulái, wǒ hé tā chū guìle. Dāng tā zhīdào zhè yīqiè de shíhòu, biǎomiàn shì nàme de lěngjìng. Dànshì liǎng sān tiānhòu, tā duì wǒ shuō, tā huí jiā kūle yī zhěng tiān. Tā yě zài xiǎng, wǒ zhěnggè gāozhōng shì duōme de tòngkǔ a, ér tā què méiyǒu bāngzhù wǒ.
We’ve all seen the ‘crispy Peking duck’ on a Chinese restaurant menu but do we understand the history, culture and art behind how it’s made? Let’s find out. In this episode, I talk about how the roast duck dish came about, the two main ways of how it’s cooked, the three ways of how it’s eaten and the restaurants you should go to in Beijing if you want to taste the true beauty of this dish.
In honour of pride month, in this episode I briefly talk about what life is like for someone in the LGBTQ+ community in China. Lots of people automatically think it’s illegal to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in China. It’s not. There are LGBTQ+ friendly bars, clubs, dating apps, etc. Is life harder for a LGBTQ+ person? Yes, although to different degrees depending on each individual’s circumstance.
Some popular LGBTQ+ terms / slangs (disclaimer: these are to name but a few. Chinese slangs are evolving at such a fast pace, these could become outdated very soon but they would still be understood) :
This episode we are back to Pride Month. The way we use 同志(tóngzhì) is interesting. Many people should already know that 同志(tóngzhì) was used to refer to members of the same party, or used between national citizens. Its English equivalent is “comrade”, which has communist connotations. The word is rarely used now in this context. We may hear our grandparents’ generation use this term, but young people basically don’t use it anymore. How did a word with such strong communist connotations become related to homosexuality?
It is said it comes from 1989 when the Hong Konger Lin Yihua planned the first gay film festival. He named the film festival the “Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Film Festival”. The usage of “comrade” comes from Sun Yat-sen’s famous remark, “The revolution has not yet succeeded, comrades still must work hard.” We talked about Sun Yat-sen in episode 18, so people who have listened to episode 18 should understand the meaning of this passage. Lin Yihua just put this meaning into the context of homosexuality.
In recent years, people rarely use the term “comrade” in the LGBT context. In popular online language, many words have appeared in recent years to describe “lesbian” or “gay”. Yes, in the scope of LGBTQA+, China’s focus is still more towards L(esbians) and G(ays). Anyway, I don’t know if it’s the speed of change or if it’s just my age, but I actually can’t keep up with so many new terms. I won’t explain all of the new terms here, I may not use all the words in this episode, but I will put some of the commonly used words in China on the website. If you are interested, you can check it out on my website.
Okay, let’s return to the main topic. How does China treat 同志(tóngzhì) / homosexuals? Many people have the impression that China is very inflexible and think China could not possibly recognise homosexuality. This is both right and wrong.
Back in ancient China, the earliest historical record of homosexuality in China was during the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century BC). China’s ancient records the “Shiji” and the “Hanshu / The Book of Han”, recorded in the 202 BC to the AD 8 period, noted that some emperors of the Western Han Dynasty were gay. In “The Book of Han: The Legend of Nine Fortune”, Emperor Ai of the Han and Dong Xian would sleep together. Dong Xian slept on the emperor’s sleeve. The emperor couldn’t bear to wake him up so he ripped off his sleeve. Later generations would use “sleeve-ripping kink” to describe homosexual relationships. Chinese classical literature also includes a few gay love stories and poems.
In the past, people had a calm and indifferent attitude towards homosexuality. There were not many flattering words about homosexuality, nor was there vilification.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), homosexuality suffered the most serious setback in history. The government at the time believed that homosexuality was a mental illness and would humiliate society as a whole. From then on, it was determined that homosexual acts were “committing hooliganism” or “disrupting the social order”. Homosexual activities had to go underground.
Now, in many big cities, homosexuality is no longer hidden. There are various same-sex meeting places and dating apps, but they still face pressure from their families, whether it is discrimination against homosexuality, or wanting them to marry and have children to pass on the family line. Chinese society highly values family, respects the elderly very much, and always puts family first and personal happiness second. Therefore, the current pressure on the gay population in China is mainly familial, because most parents find it difficult to accept this kind of reality.
Therefore, many Chinese people do not dare to come out to their family members and choose the “sham marriage” or xíng hūn route. A “sham marriage” / xíng hūn (the full phrase is “形式婚姻 (xíng shì hūn yīn)”is an agreement to fake a marriage. Some are actually registered, some are not. They choose a discreet happiness in the face of pressure.
I saw a post about a sham marriage on the internet, written by a woman, and I would like to read it to everyone. I tidied up the post she originally wrote. As it was published on the internet, there is a great deal of online language and places that are not smooth to read aloud. One more thing, when she speaks about the sham marriage, she sometimes refers to the guy who married her. Everyone should pay attention when listening. I will put the link to the original text on my website and in the description box below.
I came to know sham marriage in 2007. At that time, it was a colleague from work, nothing more than a colleague, we didn’t have much contact. Later, by chance, I learned that he was gay. In fact, he knew I was a lesbian when he first saw me (I really wasn’t obvious, okay?). Then we got married. Our colleagues had at least known everything for so many years. He seemed to have a great personality, so at least there wouldn’t be any unpaid loans. In the second year of my marriage, my girlfriend and I broke up. I can’t say that it wasn’t completely to do with the sham marriage. Of course, there are other reasons which are the main reason, but I won’t mention this sad past.
So I want to say a couple more words about how to deal with the relationship between a girlfriend and a sham marriage. Some people think that if you are both married, she is like an outsider who is intervening in another person’s family— like a mistress. I want to tell people that it’s really not like this. If sham marriages really have the same real affection as straight marriages, then many parents would hope that their gay children would have a sham marriage. My husband had a good attitude towards my girlfriend, but my girlfriend still regarded him as an enemy, and when arguing with my girlfriend my husband would comfort me, so I am still very grateful for this sham marriage in this situation.
Regarding having children in a sham marriage, there are sperm banks, surrogacy, etc., but I can say that I don’t have this financial power. What worried me most was confronting the problem of educating children in a sham marriage family. Before giving birth, I wondered when the child knows that his/her mother is a lesbian and the father is gay, would the child go crazy? But after having a child, I suddenly felt that this problem was not as terrible as I imagined. I don’t know why this little life gave me so much courage. Regarding my child’s understanding of homosexuality, I don’t want to hide its existence nor guide her. A child needs to come to their own understanding. First, I told her that gay people are not a different species. They are the same as everyone else you see. They love the same sex, you have your own right to be selective, and so do they. Next, I think whether a child will have an anti-social personality is related to the care of the parents. This point is very consistent with my marriage. There will not be a lack of love and education for the child. As for the rest, let’s deal with problems as of when it occurs. There are always more solutions than challenges.
Now let’s talk about getting pregnant. We did ourselves it at home. To avoid turning this X-Rated, it simply came down to needles and handstands. I was very lucky. I succeeded after one try. I guess that the timing of the ovulation period was right. In fact, the whole pregnancy and childbirth process was the most sorrowful. I didn’t have morning sickness, but my poor appetite lasted until the child was eight months old. Seeing anything made me sick. I could only eat porridge and eat apples every day. My mother accompanied me for the check-ups, or I went by myself, and I was not happy during the whole pregnancy like my friends. For me pregnancy was a lonely process that I never enjoyed. I never had a chance to say, “Wifey, I want to eat an apple, help me cut it”, or “Wifey, my legs hurt, rub them”, or “Wifey, our girl is getting old and cute”.
Then there is childbirth. It was very painful, but tolerable. I couldn’t tolerate so many doctors poking my thighs in front of me. The finger examination was so painful, and the doctors were ruthless. They told me to relax, but the pain was so bad, how could I relax?
Many people think that having a baby is such a courageous thing. Honestly, you will feel that after experiencing it. From the moment you become pregnant with a baby, there is no way out. You can only move forward step by step and adapt to different situations.
I don’t know if I’m getting older and lacking self-confidence in many area. I don’t know if there is someone like me at that time, considering whether or not to have a child, starting to consider whether to break up with the woman you currently love, leaving yourself to die alone. I am thinking about whether I will start to madly like children at the age of forty, but I have no chance to have children again. Anyway, I am in a cycle; dating, married, single, and now I have children. Although I have lost a lot, I am still satisfied!
I really sympathised with this girl when I first read this. Let’s think about it, if you are in a country that permits same-sex marriage, a sham marriage means that you cannot marry the one you love. If you are in a country that does not allow same-sex marriage, a sham marriage is just an image that satisfies your parents and you have to work hard for this image for years, even decades of effort and energy.
Wǒmen xià zhōu jiàn.
I really sympathised with this girl when I first read this. Let’s think about it, if you are in a country that permits same-sex marriage, a sham marriage means that you cannot marry the one you love. If you are in a country that does not allow same-sex marriage, a sham marriage is just an image that satisfies your parents and you have to work hard for this image for years, even decades of effort and energy. As you can imagine, she was very lonely and very sad during the whole process. Since she is now happy, I feel relieved. This is the choice she made to balance her life, and we wish her happiness.
As I was researching, what surprised me was that whilst Reni’s work is praised and celebrated by western media, there is hardly any mention of her work on Chinese media platforms. So I took the liberty of translating Reni’s 2014 article into Chinese to help expand the conversation about race. With Reni’s permission, I am able to publish this translation both on my podcast and on my website (thank you, Reni).
Hā lóu, dàjiā hǎo. Wǒ shì Kaycee.
我相信大家都已经听说了关于 George Floyd 这个事件。所以这一期我们先不提同志骄傲月了，先聊聊种族问题。