Monday, 10 December 2012

Speaking LGBT Chinese

Traditional terms for homosexuality in Chinese included "the passion of the cut sleeve" and "the bitten peach". An example of the latter term appears in a 6th century poem by Liu Xiaozhuo:

     She dawdles, not daring to move closer,
     Afraid he might compare her with leftover peach.

There are many tales of the passion of male nobles for each other, which at the time was considered a time-honoured tradition. This pattern continued through succeeding dynasties, with times of greater and lesser tolerance. The relationships were often structured along age lines, though that does not seem to have been a requirement, as it was with the Greek and Japanese traditions.

In more recent times the historical and literary records are more complete, showing male love in other circles, such as among the scholars and among the common people.

In the province of Fujian especially, boy marriages were common. The older man would pay a bride price to the parents and take the boy to live with him for a number of years, until he was old enough to marry.

The tradition of male love survived until the early years of this century, when it succumbed to the general Westernisation of culture and morals. Presently, male love is frowned upon both in Communist China as well as in Taiwan and is considered a western import, and against traditional Chinese morals.

The characters top left mean "the passion of the cut sleeve" [duànxiù zhī pǐ]. Those above on the right mean "the bitten peach" [fēntáo].

It seems that the fear of new uses of established words to describe same sex desire is not restricted to English speakers. The compilers of the most recent edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary have left out the gay usage of the Mandarin word ‘tongzhi’ (characters to the left). Used among Communists to mean ‘comrade’ but literally meaning "same will" or "same purpose", it has lately been adopted by Chinese gay people as a positive way to refer to each other. One of the dictionary compilers said that they did not want to encourage using the word in this way: ‘We know homosexuals call each other “tongzhi” but a normative dictionary won't include that meaning, no matter how the term has been informally used. We don't want to advocate or bring attention to such things.’

Other related items:
2400 Years of Homosexuality in China - thanks to Polari Magazine
Tu Er Shen, the god & safeguarder of homosexual affections


  1. Hello,
    Great page!
    Do you know who wrote the first Chinese same-sex history in modern times? I'm thinking it must have been a Chinese scholar, but it could have been a Westerner.. I'm unable to find the answer online. If you should happen to know, please kindly also respond to
    Xie xie nin! :)

  2. Mandarin ChineseLearn Mandarin Chinese Language Online with Maggie.