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Gays, Lesbians And "Marriages Of Formality" In China

Gay pride in Shanghai, but many others in China still hide their orientation
Gay pride in Shanghai, but many others in China still hide their orientation
Zhu Chong and Cui Tianti

It's a weekend morning. Y, a lesbian woman, changes out of her usual masculine attire and puts on an elaborate woman's outfit to go and visit the parents of A, a homosexual man. The visit is to inform the parents that Y and A are getting married, and hope that they will approve of their marriage.

This kind of marriage is called Xinghun, literally meaning a marriage of formality in Chinese. It can involve little of any true substance. Both Y and A respectively have had hid a girlfriend and boyfriend for years, while being constantly pressured by their parents to get married.

In the past, gay men and lesbians felt obliged to get married due to social pressure and traditional necessity, winding up in loveless and sexless marriages. The Xinghun, a sort of reductio ad absurdum, is emerging in developed cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Through mutual cooperation, China's homosexuals and lesbians are composing superficially normal families — with a man and a woman — while in reality the couple continues to have their independence both physically and morally. The formality of marriage is simply used to fend off exterior pressure and to go on loving who they love: indeed, it is also called a mutual support marriage. And they can even, through artificial insemination or adoption, have offspring.

Short of gaining authentic acceptance by society, Chinese homosexuals find the Xinghun a breakthrough. To facilitate the search for a husband or wife, QQ groups, a variety of instant messaging platforms, are dedicated to finding a suitable faux partner. It was through a friend's introduction that Y joined a QQ group and got linked up with A. Soon after, they decided to visit each other's parents and set up together as a family as soon as possible.

Often the search for Xinghun can be even trickier than finding a conventional match. Since the couple doesn’t have any real emotional attachment, external factors are the only standard for choosing their “spouses." Whether the man owns his own house is even more important in a Xinghun, for example.

There is also a "code of conduct" for the Xinghun couples. Generally, accompanying in public places is the major right and responsibility of the two parties. However, since the marriage is not out of affection or sexual love they are not obliged to support each other financially, nor provide health care or emotional support. Both parties usually sign a premarital property agreement specifying that matrimonial property is not to be shared.

Since Xinghun couples do not have any obligation to care for each other they mostly live separately. Of course if their parents also live in the same city, they may be obliged to live together to maintain their cover. Such cohabitation is similar to a roommate relation where the involved parties share the living costs, though in general men tend to pay a bit more.

The divorce

Similar to ordinary marriages some of the Xinghun couples also end up divorcing, others actually sign a premarital agreement specifying that they will get divorced after a certain number of years. Usually they are the ones who believe this is the way to make their sexual orientation obvious to their families and to society so that they will no longer be burdened with a heterosexual marriage.

However, Y has a dream — to “emigrate to where I’m allowed to marry my girlfriend.”

It’s worth noting that apart from parental pressure and sheltering oneself from the eyes of society, more and more homosexuals are getting married for their own future. Whereas in the West many homosexuals might choose to adopt children from an orphanage or have a child through artificial insemination from a sperm bank, most Chinese homosexuals are more conventional and would prefer having their own biological children. Due to China’s strict household registration system and protection of children born in wedlock, the marriage of convenience becomes even more useful.

In the Xinghun QQ groups, most men express their aspiration to have children. This is also the case of A.

As for Y, she was initially reluctant, but finally compromised. “I think at the end of the day women all like to be a mother. Although I don’t feel strongly that I want a child now, but I’m afraid to end up regretting it, so I gave in,” she said. Like others, the couple will probably use artificial insemination.

When asked how she will feel having a child with a partner for whom she feels no love, Y replied, "I know it's hard for a woman to bring up a child herself. But it will be helpful for me in my old age."

As to whether or not the child is to be told the reality of their parents' "marriage," most Xinghun couples are hesitant. Though they see Xinghun as the only way to satisfy their own parents' expectations while pursuing their own happiness, they are not sure what the next generation will think.

"Maybe I'll tell the child when he or she grows up," Y says.

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A Naturalist's Defense Of The Modern Zoo

Zoos are often associated with animal cruelty, or at the very least a general animal unhappiness. But on everything from research to education to biodiversity, there is a case to be made for the modern zoo.

Photograph of a brown monkey holding onto a wired fence

A brown monkey hangs off of mesh wire

Marina Chocobar/Pexels
Fran Sánchez Becerril


MADRID — Zoos — or at least something resembling the traditional idea of a zoo — date back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was around 3,500 BC when Babylonian kings housed wild animals such as lions and birds of prey in beautiful structures known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Ancient China also played a significant role in the history of zoos when the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) created several parks which hosted an assortment of animals.

In Europe, it wouldn't be until 1664 when Louis XIV inaugurated the royal menagerie at Versailles. All these spaces shared the mission of showcasing the wealth and power of the ruler, or simply served as decorations. Furthermore, none of them were open to the general public; only a few fortunate individuals, usually the upper classes, had access.

The first modern zoo, conceived for educational purposes in Vienna, opened in 1765. Over time, the educational mission has become more prominent, as the exhibition of exotic animals has been complemented with scientific studies, conservation and the protection of threatened species.

For decades, zoos have been places of leisure, wonder, and discovery for both the young and the old. Despite their past success, in recent years, society's view of zoos has been changing due to increased awareness of animal welfare, shifting sensibilities and the possibility of learning about wild animals through screens. So, many people wonder: What is the purpose of a zoo in the 21st century?

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