Why China Lags So Far Behind On LGBT Rights

Gays and lesbians rarely come out of the closet in a society that has more generally been 'anti-sex' since the Communists took over.

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Hong Kong.
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Hong Kong.
Li Yinhe*

BEIJING — Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent "coming out" made big headlines, but was hardly newsworthy considering that so many well-known people in the West are open about their homosexuality. Besides other business leaders and entertainers, there are current or recent mayors of Berlin, Paris and San Francisco — Iceland's former Prime Minister, and foreign ministers of Germany and Latvia — who had all disclosed their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, a dozen countries have approved same-sex marriage, and others are on their way.

What is puzzling today is the attitudes toward gays in Communist or ex-Communist countries. Generally speaking, in the West politics is divided between the right and left, more conservative and more progressive. The left tends to think of itself as representing the interests of the underclass and vulnerable, including attention for the rights of women, racial minorities and homosexuals. The right, instead, is more aligned with the interests of the establishment, and tends to be more conservative about sexuality.

Communist ideology and propaganda would generally place it on the left of the political spectrum, representing society's most vulnerable. And yet in reality, in Communist and post-Communist countries, the treatment of gays has always been much closer to that of the West's conservative right.

At the Sochi Winter Olympics Russia's anti-gay law sparked strong protests. After Tim Cook disclosed his homosexuality, some Russians actually dismantled a monument to Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Sex as such

Meanwhile in China, and among the Chinese diaspora, homosexuals — even celebrities in the entertainment world — rarely have the courage to be open about their sexual orientation. The exceptions can be found in Hong Kong, such as the late singer and film star Leslie Cheung, or the renowned Taiwanese novelist Bai Xianyong.

Beyond the East-West cultural differences, one must therefore factor in the influence of the Chinese Communist ideology in understanding China's attitude toward homosexuality.

Chinese LGBT activists at the the 2011 Los Angeles Pride — Photo: InSapphoWeTrust

The starting point is that the Chinese Communist Party has always had a rigidly puritanical attitude toward sexuality in general. Since the Communists took over in the 1950s, sex has been publicly repressed in China, with some of the world's most severe laws in reference to sex-related activity. For example, promiscuity involving a group of people, called "crime of group licentiousness," is a felony. Very few countries continue to prohibit the sale of pornographic materials, whereas China still enforces the Indecent Publication Act. And until the 1990s, there were cases where pimps were executed.

Homosexuality is denigrated, thus, not necessarily because it's the orientation of a minority of people, but because it has to do with sex.

In my book Study of New China's Discourse on Sexuality, I provide results of research conducted about the evolution of China's official ideology toward homosexuality. I found that in the past 65 years, it has roughly transformed from being totally negative to a stance that can be described as neutral. Politically, culturally or socially, discrimination and moral condemnation have given way to a more respectful attitude and a more inclusive stance when it comes to gay rights.

The AIDS epidemic gave new visibility to homosexuals in public life, but at the same time, homosexuality as a political issue seems to have been "kidnapped" by AIDS. For instance, when China's CCTV state media aired its first documentary about the gay community, it was largely based around an interview of a gay AIDS patient.

It will still take a long time and much hard work for China's homosexuals to gain true equal rights. But more and more Chinese people have begun recognize that a "harmonious society" is harmonious precisely because it is one in which different groups of peoples — Han and ethnic minorities, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual — can live together in harmony. We expect that after 65 years of detours and mistakes, gay people will finally be fully respected and that China will walk towards a much more civilized and rational society.

*Li Yinhe is a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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