Indifference has led to tolerance
Homosexuality has existed since prehistoric times across countries and cultures. But for a long time Chinese society has turned a blind eye to homosexuality and thus created an illusion that it is rare or simply does not exist in China. A few homosexuals do enter the public field of vision either seeking medical treatment or having committed a crime, thus aggravating the prejudice that homosexuality is a disease, crime or wrongdoing.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) conducted a national survey over the phone in 2007 to determine the level of public acceptance of homosexuality. The 10-point questionnaire, based on random sampling, covered large and medium-sized cities on the Chinese mainland. The refusal rate to the survey was 12-13 percent in large cities and 7 percent in medium-sized ones.
The survey found that Chinese society, on the whole, is tolerant but some misunderstandings among people about homosexuality still refuse to die. The findings are as follows:
About 20 percent of the respondents said there was nothing wrong with being homosexual, 30 percent said there was something wrong with homosexuality, and nearly 40 percent said it was wrong. The answer of the rest of the respondents was ambiguous. In the United States, 43 percent of the people fully approve of homosexuality and 47 totally disapprove of it.
Whether we admit it or not, homosexuality is a reality across the world, and the visibility of homosexuals reflects how accepting a society is toward them. But the CASS survey found out that only 7.5 percent of the respondents admitted having known any homosexual.
In answer to the question, “whether you will make friends with a homosexual”, more than 60 percent of the respondents said “yes” and only one-third responded in the negative. And despite the lack of understanding about homosexuality, most Chinese people are not averse to making friends with homosexuals.
One question was, should a known homosexual be allowed to take up a schoolteacher’s job. The respondents who said “no” slightly outnumbered those saying “yes”. French philosopher Michel Foucault writes: “A homosexual teacher should not present any more of a problem than a bald teacher, a male teacher in an all-female school, a female teacher in an all-male school ” This means the CASS finding exposes people’s fear of and prejudice against homosexuals.
When it came to “whether parents should require a school to replace a teacher who is a homosexual”, more than half of the respondents stuck to their prejudice.
To the question, “whether movies and TV programs with homosexual themes should be cleared for public viewing” the respondents were clearly divided: 55 percent said “yes” and more than 40 percent responded in the negative.
With respect to equal employment rights for homosexuals, 91 percent of the respondents offered their support, exceeding the 65 percent in the US in 1983 and 84 percent in the 1996. Although many Chinese people disapprove of homosexuality, they favor equal employment rights for homosexuals, because working is the basic means of a human being’s survival, and our moral baseline entails the respect for anothers’ right to work.
To the question, “how would you respond to a family member coming out of closet”, respondents showing full acceptance or zero tolerance accounted for only a small proportion. Three-fourths of them said they would “tolerate” it if they had prior inkling about the homosexual tendencies of the family member.
On legislation for same-sex marriage, the CASS respondents seemed more conservative with 70 percent rejecting the idea, compared with 58 percent in the US.
The CASS survey was different from a similar online survey, which found 60 percent of the Chinese respondents approved of same-sex marriage. The gap probably results from the fact that a large percentage of Chinese netizens are young, well-educated and urban dwellers.
To the last question, “whether homosexuals were equal to heterosexuals”, rationality once again took the upper hand, with 80 percent of the respondents agreeing that they were equal and only 15 percent saying they were inferior.
Judging from the findings of the CASS survey, Chinese society as a whole is tolerant toward homosexuality. People are not critical of homosexuality as long as homosexuals do not harm others or commit crimes.
Besides, Chinese people take pride in their traditional culture that has a long history, and are not worried about their culture being “poisoned” by homosexuality. In this sense, Chinese people’s indifference to homosexuality seems to be the reason for their tolerance.
The author is a research scholar with the Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.