top of page
  • Human Rights Research Center

“Those Marginalized”: How social values affect LGBTQ+ legal rights differently in China and Taiwan

Author: Vivian Sun

March 19, 2024



Introduction


On May 24, 2019, same-sex marriage between citizens became legal in Taiwan, making it the first region in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. This was followed by the court's ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage violated the Constitution. In comparison, the post-pandemic era witnessed the shutdown of the prominent LGBTQ+ centre in mainland China after 15 years of operation, signifying the tightening of space for queer rights organizations under Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Interestingly, despite the Communist Party’s official newspaper celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan years ago, words such as "gays" and "lesbians" are commonly forbidden on today's Chinese social media. While most countries in the world have moved from a social atmosphere of restriction to openness, today's gay movement in China has been facing an unprecedented challenge from political and social pressures. Viewed from the perspective of the history of the queer movement in China, today's rather conservative attitude of China's government, based on its traditional-oriented direction of social values, lead to its non-recognition of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ legal rights.


Traditional and Modern Social Values


Building today’s Chinese society on the Chinese traditional culture and Marxism, modern China generally embraces a tendency of collectivism. This brings an emphasis on the family's function of improving social stability and maintaining traditional cultures. As the most influential philosophy in ancient China, Confucianism, also known as Ruism or Ru classicism, was first developed by the well-known philosopher Kongzi in the Warring States period and has an unparalleled status in Chinese traditional culture. The Confucian philosophy emphasized the relationship between "husband and wife", "parents and children" and "family and nation". The basic family values inherited from the Chinese tradition highlight the peace between husband and wife and the investment in children's education for the nation's future. As written by Xi Jinping, "It is important to vigorously promote the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation, such as respecting the elderly and caring for the young, having a virtuous wife and a secure husband, a kind mother and filial son and so on".


However, despite inheriting a similar tradition from ancient China, under a stronger impact from Western society and establishing itself as an immigrant and industrialized society, Taiwan has followed a different set of social values. Young Taiwanese are increasingly embracing a more individualistic and liberal inclination compared with mainland China. This was shown by the popularity among youngsters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who highlight democracy and human rights, compared to the conservative and autocratic Nationalist Party in the past. Such individualism also brought a more radical turn of family values among today's Taiwan voters. According to a study on young people in mainland China and Taiwan, young people in Taiwan embraced a significantly more open attitude towards marriage and romantic relationships compared to the young in mainland China. This includes more willingness to support divorce and premarital sex. Moreover, a more liberal and individual attitude towards family brings support to same-sex relationships. It is found that when comparing college students in mainland China (City of Xi An) and in the City of Taipei, the latter are more accepting of same-sex relationships and individualism-oriented relationships.


Government attitudes and legal rights


Viewed from a social perspective, Taiwan's legislative diversion from 2017 to 2019 was extraordinary in the LGBTQ+ history in Taiwan. Compared to mainland China who were historically forced to deal with the controversy about same-sex marriage from public pressure, the topic of same-sex marriage was first raised in 2006 by a member of the DPP through a proposal of legislation granting marriages to same-sex couples. In 2015, Kaohsiung City opened access to identity registration of same-sex couples, which was extended to the whole country later on. In 2016, after Tsai Ing-wen, who is a social liberal supporting gender equality, won the presidential election as a DPP candidate, the legislation of same-sex marriage progressed to a new stage, signifying a comprehensive legalization a year later.


In contrast, the Chinese government also has undergone a prominent change in the attitude towards LGBTQ+ rights, but unfortunately in the opposite direction. In 2001, the Chinese Society of Psychiatry removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. But it was long before the Chinese paid much attention to queer rights protection. In 2013, a government spokesperson responded that same-sex marriage was still too “ahead of time” for China after being pressured by a related proposal. However, during the first half of the 2010s, the mainstream discourse was mainly supportive of gay rights, due to the impact of Western cultures and discarding traditional values. In comparison, under the highly restricted political attitude supporting Xi’s “socialist family values” established on traditional family values, today’s Chinese government again responded to LGBTQ+ rights appeals by restating a “one husband, one wife” marriage system, as well as building a legal system without any plan to recognize same-sex marriage.


The Chinese government's attitude strongly affected today's LGBTQ+ legal rights. The attitude towards homosexuality is believed to be "three nos": "No approval; no disapproval; no promotion". The seemingly neutral perspective, based on an emphasized set of social values, was practically supporting conservativeness, negligence and rejection of legal rights, bringing challenges to LGBTQ+'s legal and social status apart from a non-recognition of marriage. After the introduction of the Anti-domestic Violence Law in 2016, intergenerational domestic violence was legally forbidden. However, violence due to parents' dissatisfaction with same-sex relationships was unprotected and neglected by police departments. Besides, although the guidance on changing genders was introduced by the Ministry of Public Security, 36% of transgender individuals still faced challenges when applying to change their diplomas and education certificates. Difficulties include not being recognized by employers due to inconsistency of ID gender and the gender on diplomas, potential employment discrimination even after gender-affirming surgeries, and the failure to modify genders on certificates through administrative litigation. Moreover, with further conservative political attitudes based upon the expectation of the next generation and the concern about a novel family structure's effect on the honesty of Chinese traditional cultures, hashtags related to LGBTQ+ rights on social media have been erased since 2018, causing further concern about freedom of expression.


Conclusion


Mainland China has long emphasised the importance of "cultural confidence" in traditional Chinese values, which affected how today's Chinese consider family and romantic relationships. After Xi's coming into power, family values were increasingly connected with social stability and a rejection of Western cultures, bringing an unprecedented tendency of collectivism and maintenance of traditional "husband and wife" relationships. By contrast, Taiwan's success in 2017 in legalizing same-sex marriage was based on a ten-year struggle between parties and departments but was followed by the Taiwanese's modern inclination toward individualism and openness in family and marriage. Despite the difficulty in predicting any future steps of the Chinese government on the topic of LGBTQ+ rights, one can be sure that, under a more politically conservative environment in the post-pandemic era, traditional social values will further be highlighted in today's mainstream discourse in China, although it seems a long way to go for the mainland to embrace liberalism and openness as Taiwan does.


 

Glossary


  • Chinese Communist Party (CCP): Officially the Communist Party of China (CPC), it is the founding and sole ruling party of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the CCP emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War against the Kuomintang. In 1949, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

  • Collectivism: A theoretical ideology that advocates for individuals to be subordinated to society, with individual rights restricted by collective rights. It emphasizes that individual interests should subordinate to the interests of groups, nations, classes, and the state.

  • Confucianism: A system of thought and behaviour originating in ancient China, and is variously described as a tradition, philosophy (humanistic or rationalistic), religion, theory of government, or way of life.

  • Core Socialist Values: A set of official interpretations of Chinese socialism promoted at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. The 12 values, written in 24 Chinese characters, are the national values of “prosperity”, “democracy”, “civility” and “harmony”; the social values of “freedom”, “equality”, “justice” and “rule of law”; and the individual values of “patriotism”, “dedication”, “integrity” and “friendship”.

  • Cultural confidence: In China, it refers to the complete affirmation and active practice of one’s cultural values by a nation, a country, or a political party. It involves having a strong belief in the vitality of its culture and holding firm confidence in its cultural identity.

  • Democratic Progressive Party (DPP): A Taiwanese nationalist and centre to centre-left political party in Taiwan. It is currently the major ruling party in Taiwan, controlling both the presidency and the central government.

  • Individualism: A moral stance, political philosophy, or social outlook that promotes independence and self-reliance of individual people, while opposing the interference with each person's choices by society, the state, or any other group or institution.

  • Marxism: A political philosophy and method of socioeconomic analysis originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It uses a materialist interpretation of historical development to understand class relations and social conflicts.

  • Nationalist Party of China (NPC): Also referred to as the Kuomintang (KMT), the Guomindang (GMD), or the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), is a major political party in the Republic of China, initially based on the Chinese mainland and then in Taiwan since 1949.


 

Sources


1.       Zhang, L. (2017). Taiwan: Constitutional Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Unconstitutional.

2.       TIME. (2023, May 17). Chinese LGBTQ Center Closes Down Abruptly Amid Xi Clampdown.

3.       Medium. (2020, June 11). Verified: Popular People’s Daily tweet supporting LGBTQ in China is real but was taken down.

4.       Maren Watts. (1989). Confucianism and Chinese Family Structure.

5.       People’s daily. (2023, September 26). Establishing a New Era Family Concept.

6.       Xi Jinping. (2016, December 12). Family Values, Family Education and Family Tradition.

7.       Wang Wen. (2014). College Students’ Attitude Toward Love And Marriage Between Students In Taipei And Xi'an.

8.       Wang Pingyi. (2002). A comparative study of the attitude taken by both the Chinese mainland youth and the Taiwanese counterparts towards their marriage and love.

9.       Liberty Times Net. (2019, May 18). 13 years ago, the proposal for same-sex marriage was rejected. Hsiao Mei-chin said: Engaging in politics for principles, the heart can be at ease.

10.    China Times. (2015, May 16). The first in the nation: Kaohsiung allows the registration of same-sex partners.

11.    TVBS. (2016, October 29). Strongly supporting the LGBTQ+ Pride Parade, Tsai Ing-wen stated, “I support marriage equality”. https://news.tvbs.com.tw/politics/682917

12.    Alvis. (2022, August 19). LGBT+ Community in China: Legal Nonexistence and the Margins of Their Rights. https://rls.lgbt/the_lgbti_community_in_china/

13.    Radio France Internationale. (2020, May 19). Calls for Same-Sex Marriage in China was Suspected of Hype, National People’s Congress Reaffirms One Husband, One Wife Policy.

Comments


bottom of page