China clamps down on homosexual content on TV and online

Addiction, the online drama about gay love, was taking off from all the Chinese online video websites in February. (YouTube)

By Jenny Lee and Ya Zhou

Vulgar, immoral and unhealthy. That is how the Chinese government views homosexuality, and that stance became more apparent after the release of a new set of guidelines by one of the main media censorship bodies last December.

Reflecting that homosexuality impairs public morality and social stability, the eight-page document issued by The China Television Drama Production Industry Association (CTPIA) prohibits Chinese TV broadcasters from running any content with a theme related to gays or any depiction thereof. The new rules referred directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at an annual national forum on literature and arts two years earlier, in which he stressed the social role of art. That speech was not released to the public for a year after it was delivered.

The regulation, translated here into English, states: “No television programs should display abnormal sexual relationships and behaviors, such as incest, homosexuality, sexual perversion, sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual violence.” Extramarital affairs, one-night stands and underage love are also included in the long list of banned content. It is not clear if the regulation goes so far as to prohibit discussions of those issues.

Online videos are not immune from the government crackdown. Li Jingsheng, head of the TV series unit at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) made an announcement during a late February meeting that the censors will also step up its supervision over online drama series, which are now subject to the same rules governing television and film.

The announcement came just days after “Addiction,” the popular web drama series about four gay high school students that garnered millions of views, was taken offline from China’s main online TV streaming service, iQiyi. Now the show is uploaded only on YouTube, to which people in China do not have access.

With the news spreading rapidly since Li’s statement, the ban immediately sparked an uproar within the LGBT community in China. Ah Qiang, executive director of PFLAG China, an LGBT advocacy group in Guangzhou, a southern city in China, said in a phone interview that this manifests blatant discrimination and prejudice against the Chinese gay community.

“The LGBT community including PFLAG, we all think this ban is a backward and conservative decision,” Ah Qiang said.

A host of homosexuals and LGBT advocates are especially disgruntled by the new online regulation, as the Internet was the only platform on which sharing LGBT-related content could bypass government censorship.

“What the government is doing is really unreasonable,” said Yicong Lee, an advocate for Chinese LGBT rights in China’s central city of Xi’an, by phone. “They can’t just take away other people’s right to see the drama [Addiction]. There should not be any limitation for those who want to watch certain type of content, even if it’s related to something like homosexuality.”

According to Ah Qiang, some LGBT advocates are being vocal in opposition to the new government measure.

The cancellation of Chinese popular web drama series "Addiction" sparks a heated debate on Weibo, China's social media website. (Weibo)
The cancellation of Chinese popular web drama series “Addiction” has sparked a heated debate on Weibo, China’s social media website. (Weibo)

Chinese people who are anti-homosexuality, on the other hand, concurred with the government in tightening the regulation of content depicting homosexuality.

“My understanding is that being gay violates human nature,” said Alice Wang, a 26-year-old graduate student in Xi’an, over the phone. “I do sympathize for homosexual people who live in China because the society doesn’t accept them. But as a person who grew up under parents with traditional values, I can’t completely accept homosexuality.”

China has never been a welcoming place for homosexuals. Although it was decriminalized in the country in 1997 and removed from the list of mental disorders in 2001, as much as 61 percent of China’s population still believe that homosexuality is morally unacceptable, according to the Pew Research Center.

Along with homosexuality, content related to witchcraft, reincarnation and other supernatural beliefs is also banned under the new guidelines.

Photo at top: “Addiction,” Chinese web drama series about gay love, was taken off from all the online video streaming websites in February. (YouTube)