April 13, Friday, 6:55 a.m.: The administration of Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, announces an information cleanse aimed at comics, short videos, and video games related to violence, pornography, and homosexuality. Prior to this notice, the director of the account “Gay Voices” on Weibo, which regularly posts gay-related content, was phoned by internal officials to cease all updates.
April 13, Friday, 5:07 p.m.: Rainbow emojis start to appear in my social media feed. At least 15 of my friends posted in disagreement with Weibo’s ban, including the link to an article on how Chinese citizens’ efforts to promote gay rights and inclusivity have been shut down by the government, regardless of the source.
April 13, Friday, 10:33 p.m.: The aforementioned article is censored. “I didn’t cry when my roommate looked at me differently, nor when my parents found it unacceptable, but when my own country categorizes me like this… it makes me feel devastated,” read a comment under the article, now deleted for violating WeChat’s rules regarding spreading information to the public. At the same time, discussions under the hashtag “#Iamgay,” with the objective of making gay people’s voices heard, are growing rapidly.
April 14, Saturday, 12:04 a.m.: “While Taiwan passed laws allowing gay marriage, mainland China has taken a thousand leaps backwards,” wrote a friend. “No mom, it is not a phase, I love her just as you love him.” China, a country ruled by different systems in different regions, the second largest economy in the world, contains 56 minority ethnic groups, legalized “same-sex sexual relations,” but still refuses to face 70 million gay citizens for upholding traditional values that have ruled China since the beginning of Chinese history, regarding reproduction, for instance, as a social responsibility and the objective of love.
April 14, Saturday, 4:19 a.m.: The topic discussion “#Iamgay,” bearing over 240 million views, has been removed from Weibo.
April 16, Monday, 12:25 a.m.: The Weibo administration announces that the information cleanse will no longer be directed towards gay-related content.
This is far from the first time accounts and discussions have been censored by the Chinese government. Just a week ago, applications similar to Musical.ly and Vine were unavailable to download due to “bad influence on young people.” The motivation behind the censoring of gay-related content might be related to fears of new values supplanting traditional values under which reproduction is viewed as a social responsibility and an objective of love and marriage.
These values, however, are quickly changing as more and more people bring ideas home after working or studying abroad. As early as 2013, China Central Television, the official government-run television network of the country, celebrated International Day Against Homophobia by posting on Weibo. Around the same time, a video of a woman wearing a gay pride shirt seeking hugs went viral. Although these posts were later censored, it proves that there are definitely ideological trends building up, hidden from public view.
China, however, still has a long way to go in terms of educating citizens about homosexuality. Many people still think that homosexuality is a choice, because sexual orientation was never covered in biology or sexual education, at least not in my experience attending public school in Beijing, China. Thus, when widely-used social media like Weibo equate homosexuality with pornography and violence, users are much more prone to think of homosexuality as an anomaly.
Censorship is not an effective long term measure if the goal of the Chinese government is to restrict access to online gay content. One can easily acquire a Virtual Personal Network and browse all the websites banned by the Chinese government, and with the steady expansion of social media both in terms of readership and subscriptions, taking down all the reposts and reblogs of a controversial article will become increasingly difficult. The removal of the ban against gay content was seen as a clear sign of success for all gay rights advocates who stood up against the information cleanse. The initial censorship had spurred a remarkable unification within and outside the gay community, showing an unprecedentedly wide range of support.
At the same time, discussions about equality and social justice in general have also surfaced, which I believe are necessary for China, and should be greatly encouraged. Instead of deleting everything they can find, the Chinese government should use this opportunity to educate citizens about the scientific and social aspects of homosexuality. The government’s goal should not be to exile gay people, but to encourage inclusivity and understanding in a community.
Skylar Xu is a two year Lower from Beijing, China. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.