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Saturday 10 October 2015

Chinese Autumn?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 3rd September 2015

A rainbow kite (tongzhi)
There are signs that the new Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping, wants to reassert the power of the Communist Party of China. But in a ruggedly free market capitalist economy, what does this mean for China's tongzhi (LGBT) population?

Some things have stayed much the same despite the transfer of power to Xi Jinping. The Central Committee for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI) continues its surveillance and anti-corruption roles under the new premier, much as it did under his predecessors. By underlining its continued role, the premier hopes to reassert the Communist Party's internal moral and political authority. As head of the Chinese Military Commission, he also controls the People's Liberation Army.

But what does 'communist' mean in China's modern market economy? Inflation is low, excess capacity is high and so are China's immense foreign currency reserves. It is also playing a constructive role in the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Meanwhile, though, its geopolitical rivalries with Japan and Vietnam over contested but mostly uninhabited South China Sea islands are growing steadily chillier as it constructs military and commercial facilities there.

Moreover, it could be argued that Xi's anticorruption campaign is merely the continuation of a millennia-old tradition of centralised authoritarian rule and obedience to central authority. The CCDI can hold people for as long as the Premier (and party) view necessary, without trial. Even high-ranking Politbureau ministers are held accountable. Pro-democracy campaigners, violent Xinjiang Muslim seperatists and separatist Tibetan Buddhists create headaches for Beijing as well. However, Xi Jinping is careful to cultivate a populist media image, embracing traditional Chinese cuisine, backing the People's Republic of China football team, and accompanied by his glamorous "First Lady" Peng Liyuan, a former folk singer. Xi is CPC "aristocracy,' one of the heirs of first-generation Communist leadership. His father was a liberal dissident persecuted by Mao, but Xi kept his head down and rose to become governor of two high-growth provinces, Fujian and Zheijang, before being appointed Governor of Shanghai in 2007 and also joining the core CPC Politbureau's Standing Committee that same year.

Certainly, China still has some problems- decelerating growth, deflation, excess industrial capacity and debt incurred by foolhardy local government 'vanity' projects, as well as falling property market prices. Insofar as commercial goods go, entrepreneurial originality and quality assurance are particular problems with Chinese products. Low wages, cheap credit and strong export demand fueled China's phenomenal economic growth over the last three decades, but even a stimulus package designed to counter 2008's global economic crisis has had mixed results.

What might Xi's reassertion of central CPC authority mean for tongzhi Chinese citizens? While Xi Jinping is clearly a centralist authoritarian, this may not necessarily provide anti-CPC movements with moral authority as noble dissidents. Xinjiang's radical Islamists reportedly have al-Qaeda ties, while Falun Dafa does seem to be an equally authoritarian Taoist cult and furthermore, the latter's leadership seems antigay. But tongzhi activism is another story. Could it be contained and co-opted by Xi and the CPC?

Thus far, Xi's denunciation of 'western values' hasn't translated into a crackdown against LGBT venues, only those that are foolhardy enough to allow P/crystal meth to circulate from the "Golden Triangle" of drug manufacturing and distribution in South-East Asia, and one cannot blame the CPC for taking action against what is, after all, a deadly drug which is rendered further threatening through its proximity to one of the world's hard drug nexus points. However, cruising areas for tongzhi man have been left largely untouched and there has been no crackdown against "money boys" (urban male sex workers who have sex with men). Its anti-corruption campaigns do not seem to include a western social puritan element and seem solely oriented against financial corruption. Orgies are illegal in China, but that applies to straight and tongzhi Chinese citizens alike. However, Li Yinhe continues to advocate for marriage equality within the Chinese Peoples Congress consultative body and there is nothing historically homophobic about the default Chinese governing philosophy, neo-Confucianism. The challenge for the tongzhi movement is to convey to the Communist Party that it is not anti-regime, that there is nothing necessarily "western" about LGBT social identities and that such prudent incremental reforms as antidiscrimination laws, relationship and parenting equality will burnish China's international reputation as a modern, highly skilled and pragmatic society and economy.

Jonathan Fenby: "What the West should know about Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao" New Statesman: 23.06.2015 http://www.newstatesman. com/print/node/228116
Willy Lam: "Xi Jinping: A Twenty First Century Mao?" Prospect Magazine: 21.05.2015: -a-21st-century-mao
Benjamin Law: Gaysia: Camberwell: Penguin: 2013.
James West: Beijing Blur: Camberwell: Penguin: 2008.

Craig Young - 3rd September 2015

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