Accepted Paper:

To marry a "tongqi": gay men who marry women in China  


Chris K. K. Tan (Shandong University)

Paper short abstract:

In China, even gay men are expected to marry, and their wives are popularly called "tongqi". Given China's 1.3 billion population, that is plenty of mental suffering. By examining how gay men relieve this immense pressure, I hope to trigger a public conversation about it and resolve it someday.

Paper long abstract:

In China, everybody is expected to marry. As a prerequisite to the social legitimization of any children produced through the union, marriage satisfies the Confucianism-driven demand to extend the patriline, and transforms individuals into socially responsible adults. Even gay men cannot evade this cultural imperative, and their wives are called "tongqi" in popular discourses. If even just a tiny one percent of China's 1.3 billion population professes only same-sex desires, that would still be 13 million people (or 6.5 million men and 6.5 million women) facing either loveless marital unions, or severe material consequences brought by a failure to marry. That is plenty of unwarranted mental suffering that could have been avoided if only the Chinese face fewer demands to marry and procreate.

In this presentation, I first briefly locate homosexuality in China's history, before ethnographically examining the various strategies that Chinese gay men use to relieve the immense pressure to marry and have children. I cannot possibly solve the problem with this paper alone, but I hope to trigger a public conversation about it to resolve it someday.

Panel P091
Knowledge revealed and concealed: anthropologies of things unseen by the illiberal state