• Hughlyn Wong

How does Hong Kong's hybrid culture affect its LGBTQ+ community?

Colonial influence on Hong Kongese queer identity.

By Hughlyn Wong

July 26, 2022


Hong Kong’s history of British colonial influence creates a unique environment for the evolution of its LGBTQ+ community. British colonial rule in Hong Kong clashes with traditional Chinese culture to shape queer experiences and public conceptions of sexual minorities. The Eastern–Western tensions of Hong Kong’s changing landscape are reflected in its distinctive pop culture and social life; since the 1980s, a queer subculture has slowly emerged amidst social, economic, legal, cultural, and religious changes. Despite this, Hong Kong still has ways to go regarding legal protection for LGBTQ+ individuals. Hong Kong law does not recognize same-sex marriages, and anti-discrimination bills do not protect queer or transgender individuals. While Hong Kong’s social attitudes oppose LGBTQ+ social activism, gender and sexual minorities are accepted or at least recognized gender in culture; this ambivalent sentiment stems from Hong Kong’s hybrid nature.

Apart from a period of Japanese occupation, Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997. On 1 July 1997, British authority over Hong Kong territory was passed over to the People’s Republic of China on the conditions of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Under the declaration, China agreed to maintain Hong Kong’s established government and economy under the “one country, two systems” convention for the next 50 years. During colonial rule, in 1842, the British government criminalized sodomy in Hong Kong under English law. However, when the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act decriminalized sodomy in the United Kingdom, it was not legalized in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong conception of homosexuality was based on the Western medical portrayal of homosexuality as social deviancy. While Chinese religions such as Taoism and Buddhism remain indifferent to sexual minorities, the smaller Hong Kong population under Western religion Christianity propagated western sexual hierarchies that stigmatized same-sex relations. As missionary work before the handover, Christian churches established education, medical, and social welfare services all throughout Hong Kong. The Christian influence cultivated a conservative view of sexuality in Hong Kongers, idealizing the western sexual stratification that condemns homosexuality, pornography, premarital sex, and non monogamous sex. Ironically, even though the British government was the driving force behind the criminalization and social condemnation of minority sexualities — western led capitalism, a product of colonial rule, advanced Hong Kong’s modernization which influenced and encouraged the development of Hong Kong’s queer culture.

After a scandal in 1980 about a Scottish policeman charged with homosexual acts who killed himself, the British government was pressured to decriminalize sodomy in 1983. As a result, Hong Kong’s queer culture was commercialized through the formation of bathhouses, boutiques, bookshops, and bars that catered to a queer clientele. Colonial influence on post-war urbanization and modernization contributed to the emergence of Hong Kong’s vibrant nightlife and queer spaces. Additionally, “a transnational network of queer intelligentsia —expatriates and Western-educated Chinese—” furthered queer subculture into Hong Kong media and pop culture. This included lifestyle newsletters, novels, plays, artists, and films; notably, the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (HKLGFF), which premiered in 1989, was one of the first public events that gathered the LGBTQ+ community and provided non-stigmatizing LGBTQ+ media representation.

The British occupation of Hong Kong, a driving force for social, economic, legal, cultural, and religious changes, shaped the realizations and perceptions of the queer community. While the colonial government criminalized homosexual relations in the first place, the development of Hong Kong’s queer culture was influenced by the “one country, two systems” principle.


This article covers some of the impacts caused by the intersection of globalization and colonization; however, it would be remiss to overlook the influence of mainland sovereignty on Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ community.

 

References

(1) Lai-Shan Yip. Roman Catholicism and Confucianism on Homosexuality in Hong Kong Before and After 1997: A Postcolonial, Queer, Feminist Perspective and Implications for Chinese Roman Catholic Ethics. Decolonial Horizons. Vol. 2:25-58. DOI: 10.13169/decohori.2.0025


(2) Tang, G. (2019, June). Tongzhi: Queer identity politics in Hong Kong before & after the handover. Pink Alliance. https://pinkalliance.hk/pink-blog/long-reads/long-read-tongzhi-queer-identity-politics-in-hong-kong-before-and-after-the-handover/


(3) Travis S. K. Kong (2020) Toward a Transnational Queer Sociology: Historical Formation of Tongzhi Identities and Cultures in Hong Kong and Taiwan (1980s-1990s) and China (late 1990s-early 2000s), Journal of Homosexuality, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2020.1826835