Gay Marriage With Chinese Characteristics

Slate visits a meeting of gay and lesbian Shanghainese looking to pair up for ostensibly conventional marriages to fulfil their parents’ hopes and expectations. These matches offer a mutually satisfactory alternative to marrying a straight partner; the article also looks at the predicament of men and women trapped in such situations.

“I’m here to find a lesbian, to be with me and to build a home,” No. 11 says to the crowd clustered on floor cushions at a sunlit yoga studio in Shanghai. No. 11 is a muscular man in a flannel shirt and cargo pants, and he easily commands the attention of the crowd of 40 or so young men and women who are gingerly sipping glasses of wine and whispering to their neighbors.

“In my view, a 30-year-old man should start thinking about having a family, but two men can’t hold each other’s hands in the street. We’re not allowed to be a family,” he says. The crowd nods.

I’m at a fake- market, where Chinese lesbians and gay men meet to find a potential husband or wife. In China, the pressure to form a heterosexual marriage is so acute that 80 percent of China’s gay population marries straight people, according to sexologist Li Yinhe, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. To avoid such unions, six months ago, Shanghai’s biggest gay Web site,, started to hold marriage markets once a month.

Ang Lee’s 1993 comedy, The Wedding Banquet, dealt with similar themes, revolving around the -of-convenience of a gay Taiwanese-American man to a female Chinese immigrant in search of a green card. The film was based, in part, on the real-life experience of Neil Peng, who co-wrote the screenplay.

Parental and social pressure to marry is a heavy burden, as illustrated by the results of a recent survey reported by China Daily:

More than 70 percent of urban Chinese singles getting nearer to their “expiry date” for marriage are in the grip of depression, according to China’s first survey of their mental health ….

These “leftover” men and women, as they are called in Chinese, are defined by the All-China Women’s Federation as single women above the age of 27 and single men older than 30.

The legal age for marriage is 20 for women and 22 for men.

The survey, which gathered information from more than 160,000 questionnaires, said only 25 percent of those women and men are satisfied with their current single lives. About 22 percent of them frequently feel lonely and 30 percent suffer from negative emotions like anxiety, weariness and frustration.

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