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For readers seeking insight into the atavistic creepiness of the institutionalized anti-LGBT bigotry of the Russian state—which is eliciting calls to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics–I refer readers to an article I wrote in 2011 and updated in 2012 on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to position himself as the champion of Russian Orthodox religious conservatives (thereby provoking the Pussy Riot provocation in a Moscow church).
Putin, therefore, can rely on his ability to summon up mobs of religious reactionaries as well as rabid nationalists to defend his regime against the West-backed opposition.
In the compare-and-contrast field, the Chinese Communist Party has been rather successful in playing the nationalist card against Japan and the United States. However, in the religion arena, its woes are rather well documented, including the long-standing adversarial relationship between the Christian house church movement and the regime.
And gay-bashing is not on the official agenda.
In striking contrast to the Russian faux pas, the Chinese state media had rolled out a gay-supportive official initiative in 2007 prior to its Olympics to promote a “smiling China” vibe and blunt U.S. criticisms of the PRC’s human rights transgressions.
As Lily Kuo reported at Quartz, the effort continues today:
Yesterday (Aug. 13) marked Chinese Valentine’s Day, also known as the Qixi Festival. Though it’s a traditional holiday that celebrates romance dating back to the Han dynasty, it’s now becoming a rallying point for China’s small but growing gay-rights movement. Yesterday, a gay couple kissing in Beijing was greeted by cheers. A video of a 90-year-old grandmother (paywall) in Fuzhou province explaining her support of her gay 28-year-old grandson has been circulating the internet. State media Xinhua declared in a headline, “Chinese Valentine’s, our gay day!” (Xinhua’s Chinese edition led with a more toned down headline: “More Chinese guys [sic] openly celebrate Qixi“)
A pro-gay stance has helped the PRC in dealing with the overseas manifestation of one of its most pressing religious headaches, Falun Gong, the esoteric syncretic qigong “spiritual practice” (to its entry-level devotees) or, according to critic Rick Ross, a cult demanding on absolute loyalty to its charismatic founder, Li Hongzhi, by its upper-level leaders.
In 1999, Jiang Zemin ordered the suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual practice movement after it displayed its ability and willingness to organize in defense of its beliefs by mustering 10,000 followers in Tiananmen Square to object to the arrest of 45 practitioners in Tianjin publically protesting negative portrayals of FLG in the official media, thereby raising the possibility that the group could serve as a Solidarity-type vehicle for political protest with a religious gloss.
The US has played a discrete and limited role in keeping this obscurantist cult chugging along outside the PRC. Li Hongzhi has resided in the United States safely and apolitically since 1996 and Interpol has ignored a red notice the Chinese government put out requesting his detention. In 2006, under somewhat suspicious circumstances the lead investigator for FLG’s allegations of human vivisection abuses by the Chinese government received press credentials for Hu Jintao’s official visit to the U.S. by the Bush White House and screamed imprecations at Hu during his press conference on the South Lawn. And the FLG-affiliated Global Internet Freedom Consortium received a controversial $1.5 million grant in 2010 (the most confrontational year in many confrontational years of relations between the Obama administration and the PRC) to support its development of its Great Firewall evasion technologies Ultrasurf and Freegate.
While we are on the subject of anti-gay bigotry, Li Hongzhi, whose universe-penetrating wisdom allegedly gives him powers of invisibility and levitation and the ability to telekinetically install the “Wheel of Law” or “Dharma Wheel”–the “Falun” of “Falun Gong”– into the abdomen of his followers, is no fan of teh gay, as the cautiously pro-FLG Wikipedia entry tells us:
As part of its emphasis on ethical behavior, Falun Gong’s teachings prescribe a strict personal morality for practitioners, which includes abstention from smoking, drugs, gambling, premarital or extramarital sex, and homosexuality.
This stance cost Li his unlikely nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was withdrawn by San Francisco legislators after his views were aired.
The PRC government and its allies have exploited the FLG’s anti-gay position to marginalize the group overseas. In 2006, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco, as part of its battle to exclude FLG waist-drum dancers from the annual Chinese New Year parade, took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking why the “Chinese community” was being asked to support a “homophobic cult”.
The PRC’s determinedly secularist-materialist bent (most recently reaffirmed by its decision to vilify and investigate Wang Lin, a purported qigong master who peddled his nostrums to China’s wealthy, connected, and famous, as part of Xi Jingping’s anti-corruption drive) and, for that matter, its gay-friendly official stance butter few parsnips for its Western liberal critics.
However, it is an interesting irony that China’s progressive LGBT policies and with its anti-religious policies make it more likely that conservative and homophobic religious groups will become assets of the progressive and secular West in its ongoing rivalry with the PRC.
Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan’s Resurgent Militarism, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.