LGBT rights in China

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LGBT rights in Communist China China
People's Republic of China (orthographic projection).svg
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal nationwide since 1997[1]
Gender identity/expression Trans people allowed to change legal gender after sex reassignment surgery.
Military service -
Discrimination protections None nationwide
Family rights
Recognition of
None nationwide
The Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman
Adoption Same-sex couples may not adopt jointly

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) ku'er (酷儿, queer) or tongzhi (同志 lit: 'comrade') persons in the People's Republic of China face social and legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Song dynasty[edit]

The earliest law against a homosexual acts in China dates from the Zheng He era (政和, 1111-1118) of Emperor Zhao Ji (趙佶) in the Song dynasty, punishing "young males who act as prostitutes with a fine of 100 blows with a heavy bamboo and a fine of 50,000 cash." Another text from the Song Dynasty prohibits the offense of bu nan (male-female prostitution).[2]

Ming dynasty[edit]

The first statute specifically prohibiting same-sex sexual intercourse between men was enacted in the Jiajing era (嘉靖, 1522-1567) of Emperor Zhu Houcong (朱厚熜) in the Ming dynasty.[2]

Qing dynasty[edit]

By 1655, Qing courts began to refer to the term ji jian (sodomy) to apply to homosexual anal intercourse. In 1740, the first anti-homosexual decree in Chinese history was promulgated, defining voluntarily homosexual intercourse between adults as illegal.Though there were no records on the effectiveness of this decree, it was the first time homosexuality had been subject to legal proscription in China.[3]

Republic of China[edit]

In 1912, explicit prohibitions of ji jian were abolished in China.[1]

People's Republic of China[edit]

In 1979, "hooliganism" was criminalized in Chinese criminal law. In 1997, the Chinese government abolished the hooligan law, an act considered by most to be a decriminalization of homosexuality in the People's Republic of China. In 2001, the Chinese Society of Psychiatry declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.[1][4]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

The Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China, adopted at the third session of the Fifth National People's Congress on September 10, 1980, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.[5] Legal frameworks on marriage in the PRC state marriage as being between a man and woman.[6] Despite having a documented history of tolerance of homoerotism, homosexuality was largely invisible during the Mao era because homosexuals were pathologised and criminalised.[7] In the 1980s, the subject of 'homosexuality' reemerged in the public domain and gay identities and communities have expanded in the public eye since then. However, Jeffreys and Yu note that public discourse in China is disinterested and, at best, ambivalent about homosexuality, and traditional sentiments on family obligations and discrimination remains a significant factor deterring same-sex attracted people from 'coming out'.[8]


Beijing currently provides dependent residency status to the same-sex partners of legal residents, such as expats.

Hong Kong[edit]

In June 2009, the Government of Hong Kong extended limited recognition and protection to cohabitating same-sex couples in its Domestic Violence Ordinance.[9]

Legal challenges[edit]

On January 5, 2016, a court in Changsha, southern Hunan Province, agreed to hear the lawsuit of 26-year-old Sun Wenlin filed in December 2015 against the Bureau of Civil Affairs of Furong District for its June 2015 refusal to let him marry his 36-year-old male partner, Hu Mingliang.[10] On April 13, 2016, with hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters outside, the Changsha court ruled against Sun, who vowed to appeal, citing the importance of his case for LGBT progress in China.[11] On May 17, 2016, Sun and Hu were married in a private ceremony in Changsha, expressing their intention to organize another 99 LGBT weddings across the country in order to normalize same-sex marriage in China.[12]

Laws regarding gender reassignment[edit]

In 2009, the Chinese Government made it illegal for minors to change their officially-listed gender, stating that sex reassignment surgery, available to only those over the age of twenty, was required in order to apply for a revision of their identification card and residence registration.[13]

Shanxi Province[edit]

In 2014, the Shanxi Province started allowing minors to apply for the change with the additional information of their guardian's identification card. This shift in policy allows post-surgery marriages to be recognized as heterosexual and therefore legal.[14]

Hong Kong[edit]

Hong Kong law allows change in legal documents such as the identity cards and passports, but does not allow birth certificates to be changed, after a person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.[15]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

The Chinese Government requires parents adopting children from China to be in heterosexual marriages.[16] Adoption of Chinese children by foreign LGBT couples and individuals has already been prohibited by the Chinese authorities.[17]

Discrimination protections[edit]

The Constitution does not explicitly deal with sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

There is no anti-discrimination provision for sexual orientation or gender identity under the Chinese Labour Law. The Labour Law specifically protects workers against discrimination on the basis of a person's ethnicity, gender or religion.[17]

Hong Kong[edit]

The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance 1991 prohibits discrimination on a variety of grounds, including "other status". In the case of Leung TC William Roy v. Secretary for Justice (2005), this has been interpreted to include sexual orientation. However, the Bill of Rights only applies to government sponsored discrimination and not the private sector.[18]


The Basic Law of Macau's Article 25 indicates the people of Macau are free from discrimination based on a non-exhaustive list of prohibited factors. Sexual orientation is not included in such list of prohibited discrimination grounds. However, there are anti-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation in the fields of labour relations (article 6/2 of Law 7/2008), protection of personal data (article 7/1,2 of Law 8/2005) and ombudsman (article 31-A of Law 10/2000, as amended by Law 4/2012).

Freedom of expression and censorship[edit]

In 2015, film-maker Fan Popo sued government censors for pulling his gay documentary Mama Rainbow from online sites.[19] The lawsuit concluded in December 2015 with a finding by Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court that the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) had not requested that hosting sites pull the documentary.[20] Despite this ruling, which Fan felt was a victory because it effectively limited state involvement, "the film is still unavailable to see online on Chinese hosting sites."[21]

On December 31, 2015, the China Television Drama Production Industry Association posted new guidelines, including a ban on showing LGBT relationships on TV. The regulations stated: "No television drama shall show abnormal sexual relationships and behaviors, such as incest, same-sex relationships, sexual perversion, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual violence, and so on."[22] These new regulations have begun to affect web dramas,[23] which have historically had fewer restrictions:

"Chinese Web dramas are commonly deemed as enjoying looser censorship compared with content on TV and the silver screen. They often feature more sexual, violent and other content that is deemed by traditional broadcasters to fall in the no-no area."[24]

In February 2016, the popular Chinese gay web series Addicted (Heroin) was banned from being broadcast online 12 episodes into a 15-episode season. Makers of the series uploaded the remaining episodes on YouTube, and production of a planned second season remains in doubt.[25]

Conversion therapy[edit]

In December 2014, a Beijing court ruled in favor of Yang Teng, a gay man, in a case against a conversion therapy clinic. The court ruled that such treatments are illegal and ordered the clinic to pay monetary compensation to Yang.[26]

In June 2016, Yu Hu, a gay man from Henan Province, sued a hospital in the city of Zhumadian for forcing him to undergo conversion therapy.[27]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1997)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1997)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Both joint and step adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays allowed to serve in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender Yes
Commercial surrogacy No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
MSM allowed to donate blood No
Freedom of expression - depicting LGBT relationships Emblem-question.svg

See also[edit]


  2. ^ a b Sommer, Matthew (2000). Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press. p. 413. ISBN 0-8047-3695-2. 
  3. ^ "History of Homosexuality". Shanghai Star. Retrieved 26 November 2016. 
  4. ^ "Policy issues concerning sexual orientation in China, Canada, and the United States" (PDF). Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  5. ^ "laws". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  6. ^ Jeffreys, Elaine; Wang, Pan (2013). "The rise of Chinese-foreign marriage in mainland China, 1979–2010". China Information. 27 (3): 347–349. 
  7. ^ Jeffreys, Elaine; Yu, Haiqing (2015). Sex in China. Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-5613-7. 
  8. ^ Jeffreys, Elaine; Yu, Haiqing (2015). Sex in China. Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-5613-7. 
  9. ^ Pink News, "Gay couples to be protected by Hong Kong domestic violence law
  10. ^ Gay man sues for right to marry in China’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit in South China Morning Post, January 6, 2016
  11. ^ "Chinese Court Rules Against Gay Couple Seeking To Get Married". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  12. ^ Tone, Sixth. "Gay Couple Vows Wedding to Be First of Many". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  13. ^ Jun, Pi (9 October 2010). "Transgender in China". Journal of LGBT Youth. 7 (4): 346–351. doi:10.1080/19361653.2010.512518. 
  14. ^ Sun, Nancy (9 January 2014). "Shanxi Permits Persons to Change Gender Information". All-China Women's Federation. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Ms W vs. the Hong Kong Registrar of Marriages". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  16. ^ "Intercountry Adoption - China - Who Can Adopt". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  17. ^ a b Anonymous (24 March 2010). "China: The Legal Position and Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the People's Republic of China". Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  19. ^ Rauhala, Emily (2015-09-16). "This gay rights activist is suing the Chinese censors who banned his film". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-03-06. 
  20. ^ "Chinese Gay Activist Claims Victory in Online Film Censorship Lawsuit". WSJ Blogs - China Real Time Report. Retrieved 2016-03-06. 
  21. ^ Leach, Anna (2016-02-11). "What is the Chinese media doing right for LGBT people?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-03-06. 
  22. ^ "China bans same-sex romance from TV screens". CNN. Retrieved 2016-03-06. 
  23. ^ Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (2016-03-04). "China bans depictions of gay people on television". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-03-06. 
  24. ^ Lilian Lin, China’s Censors Pull More Web Dramas, Including Hit Rom-Com in ChinaRealTime (China blog of The Wall Street Journal), 21 January 2016
  25. ^ Lilian Lin and Chang Chen, China’s Censors Take Another Gay-Themed Web Drama Offline in ChinaRealTime (China blog of The Wall Street Journal), 24 February 2016
  26. ^ Kaiman, Jonathan (19 December 2014). "Chinese court rules 'gay cure' treatments illegal". Retrieved 29 April 2017 – via The Guardian. 
  27. ^ Phillips, Tom (14 June 2016). "Gay man sues Chinese psychiatric hospital over 'sexuality correction'". Retrieved 29 April 2017 – via The Guardian.