Philip Freestone: Discourses of Marriage and Sexuality among Gay and Bisexual Men in Contemporary China

In the second of a short run of episodes focusing on LGBT topics for LGBT History Month, The Provocateur talks to Philip Freestone, a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Reading, about discourses of marriage and sexuality among men who have sex with men (MSMs) in contemporary mainland China. In particular, we focus on Philip’s interest in the recent explosion of matchmaking websites that set up marriages of convenience between non-heterosexual men and women and the ways in which this phenomenon reflects culturally ingrained understandings of homosexuality. Among other things, we discuss Confucian ideals of marriage and how they restrict non-normative sexual expression; the tension between public indifference towards homosexuality and private shame; the consequences of the one-child policy for the marriage market; and the potential for homosexual and bisexual men to exploit the traditional archetype of the effeminate scholar in Chinese conceptions of masculinity in order to contest heteronormativity.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

If you are interested in getting in touch with Phil, feel free to email him at:

Further Reading:

Altman, D. (1997) ‘Global Gaze/Global Gays’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3(4), pp. 417-436.

Cho, J. (2009) ‘The Wedding Banquet Revisited: “Contract Marriages” Between Korean Gays and Lesbians‘, Anthropological Quarterly 82(2), pp. 401-422.

Chou, W. S. (2000) Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies. Binghamton: Haworth Press.

Gee, J. P. (2015) Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, fifth edition. London: Routledge.

Hinsch, B. (1990) Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China. Oxford: University of California Press.

Ho, L. W. W. (2010) Gay and Lesbian Subculture in Urban China. Abingdon: Routledge.

Jones, R. H. (2012) Discourse Analysis. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

Louie, K. (2002) Theorising Chinese Masculinity: Society and Gender in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kong, T. S. (2011) Chinese Male Homosexualities: Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy. Oxford: Routledge.

Lau, H. et al. (2017) ‘Assessing the Tongzhi Label: Self-Identification and Public Opinion‘, Journal of Homosexuality 64(4), pp. 509-522.

Leap, W. and T. Boellstorff (2004) Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Li, Y. (2006) ‘Regulating male same-sex relationships in the People’s Republic of China’, in Jeffreys, E. (ed.) Sex and Sexuality in China. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 82-101.

Miège, P. (2009) ‘“In my Opinion, most Tongzhi are Dutiful Sons!” Community, social norms, and construction of identity among young homosexuals in Hefei, Anhui Province‘, China Perspectives 1, pp. 40-53.

Rofel, L. (2007) Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

Scollon, R. and S. W. Scollon (2004) Nexus Analysis: Discourse and the Emerging Internet. London: Routledge.

Scollon, R. et al. (2012) Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach. Oxford: Wiley & Sons.

Wei, W. (2016) ‘Good Gay Buddies for Lifetime: Homosexually Themed Discourse and the Construction of Heteromasculinity Among Chinese Urban Youth’, Journal of Homosexuality (pre-print publication)


2 thoughts on “Philip Freestone: Discourses of Marriage and Sexuality among Gay and Bisexual Men in Contemporary China

  1. I listened to the podcast with limited interest to begin with as the subject content does not immediately have any bearing on my life. Chinese culture or the variation of it via different georgaphical points is not something that I encounter daily and my experience the gay community let alone the Chinese gay community is also extremely limited. therefore before listening I was relying very much on pre concerned notions which I guess are formed by my own western or European hetrosexual soicla experinces. That said the author’s interst in this particular subject whilst not immediately relavnt to my life sparked my interest as I found it came across during interview. And once listining found much of the topic which when broken down could essentially be the age old the nature nurture debate; I don’t mean to play down the complexity of the study but to me this is how I understood the topic matter. I like things simple you see. Anyway if so the topic although very niche could be applied to lots of different intercultural dynamics and that interested me alot because then it becomes more personalised to me. I also think that the subject is probably a topic close to the author’s Hart and I think it is a difficult thing to study a topic very close to the heart objectively and sucessfully. It is perhaps a fine balance because I suppose an author must have an interest in the topic being studied to get the most out of the process and remain committed to finishing it. So remaining objective with one’s own interests/Views experiences might well infleune not just the topice itself but the trajectory the study takes. If you look long enough an hard enough you tend to find what you are looking for eventually; yet I appreciated how the author did stay on course with his topic and in my view remained objective. I would say that came across in the offered opinions in response to questions on subject matter possibly slightly outside his immidiate study area. I also liked how he pulled the topic back to what he has studied and found to be so. Again not an immidatley fascinating subject to me personally. If I was asked in a pub to debate this topic I could think of others perhaps immidatley more relavnt to my immidiate life. Though on deeper reception and as the interview porgressed i think there are many parralles and so it became more relavnt and interesting too me. I will say again what I found very thought provoking and interesting was not just text insight into how life probably is for gay Chinese men within their social norms but how our immidiate environment and social experiences expectations imapct and infleunce us all on the choices we make daily. I still Marvell that trump is the American president though he is merely a manifestation of a large quantity of American people. Social infleunce then is an extraordinary powerfully thing. The whole will always be more important that the individual??


  2. The thing I came away thinking about the most was to what extent there was an element of certain areas of wider Chinese society being in denial that homosexuality exists at all. Do you think that could be the case, either on a conscious or subconscious level? You did touch on it a bit when you talked about how the repressive nature of the cultural revolution on attitudes to sex may have affected the older generation, and also when you were talking about coming out not being worth it because it might not even be in some of the older generations’ frame of thinking.

    There were a few other things you said that made me think about this. When you talked about how gay bashing doesn’t really happen in China my immediate thought was is that because it’s so unspoken about that it’s not really in the wider public conscience? I wondered the same thing when you said the communist party doesn’t really interfere with people’s sex lives as it’s not something that concerns them. I didn’t know if you meant because they haven’t got a problem with it, or whether it was because they just didn’t acknowledge it. Also when you were talking about young male ‘friends’ sharing beds and how parents didn’t question it, I wondered whether that was due to naivety/not even imagining that it could be something sexual, or denial of what might actually be happening?


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