Internet censorship and survelliance are common complaints in China and the gay community are no strangers to it. As Shanghai’s week-long pride festival kicked off over the weekend, the festival website with details of the events – shanghaipride.com – has been effectively blocked by a firewall.
Shanghai’s City Weekend magazine had only said last week to look out for venue details, exact times and location to be released a day or two before each event. The strategy of the organisers was targeted to avoid complications. The government forced some events to be dropped at short notice during the first pride festival launched in the city in 2009.
Thus the opening party which flagged off the festival, the only one of its kind for LGBT in China, took place without much razzle dazzle on Saturday night. A small crowd mingled outside the Mexican restaurant in Yongjia Road in Shanghai’s former French Concession. Inside the entrance was a small poster with the word “Pride”, if one looked for it hard enough. The reception counter had a few flyers indicating there was a party going on but there were no rainbow colours or flags of any sort to mark the event. The only clue was perhaps the level of chic at the party. Men were dressed in signature tight shirts and pants and some women were androgynous, clad in jackets and hats. Except for a short drag performance, the low-key event could have been mistaken for a regular private party anywhere in the city.
Such a lack of flamboyance for a coming out party marks how conservative China remains, despite a growing gay population who are flocking to Shanghai, the financial capital, from other cities. The festival even highlights how gay culture exists in China but underground, highlighted by a talk to be held next Saturday on social pressures forcing gay men and women into arranged marriages.
Festival events are not hugely publicised and there is no commercial sponsorship. Despite the hurdles and now censorship of its website, the organisers are quietly hopeful that the festival will be as well attended as the opening night.
“It was successful. There was a bit over 600 guests last night,” said Charlene Liu, one of the festival organisers, told Fridae.
Shanghai Pride will be featuring nightly film viewings and art exhibitions this week and a pub crawl and closing party on Saturday, October 29.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who set China on its trail toward a socialist market economy, once said: "If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in." That means gay events in the country should expect to be among those flies being swatted every now and then, being considered as they are, undesirable ideology.
J.W. Ken is a poet and freelance journalist who travels the globe writing, and is now in Shanghai.