Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gay Marriage, China Style (II)

Sunday afternoon I came home and found Jim lying over our living room sofa, his head dropping almost to the floor, his eyes blank.

I guessed right immediately that he’d just had another big fallout with his budding celebrity boyfriend. Once again befitting the temper of a prima donna, the boyfriend destroyed his fancy mobile phone. Only this time he hammered it to pieces, and in a continuing fit of frenzy, he hammed the TV stand to pieces as well.

And once again our friend Jim said, “I think I should get married.”

Jim is from a wealthy traditional Chinese family in the south. He has been a model filial and pious son for his entire life, except for his inability to get married and bear kids for his parents. Everyone wondered why, for he was very handsome, very youthful looking and very wealthy in his own right. Lately, the parents increased their crazed efforts to arrange him blind dates.

“How could you not like the girl? She was pretty and docile and healthy.” I imagined him being interrogated after each failed date. Perhaps like in the movie The Wedding Banquet, the parents would soon find him a date with two doctor’s degrees.

“Marriage would get everyone off my back,” Jim sighed. “They would not let me in peace until I get married. And what’s so bad about marrying a woman anyway? My parents would be happy. My siblings would be happy. My aunts and uncles would be happy. My parents’ neighbors would be happy, cause they always took as their own business to remind my mom that I’m in my late 30s already.” He ground his teeth at the mentioning of the neighbors.

I reminded him again that to get his parents off his back was no good reason to cheat an innocent woman into a fraudulent marriage. The truth would come out sooner or later, and he would be hated by the woman for the rest of his life. Why destroy a woman’s life and become the target of hatred?

“Show me one straight Chinese man who doesn’t fool around in massage parlor or karaoke bar,” Tim demanded (and you’ll show me a happy homosexual?). “The women all knew about their husbands’ escapades. But they don’t talk about it. If I could provide material comfort and security for my wife, would she complain about anything else? I doubt it.”

I pondered for a beat and realized the folly of my Westernized logic—I really don’t know any straight Chinese man who doesn’t fool around (except hopefully my brother-in-law); and the wives all seem perfectly happy knowing perfectly well that their husbands would more than likely fool around in the gazillion massage parlors and karaoke bars in China. But how about your happiness? I insisted. You make your parents happy and then a wife you don’t love happy, yet would you be happy?

“I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t be happier. I’ve been alone almost forty years now. I want a family. I want kids.” Jim sat up straight in the sofa. “Don’t you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time as each year passes by? Just to make more money and watch yourself age? Married people don’t worry about aging, for they see with their own eyes the growing up of their own kids. They may go one day but their kids stay. That gave…some meaning in life.”

I said I don’t quite have that mid-life crisis yet, for I don’t have one-tenth (or one-hundredth) of his wealth and I’d love to be in his shoes (and mansions) so I could go travel around the world and make arts. But I do see his point about the glooming emptiness of life and the exuberance of kids’ laughter dispelling this emptiness of life.

“Perhaps you should get married and have kids,” I said hesitantly. “I do see your point about you not being able to lead a happier life. You can’t get out of the closet. You can’t face the pressure of your parents. You don’t want to hurt anyone. Then perhaps marriage is for you.”

We both went silent. I was wondering if this type of conversation had happened gazillion times in the West in the 50s and 60s, before the gay rights movement. He was surely thinking about his ill-tempered celebrity boyfriend.

“But wait,” I gradually saw the light, “it can’t be that way.” The light was shining brighter. “You can’t be happy that way. Gazillion gay men had tried exactly that strategy in the past, fooling themselves into marriages, into having kids, believing that would solve their problems and make them happy. Don’t trust my rhetoric or logic. But trust statistics—I haven’t read or heard of any happily married gay man. So don’t go down that road. You’ll only find yourself a bigger mess. True happiness can only happen from within. You can only be happy when you find peace within, with yourself and with your sexuality.”

I delivered that breathless speech in what I believe a self-assured and convincing way. I paused for effect. He sat motionlessly, either digesting my words or digesting the image of his boyfriend in a frenzy.

Then immediately I remembered a wealthy married gay man in his 50s who had sent his family to England so he could enjoy himself with his money and the money boys around him. He appeared convincingly happy when I interviewed him for my failed gay marriage doc.

I didn’t tell Jim that.

A day later the problem was solved—the boyfriend apologized and they went back together. The marriage discussion was postponed and the blind dates continued, perhaps until the next hammered mobile phone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I heart China

As soon as I got to work this morning, I began receiving invites after invites on MSN messenger to add a "(red heart) China" next to my name on the messenger. Apparently people all over China are doing this today to show solidarity in face of foreign media's recent antagonism against China.

I didn't add the red heart to my name, feeling not particularly patriotic this week.

I read my friend Lisa's blog entry on her road trip in California. That made my heart aching for the Central Valley which I had driven through so many times. Yet when my friend Jeff skyped from San Francisco and asked when I would move back to the US, I said I couldn't yet; even if I could, there's all that jazz in Beijing that I couldn't leave behind.

In the evening I read another friend's blog entry on her husband's appeal being denied. It reminded me of my sister's ordeal two years ago. I noticed the drizzle that had lasted all day and realized that my heart had been damp too.

In the office at 10pm, two of my colleagues noticed my MSN messenger did not have enough red hearts.

"You are not patriotic enough," one girl giggled. Then she began talking with the other girl about how every single friend of theirs was doing the red heart China today, about how the foreigners so misunderstood China. "They think Chinese men still wear queues and Chinese people are very rude. Yet they have no idea how advanced China has progressed."

They nodded at each other in complete agreement.

I wanted to defend the clueless "foreigners" but I quickly remembered there exist too many clueless foreigners just like that. Moreover, I didn't want to get into one more argument about patriotism and the reason of my lack thereof.

I msn'ed with my sister before I left office at 11pm. She said I read the friend's blog too. She said I would have gone crazy if I were in her shoes. That hopelessness. That lawlessness. That rottenness beneath the surface.

I jumped into one of the cabs waiting outside the office building; cabs had better business at this hour for everyone working late pass 9pm could get their cab fare reimbursed by the company. The driver had a heavy Sichuanese accent. I asked if he was from Sichuan. He said yeah, are you? I said yes.

His Sichuanese accent was different from mine--though only a true Sichuanese would be able to tell that--still it made me feel close. I asked why he had travelled so far to drive a cab in Hangzhou. He said he'd been working in Hangzhou for 10 years as a migrant worker before cabbing. He said life now was much easier except for his messed up sleep schedule due to his night cab shift.

When I handed him my 10 yuan cab fare, he inquired with big smiles piled on his endearing wrinkled face: "Do you need a receipt of bigger sum for reimbursement?"

That made my heart warm--only a true compatriot would offer that chance to fleece the company! Living in China, I realized once again, gave me chances everyday to enjoy that closeness of my people, to tell the subtle differences in us being Chines--accents and all--and to love my people because we share the same blood despite the illusions of shiny gaming exterior and the jingoism much contrary to my taste.

I Heart China.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


China jails rights activist outspoken on Tibet
By Chris Buckley
Guardian - UK

BEIJING, April 3 (Reuters) - A Buddhist Chinese dissident outspoken on Tibet and other sensitive topics was jailed for three-and-a-half years on Thursday, a conviction likely to become a focus of international rights campaigns ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Hu Jia, 34, was found guilty of "inciting subversion of state power" for criticising the ruling Communist Party, a verdict at which the United States expressed dismay.
"In this Olympic year, we urge China to seize the opportunity to put its best face forward and take steps to improve its record on human rights and religious freedom," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

The official Xinhua news agency said Hu had made a "confession of crime and acceptance of punishment", leading the court to issue a relatively light sentence. Hu's two lawyers said he had acknowledged "excesses".

"In the end, I think that he came to accept that some of his statements were contrary to the law as it stands," said defence lawyer Li Jinsong.

"So to some extent he accepted the prosecution's allegations."

Hu has 10 days starting on Friday to decide whether to appeal, but Li said he was unlikely to do so. Hu could apply for medical release to treat a bad liver and other illnesses, the lawyer added.

The "inciting subversion" charge can attract a jail term of five years or longer, and before the hearing lawyer Li Fangping said a long sentence was likely. After the hearing he said he was unaware of any deal in return for the sentence.

Another Chinese dissident, Yang Chunlin, who called for human rights to take precedence over the Olympic Games, was sentenced to five years in jail in late March for the same crime.

Foreign reporters and diplomats were excluded from Hu's hearing but Xinhua gave details of the offences.

The court heard that from August 2006 to October 2007, Hu published articles on overseas-run Web sites, made comments in interviews with foreign media and "repeatedly instigated other people to subvert the state's political power and socialist system", Xinhua said.

In two Web site articles, one on law enforcement ahead of last year's Communisty Party Congress, and one entitled "One Country Doesn't Need Two Systems", Hu spread "malicious rumours and committed libel", Xinhua quoted the verdict as saying.
Dozens of well-wishers gathered outside the court to express support for Hu and rowdily air their own grievances.

"Hu Jia is a hero to us because he stood up to speak out, so we should also speak out," said one of them, Li Hai.

International human rights groups were quick to condemn the verdict.

"This verdict is a slap in the face for Hu Jia and a warning to any other activists in China who dare to raise human rights concerns publicly," said Mark Allison of Amnesty International.

"It also betrays promises made by Chinese officials that human rights would improve in the run-up to the Olympics."


Starting with advocacy for rural AIDS sufferers, Hu emerged as one of the nation's most vocal advocates of democratic rights, religious freedom and self-determination for Tibet, recently shaken by protests and a security crackdown.

"Hu spread malicious rumours, and committed libel in an attempt to subvert the state's political power and socialist system," the court said, according to Xinhua.
His conviction is likely to become a focus for critics of the Communist Party's strict controls on dissent and protest ahead of the Olympics in August.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised Hu's case when in Beijing in February, and the European Union and other Western governments have also pressed China on the matter.

Hu's relatively rapid trial suggested authorities wanted to get it out of the way well before the Games, said Joshua Rosenzweig of the Duihua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that works to free Chinese political prisoners.

"I think a lot of people hoped that, given the damage that China's international image has suffered over the past few weeks, ... Hu would have been treated with more leniency," Rosenzweig said.

Hu was detained by police in late December after spending more than 200 days under house arrest in a Beijing apartment complex.

"I don't think that three-and-a-half years is actually all that light," said Rosenzweig. "Especially when you add in the two years of what amounts to illegal house arrest."

Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, who has also often criticised the Chinese government, and their infant daughter remain under house arrest and their telephone is cut off.
Zeng attended the hearing, emerging with her baby from the courthouse visibly upset before being whisked away in a police vehicle.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Hong Kong; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton)