Public parks, bath houses, news stands—these were some of the venues for gay people to meet in the old days of Shanghai. The second day of Shanghai Pride featured a panel discussion on gay spaces throughout Shanghai history, along with a brief primer on the creation and reception of China´s first university course on homosexuality at Shanghai’s Fudan University. Around 150 people gathered at Kathleen’s 5 to listen and learn.
“Blossom from the Little Garden – Evolution of Gay Scenes in Shanghai” stood written on a power point screen as guests filled the room—a suitable name for movement that literally started to bloom amid the greenery of old Shanghai.
Two authorities on the area, Prof. Wei Wei from East China Normal University and Lee-San from Rainbow League, guided us through the history and the extant research, while also spicing things up with anecdotes from their own personal experiences.
One of the major issues discussed by the speakers was that of spaces and venues for the gay community. In the past, many public spaces throughout Shanghai have served as secret venues for gay people. Walking along the river towards The Bund, a stroll called “The Walk of Love”, was one example. According to Lee-San, because straight people met there as well, according to Lee-San, gay people had to recognize each other through eye contact and physical identification.
But this way of meeting has become a thing of the past. Prof. Wei compares to it today’s scene in slightly wistful terms:
Up until the 1980s there were more pure venues for gay people. People met, everybody was polite and gentle. Now we are missing these places. Meeting today is internet based, which means that seeing the person for the first time might be awfully shocking. We miss old times.
In those days, one of the types of spaces important to the life of the Shanghai gay community was the public bathhouse, many of which have long since been closed down:
Until the 1980s, there were no gay bars, no internet. Bath houses was one of the only places to meet. Since, in those times, many people had no bathing or showering facilities at home, everybody went there. But now, we are facing the problems surrounding HIV and STDs.
The second part of the panel discussion, which was a bit rushed owing to time constraints, was about the creation of and subsequent media coverage on China’s first university course on homosexuality, “Homosexual Health Social Sciences”, at Fudan University. Prof. Gao from Fudan University, one of the movers behind the initiative and also famous for his lectures, made a quick review of the different phases that led to the lifting of a once taboo subject in Chinese universities.
However, because something Prof. Gao also bemoaned the initial lack of exposure in the Chinese print media:
There was only one media covering this, The Oriental Morning Post, who actually did an entire page on it. But later on, when I met people from the paper, they didn´t dare to talk about the story. And the reporter who wrote it – I have never heard of him again.
Photos by: Grant-Oh! Buchwald and Kirsti Jönson