Crystal Boys – Hsien-yung review by the person who chose this book

How similar it felt in many respects to aspects of gay history in UK and USA: that sense of the underground and the outcast and fringes of society.

The author’s father was a leading general in the Chinese Republic and, as such, on the losing side and the author’s family therefore would have more or less been in exile in Taiwan.  Ideas of exile come through in the tone which is one of sadness, I think.

The author is also characterised as Dragon Prince in the story, i.e. someone who lived in America (further exile) but also his sexuality and difficult relationship with a powerful father is very true.

I was interested when the gay bar opened and the views of these boys of the other sections of gay society… the middle class businessmen, the students, not just these crystal boys, the frequenters of the park, and the successful people in the arts. Again it reminded me of West End Stories book we read and the comments by those when the gay bars became more open and the middle classes felt safe enough to frequent them. It made me think about how, as a student on the gay scene in Sheffield during the 80’s, how the rough and ready boys thought of us.

More difficult to approach but perhaps worth discussing would be to try to imagine how this book would be interpreted in China, where it has been published, and, shown as a film and mini-TV series, though not necessarily by Chinese filmmakers, maybe other Asian. What I mean by this, and from discussion with my (Chinese) partner, was, especially given the sad tone, the communist/majority consensus in China might at some stage have seen the whole book as cautionary yet troubling, i.e. this is the kind of society you get with the republic, poor, on the fringes, deviant behaviour and that this would never be the case in mainland communist China. And believe me, these views would have been around in the 80s in China and still are, even with younger people. And it was this undercurrent that made me think of the Dirk Bogarde film “Victim” from the UK in the 60s where even when it was made it was controversial and would have allowed people to harden their stances on sexuality whilst accepting existence.

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