This is the second book, in as any months, that our group has read that has a powerful mother. The context of the book is more interesting than the content – the lovers don’t do very much and the insensitive lead character is surely a stereotype. If Lan Yu was the main character it would have been psychologically more interesting. One of our members has a Chinese husband who read it online in China at the time of ‘publication’. He thinks that the introduction in this book is worth reading because it gives some background as to the context in which it was written and how it was intended to be received by the reader. At the time of it being put online the internet had taken off in China and gay networks established themselves across China and at that time people could express themselves in relative anonymity. Many novel length stories (built up in episodes) appeared in the chatrooms. It enabled fictional characters to act out many of the issues facing gay people at the time whilst the general population (including the emerging middle class) remained largely ignorant of the concept of ‘gay’ as opposed to ‘homosexual’. It also became an expectation that these stories would have a sexual content to them, indeed, to the Chinese gay man on the net, this was often the main hook into the story; the sexual exploration. Indeed, to many men with homosexual inclinations, the main aspect of their sexuality was one of play and pleasure and so this exploration of a doomed love affair and conflict with Chinese family values would have possibly stood out. Sean has quite a few friends who themselves wrote semi autobiographical series onto the net with varying levels of skill. But even the poorest of stories may have been read or at least clicked on by many thousands of people. He liked the flawed nature of the ‘I’ character: he was honest and confused and not that nice in comparison to the noble savage from the countryside. The pace of the story was good too. Many Chinese gay men looked for ‘love’ abroad partly not to end up in one of these relationships where they are just the man on the side, a pleasurable add-on to the normal family structure. Whether that was out of the frying pan and into the fire in many cases is up for debate! It reminded him a little of thoughts of Victorian England in this sense.
The translator was criticised for not improving the banality of some of the text, its prosaic descriptions – but is it the job of a translator to make a purse out of a sow’s ear?
Do we get cliff-hangers because it was serialised?
The importance of reciprocity is strongly evident.
It’s quite erotic but it’s really about love, not sex.
It ends in a church with statements about God being all-loving and the question as to why he doesn’t love gays.
I had to look up ‘myrmidons’ = a follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly.
Was the writer a woman? Surely, if so, she would have concentrated on the characters rather than their context.
“It defined a generation. For many gay men in China, reading Beijing Comrades was a powerful experience because it was one of a small number of texts in which they could see themselves reflected.”
While the plot isn’t groundbreaking — cold and affectless Handong initially sees Lan Yu as a cheap fuck, he falls for him, and then life inevitably intervenes — the story was hugely influential.
“Most of the fictional works from late-1990s China are tragedies, and this perhaps reflects the feeling of the hopelessness of gay relationships, that gay relationships were something that could not last,” says Myers. In the book, Handong never fully embraces his homosexuality. He marries a woman, the beautiful and ambitious Lin Ping, but he spends the entire marriage fantasizing about Lan Yu. Within 18 months, he is divorced and alone. As Handong says, “I didn’t completely stop sleeping with women. I went to bed with them not because of physiological need, nor even because I liked them, but because of a need that was psychological: I wanted to prove to myself that I was a normal man.”
“Normality” is culturally defined, and though it ceased to be considered a mental illness, homosexuality still exists in a gray area in China. Official government policy is typified by the three nos — no support, no opposition, no promotion — which is loosely analogous to the now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” of the U.S. military. Clinics offering cures for homosexuality still exist, though they are under increasing pressure from activists and are being forced to temper some of their more extreme practices.
In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the LGBT community, while far from receiving the visibility and legal recognition common in the West, is vibrant. This year Shanghai Pride, though parade-less because of government regulations forbidding mass gatherings, took place across a series of venues. It included a fun run, lectures, and a queer film festival. LGBT activists are agitating for greater rights and have seen some small legislative victories — Chen Qiuyan, a student, won a case in August over the description of homosexuality in textbooks. While not ending in victories, other cases, such as the one brought by the activist Xiang Xiaohan after he was unable to register his LGBT charity, are notable for being heard at all.
China is still not an easy place to be out, and many choose not to come out to families or colleagues. In a recent survey by China-based NGO WorkForLGBT, which asked nearly 19,000 LGBT people whether they were out, only 3% of men and 6% of women identified as completely out. However, half the men and three-quarters of the women said they had come out to friends. This shows that private tolerance exists and that people are able to carve out spaces in their lives where they can live freely.
Handong narrates the book, and thus controls how we see him. He is a man accustomed to carefully managing his relationships and everything else he touches. He lets us see his control begin to crack, when his love for Lan Yu surprises and even frightens him, and our understanding of his panic catches us off guard. Unlike most control freaks in literature, he earns our empathy. – See more at:
China is, to me, a very contradicting country. Apart from Korea, I can’t think of many countries that have changed so much over such a short time period, yet stayed the same in other aspects. Family is China’s cornerstone. It seems there is nothing quite as important. Coming from a Confucian background, it is moreover expected from the children to honour and please their parents. The highest goals are to marry, have children, take care of the parents, and have a good job and reputation.
You probably already see the problem with that. Now bring into account China’s (now abandoned) 1-child policy and you can imagine how much more pressure lies on the only-child.
Handong’s and Lan Yu’s love story is as beautiful as it is ugly, as hopeful as it is hopeless
In comparison to Western culture, it seems that ethics like honesty, faithfulness, and integrity are of lesser importance. It is way more important how things look like than how they really are, and help is taken in any form possible. It’s a constant bargaining in favours and being connected to important people is an advantage that is used for personal gain and protection.
Beijing Comrades is among mainland China’s earliest, best known, and most influential contemporary gay novels. It is also a pathbreaking work of what may be called tongzhi or gay fiction from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It came into being when a young Chinese person living in New York City—absorbed by the world of the Internet, lacking direction in life, and bored by the titillating but artistically vapid Chinese-language gay erotica available at the time—decided she would try and write her own homoerotic fiction
The author’s choice of pen name, Beijing Tongzhi (literally, Beijing Comrade),8 may have been an auspicious one, for it likely helped to attract an intended audience while escaping notice of those who would wish to impede the novel’s circulation. Consisting of the Chinese characters for tong (same) and zhi (will, aspiration, or ideal), the word tongzhi was widely used in the socialist era (and earlier’) as a signifier of revolutionary camaraderie,” equivalent to the English word comrade or Russian word tovarisch.
Hastily executed and with no shortage of typos, this sexually graphic e-novel bursts with an exuberant and spirited amateurism that, far from blemishing the novel, is precisely a part of what makes it a pleasure to read.
Even the urban topography of China’s capital city is hazy and elusive; an underground gay quanzi (circle) is hinted at but never directly shown. Indeed, most of the place names in Beijing Comrades are fictitious,
Eventually we broke up. From then on I had a different girl on my arm every week and the inventory of notches on my bedpost grew. I quickly learned that there was nothing partic ularly difficult about getting girls. The hard part was getting rid of them.
“I’m not a girl,” he said, putting down his drink and standing up to leave. Somehow that impressed me, but I was also annoyed that he was leaving so early. Whatever. The whole night had been a waste of time.
Lan Yu smiled with a kind of calm resignation. “You businessmen don’t know a thing about friendship.”
“Wake up, Lan Yu! Business isn’t about friendship, it’s about profits.”
“What if it’s someone from outside the business world? What if it’s a friend?”
For the first time in my life I didn’t have an answer. Lan Yu must have sensed this because he kept going.
every time I had sex with my wife, I thought only of him. My hands caressed her soft white skin, her thick, heavy thighs and breasts. She was so gorgeous, so loving, but none of her beauty provoked my desire, and when I closed my eyes, it was Lan Yu I saw. There were times when I almost managed to trick myself into believing it was him I was touching: dark and firm, a radiant sheath covering a strong back and two broad shoulders. Only then would I slowly start to get hard.
There were some things I wouldn’t let myself think about: the touch of my tongue against his neck, the euphoric excitement he showed when I kissed him. These thoughts were off limits, outside the scope of the fantasy world I allowed myself to create during sex with my wife. I couldn’t do those things with Lin Ping, and trying them would have caused nothing but disappointment and grief. She wasn’t Lan Yu. She would never be Lan Yu.
I forced myself to have sex with her, but it was nearly impossible for me to come. Each time, I had to close my eyes and think about having sex with Lan Yu or, sometimes, with other men I had seen on the street that day, usually with Lin Ping on my arm. Only then was I able to climax. Pretty soon I started asking Lin Ping to let me fuck her on her hands and knees like I used to fuck Hao Mei. It worked at first, but in time even that wasn’t enough. More and more, I found myself jerking off when she wasn’t around, fantasizing about the men I wanted to be with.
It was one of those rare mornings when Lan Yu and I awoke in the same bed. We were at Tivoli. He had told me the previous night that he was looking forward to sleeping in late because he didn’t have to be at work until eleven. I woke up before him and got out of bed to look out the window at the beautiful fall scenery. Then I turned back toward the bed to look at Lan Yu, who was still asleep on his stomach. He loved that position. Right cheek pushed up against the bedsheet-covered mattress, a tiny pool of spit quivered in the lower corner of his mouth. He rolled onto his back, using his foot to push the blanket down to the base of the bed, and I noticed that the underwear he’d put on before going to sleep had somehow disappeared. He was naked now except for the calm serenity that enveloped him after the untamed frenzy of our lovemaking the night before. For a long time I stood there by the window, scrutinizing him and wondering if I was really going to do what I thought I was going to do. Quietly I stepped across the floor back to the side of the bed and gently pulled the blanket up to his chin.
Thoughts raced through my mind as I looked down at him. Did I really want nothing more from him than his body? Was I with him for no other reason than to satisfy my sexual desires? If I ended our relationship, would I be losing anything?
Well, let me tell you something,” he continued. “It’s not worth it, okay? A man only gets so many chances in this lifetime to get serious in a relationship. And when he does, he damn well better be sure there’s a future in it. It has to lead to some bigger picture. Family. Kids.” He lit a cigarette. “But you know what? With this kind of thing, there is no bigger picture. This is it! You can’t even tell people about it without ruining yourself.”
“We had nothing. No recognition from the outside world. None of the pressures keeping couples together, but all of the ones keeping them apart.”
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