Abruptly canceled, ShanghaiPRIDE could be harbinger for China’s civil society

Aug 27, 2020

Annual Pride celebrations are not common in cities across China, but the city of Shanghai is an exception, where Pride events have occurred for a dozen years.

But now organizers say this year’s ShanghaiPRIDE festival is on hold to protect the “safety” of all involved. The rest of this year’s scheduled events in Shanghai are canceled and future events are on indefinite hiatus.

Related: ShanghaiPRIDE went on as planned last month. But the fight for LGBTQ rights in China is far from over.

Yang Yiliang, a 29-year-old artist in Hunan Province, central China, who is gay, says that being part of ShanghaiPRIDE over the years has been life-changing. 

“It’s so important to me. ... because it’s like an acknowledgment of who I am and my identity by society. It’s also about connecting with a community.”

Yang Yiliang, 29, artist, Hunan Province, China

“It’s so important to me,” he said, “because it’s like an acknowledgment of who I am and my identity by society. It’s also about connecting with a community.” 

In Hunan, Yang says he can’t get galleries to show his work, because curators say the themes are too “sensitive.” Yang says ShanghaiPRIDE has offered him a platform and a greater audience. This year, Yang’s pieces, a mix of traditional folk art papercuts with LGBTQ themes, hang on display at an art gallery on a downtown Shanghai street. 

The Pride celebration that began in May already included a rainbow bike ride, a Pride run, live storytelling, a job fair and, of course, some great parties, although the crowds this year were smaller than usual because of social distancing restrictions. 

It seemed like a real achievement that organizers were able to put on ShanghaiPRIDE — even during a pandemic. Little did participants know that this year’s events could be the last. 

Related: Thailand set to legalize LGBTQ unions, a rare step in Asia

In China, homosexuality is no longer considered a crime or a mental illness. But there is no marriage equality and LGBTQ people still face many challenges. For more than a decade, ShanghaiPRIDE stood out as an international event that attracted sponsors like Budweiser and Nike, and with activities hosted at foreign consulates. It was organized by a team of Chinese and foreign volunteers and the festival helped boost Shanghai’s reputation as China’s most international and open-minded city. 

Related: New security law in Beijing targets protesters 

So, the recent announcement that organizers were suddenly calling it quits was shocking and saddening to many. 

“Really, they’re doing such positive work,” Yang said, “and they didn’t break any rules. I don’t understand why they’re stopping it.”

Organizers have been careful not to reveal too many details in their note titled “The End of the Rainbow,” on their website. But in a separate Facebook post, co-founder Charlene Liu wrote that the decision to cancel is "to protect the safety of all involved." Organizers did not offer further explanation. 

 

Dear Friends & Pride Supporters, In a short moment, we will be making a special announcement to the world that we will...

Posted by Charlene Liu on Thursday, August 13, 2020

Last month, however, Liu told The World that pressure from authorities was nothing new.  

“Having venues closed down on us is very common. Every year, we face the same issue. And we always have to come up with a Plan B, a Plan C, or Plan D,” she said.

Authorities have reportedly called in Pride organizers for “tea.” In China, that’s shorthand for being questioned by police and can mean anything from a warning to a lengthy interrogation.  

There’s also been talk about whether growing tensions between the US and China have something to do with all this. But Yang Yi, a media professional who attended ShanghaiPRIDE this year with his boyfriend, says it’s about a lot more than that. 

“In my understanding ... it’s not just about foreign countries and China. It’s more about what’s happening here. It could be also a signal that Chinese authorities are changing their attitude about the LGBTQ community.”

Yang Yi,  media professional who attended ShanghaiPRIDE this year with his boyfriend

“In my understanding,” he said, “it’s not just about foreign countries and China. It’s more about what’s happening here. It could be also a signal that Chinese authorities are changing their attitude about the LGBTQ community.”

He adds that all the foreign involvement in ShanghaiPRIDE might have protected the event in the past. But now, that could be seen as a liability. 

Lin Xin, one of the volunteers from this year’s Pride says he’s not surprised that restrictions on civil society are tightening. 

“Actually, in China, this kind of reaction from the government is quite normal. ... Of course, it makes me very sad, but it happens a lot here. I think this is our right to hold this kind of event.”

Lin Xin, ShanghaiPRIDE volunteer

“Actually, in China, this kind of reaction from the government is quite normal,” he said. “Of course, it makes me very sad, but it happens a lot here. I think this is our right to hold this kind of event.”

Despite the cancelation of ShanghaiPRIDE, people in the LGBTQ community here are not giving up all hope. Liu, one of the co-organizers, recently sent out a social media message that says: “Keep believing that love wins, keep being proud, keep supporting each other.” 


From The World ©2019