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This book Chinese Male homosexualities: Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy1 by Travis Kong was not wrritten primarily about HIV. Instead it is an essential text on contemporary male sexuality in modern-day China. The story of the Chinese homosexualities in this book begins in Hong Kong where, he argues, its unique colonial history, Chinese culture and family values intersect with environmental factors such as the dense population, limited space and history of travelling, have helped shift the queer culture from ‘institutional’ politics to ‘cultural and economic’ politics, which manifests itself in media and popular cultures as ways to challenge societal discrimination and injustices.
The author argues that ‘memba’ in Hong Kong or ‘tongzhi’ in mainland China (the local parlances for gay men) always struggle with their families due to their gay identities. In Chinese culture, strong family and kinship networks mean that ‘coming out in the open’ is largely inconceivable and should be avoided in Chinese society as it could bring shame to the family. The author further concludes that it is through ‘the representation and participation of [gay people] at various cultural sites and in economic consumption’ (eg, commercialisation of the male body) that the members of this community identify among themselves and with the rest of society. However, the author reminds us that the cultural and economic sites are not easy to live with as the commodified and stratified gay communities in both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese big cities marginalise gay men along the lines of class, age, body types, race, ethnicity, place of origin, etc. In mainland China, the money boys, men who sell sex to other men, face discrimination not only from the wider community but also from the gay community itself.
Not just focusing on Chinese-dominated societies, the author takes a more global approach. The case of Chinese gay men in London is important as it gives us more insight into understanding the effects of globalisation on Chinese gay identities. By discussing three types of gay migrants in London city, the author's queer migration narratives show the complicated interplay between ‘race’ and sexuality in Britain. Although these gay male migrants benefit from the lesbian and gay movements in the UK as well as being able to enjoy its remarkable cosmopolitan London queer subcultures, they are constantly subjected to sexual stereotyping and racial commodification which results in what the author calls ‘the golden boy’, a dominant feminised image of a Chinese gay man in the British gay culture. These gay male migrants struggle among three cultures—the British host culture, their own Chinese culture and the British-dominated gay culture—and testify to the intertwined relationship between race and sexuality that most Asian diasporas—gay and straight—might experience in Western societies.
The landscape of the gay scene and culture is fast changing in Hong Kong as in China. This is increasingly relevant as the Chinese economy and society has integrated globally and now mimics that of Hong Kong. It is really time for all of us to rethink how the next direction and effort against HIV should be fought. I hope that this book will soon be translated into Chinese for a wider audience.
Such understandings of how the gay community think and behave are of utmost importance for all health professionals and frontline HIV project workers. This is especially so since good evidence has shown that many HIV interventions in the West based on health belief models and theories of planned behaviour or reasoned action have fallen on deaf ears, and if anything likely to be of short-term effect.2 Finally, I would like to conclude with a statement from Sun Tze's Art of War, ‘If you know your enemy and yourself, you need not fear the results of hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither your enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle’.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review commissioned; internally peer reviewed.