Principle or prejudice?

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-18 07:11

When an entertainment celebrity takes a moral stand, it often goes beyond personal belief. That is why the moral crusade of a Chinese television star has turned into an eye-catching headline.

Sun Haiying, who achieved stardom with a popular drama series, told a reporter that homosexuality is "criminal in nature". That certainly goes against both common sense and the legal definition, because China long ago decriminalized the behavior. So there is little danger that Sun will send to prison any of his many gay peers in the entertainment industry.

From what I surmise, Sun is not threatening prosecution for gays. The Chinese word "zui", which he used in the interview, could be construed in either a legal sense or a religious context. The English translation for the latter is "sin", and unsurprisingly many among the conservative right in the West would agree with Sun on his judgment of gays and lesbians.

While I respect Sun for upholding his opinion, I lament that he made a private conviction into a public controversy. Celebrities have much more clout than ordinary citizens. When they take a stance for or against an issue, it is bound to have repercussions.

When Angelina Jolie adopts foreign orphans, her high-profile acts are a call to attention to either the misery of the unfortunate or to her self-righteous image. When Chinese actor Pu Cunxin appears in ads for protecting the rights of AIDS patients, he is doing much more than a simple financial donation. In both cases, stars threw their weight around and tried to influence others.

Historically, Chinese people have been very tolerant towards homosexuality. From online polls, one gets the impression that the majority would respect others' lifestyle. Sun's repugnance could be deeply moral or religious, in which case the dominant argument is, if homosexuality spreads like a wildfire, the human race would ultimately be extinct.

That is a fallacy. Homosexuality will never replace heterosexuality as the majority sexual orientation. It is congenital but not contagious. The reason he may feel otherwise is more gays are willing to come out of the closet nowadays and some adopt an in-your-face strategy, thrusting their presence into mainstream consciousness in an effort to fight discrimination.

From a practical point of view, with tens of millions more men than women in the country, gays can rectify the gender imbalance in their small way. Some people may laugh at the notion, but at least one Chinese scholar is actually serious about it as a solution.

There is also a chance that Sun Hai-ying derived his bigotry from empirical experience. He may be abhorred by the gays he knows. Herein lies the danger of equating a few unscientific samples with the whole demographic.

By coincidence, this week's other "weird" story showed the flip side of Sun's homophobia. Hengyuanxiang, a Shanghai-based fabric maker, broadcasted its recruitment of lefties for middle-management positions. The reason? They tend to be smart.

As a matter of fact, a parallel can be drawn between gays and lefties: Both are minorities with less than 10 percent of the population; both are widely considered congenital but are often put through special "correction treatment" while young; both come with certain stereotypes, either flattering or derogatory.

People like Sun Haiying may not realize that a group with tens of millions of people cannot be neatly categorized with one pithy adjective, complimentary or pejorative. This would be like fortune-telling that boils down all the people born on the same day or in the same month to one personality and one fate.

Ignorance could be fun in trivial things such as horoscopes, but it leads to prejudice when applied with moral standards.



(China Daily 08/18/2007 page4)

Hot Talks
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours