When cultural attitudes favor heterosexuality over homosexuality, gay youth often grow into troubled adults.
Chen Handong, a rich, well-connected Beijing businessman, is known for getting what he wants—at work as well as at play. In fact, both men and women gravitate to him, and he has no trouble attracting sexual partners for short flings and longer-term hookups. But when he meets handsome Lan Yu, a 16-year-old college student, he is immediately smitten. Lan Yu is initially wary of the older man—Handong is 27 when they first meet in 1987—and it takes some wooing to get him into Handong’s bed. Once enticed, however, he enters into a decadelong, on-again, off-again liaison that brings the pair great joy as well as great agitation and pain. As the story unfolds, the shifting social and political mores of urban China come into sharp focus, and student uprisings, including the Tiananmen Square massacre, the rise of the entrepreneurial community, and the unraveling of communist values, become important backdrops to the story. So does the underground gay scene, with clubs and dance halls hidden from public view but an open secret among those in the know. Similarly, homophobia and the pressure on youth to marry and have children are palpable and cause Handong to enter into a tempestuous, if short-lived, marriage to materialistic Lin Ping. There is melodrama here, but the novel—first published online in 1998 by a still pseudonymous author, then made into a movie by Taiwanese director Stanley Kwan in 2001, and subsequently rewritten and expanded by the author—captures the reality of a homophobic society and the pressures placed on gay men (and presumably women) to deny their essence and live less-than-fully-realized lives.
A riveting, if slightly dated, look at China’s gay male community.