How "Farewell My Concubine" And Leslie Cheung Affect Chinese Gender Culture?


Based on Chinese traditional culture, things about homosexuals are a shame to talk or make stories, but in modern ages, a legendary film had changed that situation. "Farewell My Concubine" is one of the most successful films in Chinese movie history. It was the only movie in China that had won the Golden Palm price in the 46th Cannes International Film Festival. Until today, we still don't have another movie which can get this price. It is about Chinese traditional art, Beijing opera.

What makes it different is the main Character Cheng is a homosexual who lives in the last century's China mainland and judged by Chinese traditional thinking. This movie shows how a homoerotisms was traded in traditional culture background. And its Main actor Leslie Cheung, was one of the most popular movie actor and singer in 1990s', and the most famous homoerotism in modern China. In 2004, after his death in 1 year, he was been rated as "Top 10 most influential male stars in Chinese film history".

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Because of the influence of the movie and the large base number of his fans, in the 1990s', people in China start confront the problem about how homoerotisms was been trade in China. Since Leslie Cheung was suffered by depression and suicide in 2003, the campaign about support homosexual in China start get to the climax. Even today, there are still many movie actors, singers and fans cherish the memory for him on April 1st spontaneously. His story have changed people's thinking about homosexual deeply.

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For the research about gender in Chinese pop culture, I think this film and Leslie Cheung are very good examples, no mater what the movie showed about in old China, how Leslie live in 1990s', and what people do after his death. They all explained how people change their manner about homosexual in the years. And in next paragraphs, I will analysis it by time order.

Main Paragraphs

About the movie, its time background was 1920s'-1950s', when China just broke away from feudal rule. We can see that in the movie many people still have feudal thinking. And we can find may "incidents" that might be the reason what make Cheng a homosexual. At the beginning of the movie, we can see that Cheng's mother was a harlot, we can infer he might grew up in a brothel. That might be a reason because some psychologists think children live in that place might detest males, but the movie didn't talk more about his childhood. After his mother leave him to the opera master, he was laughed by other children, and burned his mother's coat, but kept the sleeve, and he had write letters to his mother after he got famous (Burned, because no where to send). we can see his emotion to his mother was ambivalent, he know she has no choice but still hate her for abandon him. Many psychologists believes that a boy with a "irresponsible" mother has more chance to be a homosexual, because in their mind they could be a better "female" than their mother. And this point could be prove, after he get forced by the old eunuch, he adopted a baby who was been abandoned, at that time he is thinking as a female and did the adverse thing with his own mother.

The third one and the most important reason I think is Chinese traditional culture. Old Chinese people believes males are more excellent than females. Many traditional technique are just allowed to teach to males, include Beijing opera, even playing a female character. Based on Cheng's congenital conditions, he's the best one to play female characters, but not base on his thinking. He refused but the result was always beating. When Duan, his senior, who always support him start blame him, he accepted and fall into the female character his whole life. That is a kind of cognitive disorder. When Cheng was a child, he can not distinguish the opera and the real life, so the only way he can play a female is he think he is a female. Once he did that, he can not switch the characters. Another point is when he start learn opera, the master didn't accept him because he had six fingers on his left hand, people with this kind of imperfections can not be actors because audiences will be scared. His mother cut his extra finger to let him in. But that might make him think he is "incomplete", have to give up some parts to live. And that is similar as the definition of female in old China.

After Cheng's first show, the old eunuch want to see Cheng alone. First time the opera master refused, obviously he know what will happened. The old eunuch got power but people still disdain him, in old China, eunuchs are always be regarded as abnormal and psychopath, because they are transferred to transgender by a very merciless way. In ancient China, men have caste system, women are belong to their husband, but eunuchs are not in the caste system, we call them "neither man or woman ", some times they got power but they are not trade as man but "powerful man's pet". That was how people think about transgender in ancient China. The old eunuch was protected by the power he had, and Cheng was protected by his artistic talent and famous. At the last part of the movie ,when he lost his protection, we can see that people changed their manner to Cheng, especially in the great cultural revolution. At the end of the movie, when Duan disclose Cheng in The Great Cultural Revolution, he can even say Cheng is traitor in war, but still feel shame to say, even guess he is a homosexual.

A interesting thing is, as a movie actor in modern China, Leslie had similar situation with Cheng. Similar job, similar cultural background. There were two parts of the script that Leslie changed, the first one is Cheng burn his mother's coat, I don't have any prove about the relationship with Leslie's own grew up process. The other one is the ending, Cheng suicide in front of Duan, a similar ending with himself. The original ending is Cheng and Duan was separated and meet again after 40 years. I think this change did show us some part of Leslie's thinking, he don't want to getting old in fronr of the one he love, he prefer to die at the time he is still pretty. And this change make the movie a legend. For Cheng, the only place he can love Duan is on the stage, so before they are too old to play Beijing opera, he want to die on the stage, as Duan's lover, even it's just a play.

About Leslie himself, this movie is not the only one he play homosexual characters, in1990s', he played many different homosexual characters in many movies, but this one is the most successful one. With the praises, he was always be judged by playing these characters,but he never stopped. 1997 after "happy together", his most famous homosexual movie be on, he announced he is a homosexual on his vocal concert. Leslie is more lucky than Cheng, at least he got his lover Mr.Tang, and he was so unlucky, even that he still can't get a good ending. Although the movies had offset some parts of people's bias, there were still many people hostile attack him. In most people's mind, even they may do not discriminate homosexual, it's just because Leslie was "Strange" in their eyes, they can not understand why he made a choice like that. What he got is just "allowed" to be a homosexual, protected by his famous, and harmed by his famous. People and reporters are interested by his private life because he is different. The society did not attack him but gave him too much pressure, Like Cheng in "Farewell My Concubine", Leslie can only feel the life he want in stage, in his movies. Finally he got depressive and suicide on April 1st 2003. Before his death, he still work hard and try to overcome depressive. In his testament, he said he didn't do bad things in his life, but why get that ending. We can see that he still want to be alive. At that time about his death, many people believes is his sexual orientation and his lover Mr.Tang gave him too much pressure. At that time about Leslie, the most common words people use to evaluate him was "He would be perfect if he is not a homosexual." People think his sexual orientation is a shame, even American Psychological Association has proved homosexual is not a illness and can not be "cure" or "fix". until today, many people still can not accept homosexual, but at least they start to know that is people's personal issue, we don't have rights to judge.

In the few years after Leslie's death, the controversy of what is the mean reason of his death were never stopped. Because many people didn't even notice people's attention could give pressure and harm someone. In Chinese traditional culture, we believe people don't need to hide if they didn't do anything shame, but obviously this rule did not work in pop culture. Now people have a consensus that how Leslie was trade did gave him too much pressure. And start to support homosexual legal rights. Thanks to that, now more and more public figures have the chance to publish their sexual orientation and save their private life. They still have a long way to go but at least the have hope. In this year, the marriage between same gender become legal in Taiwan. The most famous homosexual public figure who still alive is a famous compare in Taiwan called Kangyong Cai, he is still in active and talk for homosexual. And some people even hope the stars they like are homosexuals, especially for the group male singers in Japan and Korea. This we call Tanbi culture was input from Japan at about 2004, for people like Tanbi, they believe without giving birth as a goal, the love between same genders are purer and more nobility.


For me, about the understand of gender culture, I prefer Kangyong Cai's explain. He said the process must be hard, because a big part of human's culture is giving birth. It's hard to against the whole society who think you are strange. Homosexuals live in modern China are lucky that they have a powerful leader did the most hard job for them as being the first signal, and a strong signal to make the society envisage them. As Cai said, our culture was changed, when we try to pursue more about mental, we should have the right to make our choice. It's not about mainstream or not, is just about people's choice are equal, no mater how big the difference in number. In fact homosexual in china now is not a small number. In 2004's statics result, there were5-10 million male homosexual and about 10 million female homosexuals. In 2006, the number of male homosexuals grew to million. Most resent result in 2014, China have about 30 million male homosexuals and about 35 million female homosexuals. Since people's sexual orientation won't change, the only explain is because of the change of society's manner, more and more homosexual could recognize themselves. That is a good thing, maybe one day people in all genders could really be equal. And for this result, pop culture did have a very good work.


  • Jenny Kwok Wah Lau "Farewell My Concubine": History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema
  • Dr. Richard R. Troiden "The Formation of Homosexual Identities"
  • Marie E. Tomeo, Donald I. Templer "Comparative Data of Childhood and Adolescence Molestation in Heterosexual and Homosexual Persons"
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
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How "Farewell My Concubine" And Leslie Cheung Affect Chinese Gender Culture?. (2019, Dec 13). Retrieved from

How "Farewell My Concubine" And Leslie Cheung Affect Chinese Gender Culture? essay
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