This week, Alibaba’s Tmall (one of China’s largest online marketplaces), released a series of Chinese New Year-themed commercials advertising its upcoming deals. One of them gained millions of views and an abundance of praises for subtly representing a same-sex couple.
Another step towards the normalization of queer relationships in China?
In the 23-second commercial, a young man bringing home another man he introduces his family to as “Kelvin”. Both step foot into the house under the inquisitive eye of the father. The family dynamic gets increasingly enthusiastic, as two girls giggle in the living-room, and say: “Tonight we are blessed with some ‘scoops’ “. Once dinner begins, the father hands over a bowl to Kevin and tells him to make himself at home to which the young man responds “thank you, dad.” The ad ends with shared astonished looks around the table. The video went viral and was shared on Weibo (Chinese Twitter) by @LoveMatters, a blogger who shares advice on relationships and sex, who wrote: “Thank you, Tmall, for showing support for sexual-minority groups. It helps to bring more visibility to these communities and make them recognized by the public.”
Alibaba's Tmall promo subtly shows gay and lesbian couples celebrating new year with their families. The ad doesn't explicitly mention LGBTQ but it's a rare representation done by a big Chinese company. pic.twitter.com/SxBYR4ekym
— Toni (but what’s your *real* name?) (@tony_zy) January 8, 2020
With no mention of the ad’s undertone, Alibaba told CNN Business that “Chinese New Year is a time for family reunion and inclusion, and the ad is a creative expression to celebrate such an occasion”. The conglomerate has also shown support for the LGBT+ community: for instance, Taobao (another subsidiary of Alibaba’s) launched in 2015 a contest in partnership with the gay dating app Blued that allowed 10 Chinese same-sex couples to get married in California. That same summer, Tmall posted a rainbow version of its mascot with the logo: “Love is enough”. Moreover, according to Supchina, “Gay Voices, one of Weibo’s major LGBT accounts, with more than 1.8 million followers, revealed (in Chinese) [on January 9] that Tmall paid 5,000 yuan ($720) for the sponsored content and that it would donate the money to its hotline project, which delivers advice, support, and information services to the LGBT community.”
The current stance on homosexuality in China:
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and declassified as a mental disorder in 2001 in China, and is relatively well-tolerated in bigger cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the subject matter still faces societal prejudices. According to CNN: “since 2016, Chinese censors have banned portrayals of what they see as “abnormal sexual behaviors,” including gay relationships, in TV and online shows”.
However, last month marked another soft advancement of gay rights in China: a spokesman said that “the legislative commission had received more than 230,000 online suggestions and letters on legalizing same-sex marriage. The topic triggered 400 million views on China’s Twitter-like Weibo and sparked a lively debate on domestic social media, according to state-run newspapers”. Although there are no promises of there being legal changes on the matter any time soon, the fact that there are being official and open conversations about it across the country is certainly promising.
Featured Image: Tmall