This week, Alibaba’s Tmall (one of China’s largest online marketplaces) released a series of Chinese New Year-themed commercials. 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?
The 23-second commercial shows a young man introducing his family to a man named “Kelvin”. Both step foot into the house under the inquisitive eyes of the father and two giggling family members. Once the New Year dinner begins, the father hands over a bowl to Kevin. He tells him to make himself at home. Kelvin smiles and warmly replies “thank you, dad.” The ad ends with shared astonished looks around the table. The video has gone 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
— Tony Lin (@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 previously 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, 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 had gone viral (400 million views on Weibo), sparking “a lively debate on domestic social media”. As of now, there are no promises of legal changes on the matter any time soon. However, the national presence of official and open conversations about it is certainly promising.
Featured Image: Tmall