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Blued (NASDAQ: BLCT), developed by BlueCity, is a China-based mobile social dating app for gay men. The company was founded in 2000 and is based in Beijing, Beijing. On August 26th, 2022, Blued was acquired.

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Discursive representations of sexual minorities in China’s English-language news media: a corpus-based study

Nov 3, 2023

Abstract In contemporary China, sexual minorities (SMs) are still a marginalized community. Prior studies have accorded SMs a great deal of attention, but little research has been conducted on the representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in Chinese English-language news media. This article uses corpus linguistic tools to examine popular views on SMs in a larger corpus of 354 news articles, filling the gap in research. Based on data collected from four English-language newspapers in mainland China and informed by discursive strategies, the article concludes that Chinese SMs are prominently represented as unhealthy individuals, but also victims and progressionists. The findings also indicate that conservative and liberal perspectives on SMs co-exist in the English-language newspapers. In addition, potential contributing factors to these representations are discussed. Introduction Most WeChat public accounts about homosexuality and sexual minorities (henceforth SMs) were blocked and banned in mainland China on 6 July 2021. Some people supported the ban because homosexuality was deemed revolting. Supporters of the ban stated that homosexuality was abnormal. Others even suggested that homosexuals were spies for the United States. This shows what the prevailing social status of SMs is in China, characterized by marginalization and stigma. Indeed, recent studies (e.g., Liu, 2021a , 2021b ; Zhang and Zhuang, 2023 ) have documented an escalation in homophobic sentiments, echoing comparable patterns in African and Islamic nations (Adegbola, 2022 ; Baker and Jaborooty, 2017 ; Kamwendo, 2015 ; Onanuga and Schmied, 2022 ; Ting et al. 2023 ). Of particular note is that there prevail substantially homophobic and biased representations of SMs in China’s news media. For example, Kang’s ( 2010 ) work examines portraits of homosexual relationships in tabloids and sheds light on the intersection of sexuality and politics. During the warlord period from 1911 to 1927, relationships between same-sex men, especially involving high-ranking officials, were even viewed as capable of destabilizing the nation. This era also saw the coining of terms like junzai (military boys) for the male servants of officials, deemed to lose their masculinity and gain feminine traits. Between 1931 and 1937, Puyi’s (the last Qing Dynasty emperor) reputed homosexual inclinations were depicted as aberrant, contributing to the dynasty’s downfall and the subsequent Japanese invasion. On the contrary, relationships between women often garnered ambivalent societal views. Zhang ( 2014 ) analyzed articles in the People’s Daily to investigate representations of Chinese trans-individuals after 1949. The findings indicate evolving attitudes: (1) during the Maoist era, transgenderism was suppressed, (2) it was pathologized during the reform and opening-up era, and (3) it gained legal recognition in the new millennium. The news narratives largely associate trans people with “discrimination”, “distortion”, and “depression”. Utilizing a discourse analytic approach, Chang and Ren ( 2017 ) explored the portrayal of gay and lesbian groups in Beijing’s daily newspapers from 2010 to 2015. Their discursive analysis of 71 articles unveils varied representations of Chinese gay individuals, categorizing them as: (1) “crime victims” and inherently weak, (2) “violent subjects”, (3) “enemies” of cultural values and traditions, and (4) threats to social stability. This research reinforces the contention of a clash between heterosexual norms and homosexual affection within Chinese society (Zhang and Zhuang, 2023 ). Notably, their findings resonate with Kang’s ( 2010 ) findings, emphasizing that lesbian women in China face more acceptance than gay men. Likewise, Huang ( 2018 ) delves into discourses related to homosexuality in the People’s Daily, the Party’s official newspaper, exploring media representations of individuals with same-sex orientations in mainland China. Through a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative assessment of 188 news articles, the author identifies seven stereotypes directed at the homosexual community, which include being “criminal”, “morally objectionable”, “socially abnormal”, “HIV/AIDS-related”, “discriminatory”, ‘mental illness-related”, and “ideologically lacking”. Common among these studies is that they perpetuate the negative perceptions of SMs in Chinese-language newspapers. This aligns with media portrayals in other research contexts, like Africa (Mbaye, 2021 ; Oyebanji, 2023 ) and Southeast Asia (Goh, 2008 ; Kijratanakoson, 2023 ; Yanita and Suhardijanto, 2020 ). Such conservative representations bolster stereotypes and stir moral apprehension among the Chinese public, presenting SMs as “a threat to societal values and interests, and causes the concern (and often hostility) of the public and of authorities” (Litosseliti, 2007 : 207). Although above studies have contributed significantly, the research dealing with representations of SMs in China’s English-language news media are lacking with one notable exception. Zhang et al. ( 2022 ) who used a discourse analysis approach to examine both textual and visual portrayals of Chinese gay individuals in two English-language newspapers from 2009 to 2019. Their conclusion is that both newspapers predominantly represent gay men negatively. While this research deserves recognition for addressing an area where most studies only consider linguistic representations and overlook a multimodal analysis, it has its limitations. It concentrates solely on a specific group of SMs in Chinese society (gay men), excluding lesbians, bisexuals, and trans individuals. The study, thus, does not adequately represent such groups, and this research approach may lead to biased perceptions of the broader Chinese SMs community. In light of this, our article aims to explore further the representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans individuals in Chinese English-language media. The objectives of this article can be outlined as follows: (1) (2) (3) Analytical framework For our analysis, we were influenced by the discourse-historical approach proposed by Wodak ( 2001 ). Initially introduced for political analyses, scholars (such as Kijratanakoson, 2023 ; Peng et al. 2023 ; Ting et al. 2023 ) have used this approach to analyze issues pertaining to gender and sexuality. Wodak ( 2001 ) delineated five primary discursive strategies for representing social actors, and each can manifest through diverse devices. They include nomination, which, in this case, would refer to the names or labels given to SMs; predication, which pertains to the descriptions or attributions of SMs using evaluative expressions; argumentation, which focuses on the justification of these evaluative descriptions; perspectivation, which highlights the viewpoint these designations convey; and finally, intensification/mitigation, which examines whether and how the representations of SMs in news reports are amplified or toned down. Another valuable theory for our news analysis is van Leeuwen’s ( 2008 ) social actor-network. Ho ( 2020 ) underscores that this framework provides “various kinds of linguistic manifestations of discursive strategies and thus [is] well-suited for an investigation into the discursive representation of [SMs as] social actors” (p. 51). Methodology In discourse analysis, specific qualitative approaches might be susceptible to selective analysis or subjective interpretation (Widdowson, 2000 ). Nevertheless, over the past decade, corpus linguistics (CL) techniques have proven beneficial in addressing these concerns (see Cheng, 2013 ; Du, 2021 ). In essence, CL is a research methodology anchored in large volumes of authentic texts, deriving conclusions through probabilistic statistical analyses. This approach furnishes not only statistical data and a genuine corpus but also validates extant theories or formulates new ones. Informed by previous research that used corpus-assisted discourse analysis techniques to probe gender and sexuality in media representations (Baker and Levon, 2015 ; Chuaikun and Wijitsopon, 2023 ; Kijratanakoson, 2023 ; Yu, 2023 ; Zottola, 2021 ), the following steps were taken. Step 1: Research contextualization The point of departure was a 2021 trending topic regarding the controversial decision to ban WeChat public accounts associated with SMs. This action provided insight into the social status of SMs in China. Subsequently, a brief review of prior studies highlighted the representations of SMs in Chinese news media. This examination led to the recognition of research gaps and the formulation of specific research objectives. Step 2: Corpus compilation To better understand our analysis, one must first acquaint oneself with China’s news media system. The system “dictates that all newspapers be owned by the party/state” (Chang and Ren, 2017 ). Acting as a potent extension of the government, the news media notably benefit from the government’s financial backing. Our research drew data from four major online news publications: Beijing Review, China Daily, Global Times, and Shanghai Daily. The choice of China Daily and Global Times stemmed from their significant sales, expansive circulation, vast readership, and better reputation compared with other English-language newspapers in the country. Recognized as influential and authoritative nationally, these two newspapers have evolved considerably since their beginnings in 1981 and 1993, respectively, as crucial platforms for global readers seeking a deeper understanding of contemporary China. On the other hand, Beijing Review and Shanghai Daily were incorporated into the study due to their regional significance. This makes them fitting complements to national newspapers, especially considering China’s distinct state media framework, where each news outlet has demarcated scopes and target audiences. When addressing social and lifestyle topics, these two publications possess greater discursive freedom compared to China Daily and Global Times and operate with “a certain degree of autonomy in operation” (Chang and Ren, 2017 : 323). Furthermore, as Yu et al. ( 2022 ) highlight, English-language news media in China typically adopt a more liberal stance than their Chinese-language counterparts do. The English-language newspapers are inclined to showcase “diverse representations and voices” concerning sensitive and contentious topics (p. 4), as they feature a “moderate approach to news reporting” (Guo and Huang, 2002 : 222). In light of the above, we used purposive sampling to gather news articles related to Chinese SMs from each publication’s website. Our exploration was confined to a 20-year span, from January 2001 (when the Classification and Diagnostic Criteria of Mental Disorders in China deleted homosexuality from the psychosis category) to December 2021 (the initiation of our research). The period in question was also marked by pivotal events pertaining to Chinese LGBT communities. These included the censorship of homosexual content in the media, the emergence of a transgender celebrity as the host of Chinese TV programs, the establishment of LGBT-focused non-governmental organizations, the introduction of the ban on anti-LGBT conversion therapy, and Le Geng’s reception as a gay representative by the former Prime Minister. Additionally, the period witnessed a notable custody case involving lesbian partners, movements for the legalization of same-sex marriages in China, the inaugural gay-lesbian film festival organized by Peking University, the rise in popularity of gay and lesbian social media platforms in China, and Xixi’s legal challenges against homophobic textbooks. Throughout this timeframe, every news report was searched, cataloged, and considered as a potential research material. We conducted a search using these specific key terms: tongxinglian, homosexual, homosexuality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, LGBT, and sexual minorities to retrieve relevant news articles from the mentioned websites. Some term frequencies are listed in Table 1 . The search yielded 441 articles. Upon conducting a rigorous analysis of each article, we determined that 87 of them had no direct relevance to SMs despite featuring the specified terms. This resulted in a final count of 354 news articles comprising 305,733 words, as detailed in Table 2 . Table 1 Frequency of search terms. Step 3: Keyword analysis Common CL techniques encompass keyword analysis, concordance, frequency, and collocation studies. In particular, the emphasis on keyword and frequency evaluation enables general readers to discern which lexical or grammatical words have the most statistically significant usage in news reports to represent SMs. Prior to undertaking the keyword analysis, it is essential to produce a wordlist. This list enumerates all words and their respective frequencies and is created by leveraging the target and reference corpora. Subsequently, the wordlists from these corpora are compared, leading to the creation of a keyword list. This process, bolstered by a statistical test performed by the CL software, results in a ranked keyword list based on the keyness values of each word. Such a method illuminates not only the prominence of specific words within the corpora but also suggests “the most dominant discourses as [keywords] are the most salient words in a corpus” (Yu, 2023 : 410). Since keyword analysis necessitates a substantial reference corpus, this article employed the British National Corpus Footnote 1 (BNC) as a benchmark for generating a list of keywords. Completed in 1994, the BNC stands as one of the world’s largest and most representative corpora. It encompasses a vast selection of 100 million words, approximately 90% from written sources and 10% from spoken ones. The BNC captures language data from diverse text genres, spanning newspapers, books, essays, government debates, and talk shows, from a synchronic perspective (i.e., the late 20th century of British English). In this sense, the materials in BNC serve as a suitable reference corpus for conducting keyword analysis because of its representativeness and larger size. Step 4: Qualitative analysis This step examined chunks of news text containing the keywords identified in Step 3. This examination was carried out using the discursive strategies previously mentioned. These illuminate how Chinese SMs have been named, labeled, described, and depicted in the news media. Results Keyword analysis This study employed the AntConc 3.5.8 software, developed by Anthony ( 2019 ), to investigate the keywords shaping the discourses pertaining to Chinese SMs. This software is frequently utilized in quantitative research, offering capabilities such as generating concordance lines/plots, clusters, collocates, and keywords. The study produced a list of pertinent keywords by contrasting the target corpus comprised 354 news reports (see Table 2 ) with the BNC serving as its reference corpus. Based on the keyness score and for the sake of an efficient discourse analysis, only the most salient 100 keywords are examined and listed in Table 3 . This list of keywords served a dual purpose, highlighting “lexical items that can warrant further examination”, but also showing “a measure of saliency” (Baker, 2006 : 125) and signifying the “outstandingness of a given word” (Yu, 2023 : 409). Subsequently, these keywords extracted from the news corpus underwent comparison and categorization using a USAS semantic tagger Footnote 2 . Table 3 Top 100 keywords of the news corpus. Using a layperson’s perspective, Extract 5 highlights two intriguing points that advocate for viewing lesbianism as a medical condition by directly quoting a mother. Initially, her evolving views are accentuated in this story. In particular, the choice of the adjective “excited” through the abstraction strategy conveys an underlying negative implication: heightened enthusiasm about the said treatment corresponds to increased ignorance, discrimination, and apprehension toward same-sex sexuality and SMs. Subsequently, the high costs and the regular schedule for treatments imply that, in a medical context, same-sex sexuality is perceived in contemporary China as akin to an ailment that can be remedied. Sexual minorities as victims Another notable semantic category evident from the keywords list frequently portrays SMs as victims, confronting them with topics such as marriage, LGBT rights, family, education, and children. (6) “I offered him two choices - continue to be a teacher without disclosing his sexual orientation, or write a resignation letter and accept compensation,” Wei said. “And he chose to write the letter.” …… “Wei told me directly to stop my work the next day,” he said. “And Wei said I had to write the letter if I wanted to get all the compensation.” (China Daily, 14/11/2018). Extract 6 stands as a case study illustrating news representation of gay people as victims in Chinese workplace. The central narrative revolves around a male teacher who, upon revealing his sexual orientation as gay, is terminated from his position. Such an outcome is both anticipated and understandable, given that the protagonist confronts the prevailing heteronormativity that “promotes gender conventionality, heterosexuality, and family traditionalism as the correct way for people to be” (Oswald et al. 2005 : 143). Confronted with this dilemma, the protagonist is afforded two choices. The first is a more severe outcome, where he is dismissed without any additional benefits. Conversely, while appearing more compassionate, the second option offers him compensation contingent on his “voluntary” resignation. The latter alternative serves as a facade designed to shield the employer from censure. Notably, this extract seems to deploy an activation strategy emphasizing the gay man’s willing departure from his job. However, an underlying negative narrative emerges from the perspective of the gay individual: this man is actually passiviated in this case, as he is essentially coerced into trading his resignation letter for severance benefits. He does not emerge victorious in the scenario despite the receipt of these benefits. Such an outcome may further deter SMs from openly expressing their sexual orientations in the workplace. The inclusion of the modal verb “had to” is striking, underscoring the notion that the resignation was less a choice and more an obligation aimed at securing the rights and benefits he was entitled to as a qualified employee. (7) [Beijing LGBT] center was asked to move from a community near the North Third Ring Road, Chaoyang district, following neighbors’ complaints. They had just finished decorating, after being evicted from the previous location in March. They must leave at the end of July. Local residents claimed that the LGBT individuals in close proximity to their children would impact their children’s development, and the landlord was “accused of being a sympathizer with LGBT people,” said the announcement. (Global Times, 13/06/2012). Extract 7 relates to the story of mengmu sanqian (孟母三迁 the three-times resettlement by Mencius’ mother). This narrative, however, is replete with the frequent use of the passivation strategy to portray Chinese SMs. For example, while SMs are depicted as proactive in fostering LGBT enterprises, they are often portrayed in a passive light, while being compelled to vacate their rented homes repeatedly. Intriguingly, it is the grievances of neighbors that prompt SMs to abandon their houses. Indeed, this is not the first instance where people have attempted to delegitimize SMs, claiming they set poor precedents for the younger generation (Patrona, 2020 ). A fallacy has emerged from the notion that residing with headmasters ensures children’s success, whereas living adjacent to SMs will dim children’s prospects. To clarify, while three parties are stressed in this news extract – SMs, neighbors, and landlords – they represent two opposing stances in mainland China: pro- and anti-homosexuality. Essentially, the crux of this issue remains the tension between non-heterosexual and heterosexual individuals. We will continue to examine the media representations of SMs as victims through Extracts 8 to 11. (8) Last year, students from various Guangzhou universities coordinated to raise the rainbow flag on campuses across the city. But at 5 pm, three volunteers were suddenly detained by the police and taken to local police bureau for questioning. On the second day, more gay volunteers were “invited” into school offices “to talk,” according to Cindy. (Global Times, 16/05/2018). Extract 8 describes a “brave” activity scheduled to occur in a southern city of China. However, due to intervention by the authorities, the activity is halted before it could be performed. The arrest of three volunteers in this story indicates that their intended activities are illegal in China. This shows a pragmatic implication: those loyal to the government are protected by the law, while those in opposition will face consequences. The implication here reinforces the delegitimization of LGBT-related activities, as echoed by the Chinese proverb shajijinghou (杀鸡儆猴 to punish a few as a warning to the rest). Additionally, two strategies are used: the functionalization strategy embodied by “gay volunteers” and the aggregation strategy realized by “more”. Both discursive strategies lend support to the fact that, despite a significant number of SMs engaging in such activities, they remain subordinate to the prevailing powers, a sentiment captured by another proverb gebo ningbuguo datui (胳膊拧不过大腿 the weaker cannot contend with the stronger). (9) He accused his teacher Chen Feng and father of beating him with sticks and fists for a long time, which caused him to be autistic and paranoid. (Global Times, 16/05/2019). Extract 9 depicts the ordeal of a gay student who gets victimized, by relying on prevalent beliefs in China: (1) teachers should exemplify virtue, guiding students rightly and fulfilling their societal roles, and (2) Chinese parents ought to set examples, concurrently upholding their familial responsibilities. Ironically, the victim, rather than receiving support about his sexual orientation, suffers harm from both his teacher and his father, the individuals who should have helped him. The inflicted pain is both physical and emotional. The abstraction strategy, exemplified by the adjectives, “autistic” and “paranoid”, underscores an intense anguish. From a broader sense, this extract highlights society’s unwelcoming and adverse stance toward SMs. It is also pertinent to mention the aggregation strategy employed to associate both father and teacher, given that they represent a minor segment of those opposing and resisting SMs. However, addressing this societal discord should be prioritized, necessitating collaborative societal efforts. (10) Off campuses, the civil affairs authorities also have not allowed any LGBT organizations to officially register as NGOs. Xiang tried to register the Tongai Network last year. But the civil affairs department of Hunan Province rejected his application saying “there is no legal basis for establishing a homosexual organization,” and “homosexuality is against traditional Chinese culture and morality.” (Global Times, 15/07/2015). In Extract 10, we first analyzed the news title: “Student LGBT Groups Struggle for Approval from China’s University Authorities.” This title naturally piques readers’ curiosity, given that the journalist tends to deploy various strategies to convey specific attitudes toward SMs in China. Firstly, the employment of an identification strategy, manifested by two nouns (“student” and “LGBT”) underscores the distinct identities of the main characters in this scenario. This brings to mind a case presented by Nisco ( 2018 ), which similarly features protagonists – gay refugees – possessing unique statuses and identities, because both groups exist as a small portion of the marginalized LGBT community. Moreover, selecting the verb phrase in this title is noteworthy and evocative. The journalist opts for the emotionally charged “struggle for” over milder alternatives like “ask for” or “strive for”. This choice paints a vivid picture of the dire circumstances facing Chinese LGBT students. While, at first glance, the news title highlights the students’ relentless advocacy efforts, such as mentioning the Tongai Network, it subtly puts them into a passive role constrained by officialdom. Essentially, their efforts are futile without the permission of the authorities. Upon a closer examination of this news extract, it is evident that although two parties (SMs and the official) are mentioned, the former is featured as the central figure. The activation strategy presents the fervor of SMs championing LGBT causes. Regrettably, they are denied the agency to spearhead these initiatives, casting gay students in a victimized light, especially given the absence of legal safeguards for LGBT organizations at the time. It thus passiviates gay students as victims. In light of Xiang’s experiences, it also becomes evident to readers that the official turning to the law authority as the self-legitimization strategy, while concurrently delegitimizing same-sex sexuality by referencing the authority of tradition (van Leeuwen, 2008 ). Such strategies exonerate the officials from any accountability but cast a shadow over the reputation of SMs. Extract 11 further introduces a case study focusing on trans individual with considerable challenges in altering their Chinese ID. After our initial reading, two salient points stood out. The first, termed sixunhuan (死循环 an endless loop), emphasizes that no entity assisted Chen in changing their ID. The second draws attention to the prevailing legal framework, implying that currently, there is no legislation guaranteeing the amendment of Chen’s ID. This legal void hints at a broader concern: SMs cannot engage in same-sex marriage or assert inheritance rights until the corresponding laws are enacted. This is reflected by the fact that an increasing cohort of scholars, LGBT rights proponents, and SMs advocate that the Party-State should consider and legalize same-sex marriages (Liu and Zhu, 2020 ). (11) “The police said I needed a statement from a hospital proving my sex reassignment before they could change my ID. But when I went to a hospital, because I had had the operation abroad no one was willing to sign a statement. The hospital said it could be illegal and that there were no Ministry of Health regulations that allowed them to issue a statement like that. Neither the police nor the hospital wanted to accept the responsibility and I had no idea what I could do,” Chen said. (Global Times, 03/07/2016). Upon a closer second reading of the extract, we discern a deeper narrative layer: the representation of Chen as a victim. Firstly, the strategy of activation accentuates Chen’s valor in undergoing a sex-change operation. Regrettably, readers are not privy to Chen’s genuine desires regarding the surgery or its potential aftermath Footnote 4 . In addition, a passivation strategy underscores Chen’s tumultuous journey to change the ID. Delving deeper into this narrative, a football metaphor elucidates Chen’s predicament. Chen, the protagonist, is likened to a footballer, with civil servants, epitomized by the “police” and “doctor”, being the football referees. From the given perspective, undergoing a transsexual operation can be likened to scoring a goal, while the refusal of the operation by the Chinese police and hospitals is akin to a referee failing to blow the whistle. In particular, the choice of the verb phrase “accept the responsibility” carries an implicit connotation: every individual should comply with China’s laws. In other words, if misjudging Chen’s case, the civil servants in this scenario will face repercussions for breaching it. Another interpretation of the metaphor is that changing Chen’s ID represents a soccer ball, while civil servants correspond to soccer players in the game. In this context, having Chen’s ID changed is equivalent to scoring a goal. Thus, it could be inferred from Chen’s perspective that officials would rather not score than change their ID. And ironically, it is a common feeling that players are in high expectation of scoring more goals during games. van Leeuwen’s ( 2008 ) legitimation strategy through comparison also emerges in this narrative, juxtaposing two extremes: the absence of a need to validate transsexual operations conducted overseas against the mandated requirement of such certificates by Chinese officials. This contrast reveals the truths: (1) readers are more inclined to sympathize with Chen due to their perceived vulnerability, and (2) there is a hesitance to chastise civil servants for their stringent and seemingly indifferent stance, as China upholds the principle of the rule of law. There is a prevailing sentiment that legal adherence fosters societal harmony. An entrenched bias, however, is evident in Extract 11, suggesting that sex changes in China are deemed a sign of illness, inferred from the presupposition that healthy individuals have no reasons to seek medical attention. Sexual minorities as progressionists In the news reports examined in this section, SMs are represented as progressionists, given their courageous efforts toward achieving equal citizen rights and their astute involvement in LGBT-related activities. Here are some examples: (12) Scared and embarrassed, Wang resigned. She started her own company, implementing an openly LGBT-friendly policy. About one-third of her employees are sexual minorities. (Shanghai Daily, 29/07/2020). Extract 12 is drawn from a news article in the Shanghai Daily representing SMs as progressive people. This representation is primarily crafted using several discursive strategies. The first strategy, known as activation, portrays Wang as a lesbian woman with a keen inclination toward self-improvement. Beyond her role as the leader, Wang is portrayed actively, primarily through the verb “implement”, signaling her drive to foster a unique work atmosphere for fellow sexual minorities. Such a portrayal evokes the familiar Chinese proverb: adversity sharpens one’s wisdom. The strategy of predication is then exemplified by the descriptor “LGBT-friendly”, alluding to a forthcoming workspace free from discrimination, oppression, shame, hate, and secrecy. The third strategy, aggregation, is underscored by the term “one-third” here. This quantifier conveys an optimistic sentiment, indicating that Wang’s new company has become a haven, a sanctuary where SMs can pursue their dreams and create wealth. (13) The organization Cindy is part of registered in 2006 at a university in Guangzhou, becoming the first school club that focused specifically on LGBT topics. Since then, they have been trying to hold activities and raise their rainbow flag on May 17 every year. (Global Times, 16/05/2018). Extract 13 portrays Chinese SMs as progressionists by highlighting their courage in founding LGBT-related organizations. There are several points in this context that merit further attention. First, the date referenced in the news extract is noteworthy, as it predates the recent era of increased tolerance for SMs. In those times, establishing an organization such as “Cindy” was a bold move, signaling the pursuit of equal rights. Secondly, the emphasis on university students as the central figures evokes memories of the May 4th Movement in 1919, initiated by students in Beijing. This parallel reinforces the notion that students in China have historically been at the forefront of innovative ideas. The third point touches on a specified location, Guangzhou (a keyword in Table 3 ), referred to in the extract. Historically, Guangdong province, especially Shenzhen, has spearheaded China’s reforms dating back to the Qing Dynasty. Residents have a reputation for being open-minded and keeping up with international trends. Therefore, it is no surprise that an organization like this would thrive in Guangzhou. And lastly, the progressive and liberal image of SMs is intensified by using the adjunct “every year”. Of note is that the mention of annual “rainbow activities” underscores two vital inferences. First, people champion causes they deem valuable; otherwise, it would be an exercise in futility. Second, through relentless commitment, SMs would ultimately achieve their quest for equal citizen rights. (14) Blued announced on Sunday that it would close new registrations for a week, and intensify supervisory measures, including relying on technology and manpower to cancel accounts held by minors. (China Daily, 08/01/2019). Extract 14 delves into corporate social responsibility in China, spotlighting the gay community-associated corporation Blued. Mr. Geng Le has long been the CEO of Blued. The app’s inception aimed to foster interactions among gay men (Lu, Zhang, and Zhang, 2023 ). While Blued has similarities with Western social apps, it seamlessly blends Chinese elements. Regular updates introduce features like live-streaming that enhances user experiences. However, Blued faced criticism because of blackmail incidents, intentional HIV/AIDS transmission via the app, and the monetization of formerly free programs. Concerns also arise about misleading users under 18, as shown in this extract. Blued recognized that there are areas for improvement. Using the strategy of activation, this case emphasizes that Blued, similar to other companies, remains committed to its responsibility, resisting its being delegitimized in China. (15) Xi’s initiation to the gay community came online when he found the nonprofit Queer Comrades center in Beijing. The center held an exhibition of his paper cuttings in 2009 during the Queer Film Festival and Sexual Diversity Art Festival. “People reacted very well to my art. There were homosexuals and lesbians in tears who thanked me for showing same-sex love in my paper cuttings,” he said. (Global Times, 09/08/2012). Extract 15 is developed by focusing on an exhibition of paper cuttings with a unique theme centered on queer subjects. The use of aggregation strategy symbolizes how SMs seek mutual “warmth”, as the exhibition was curated by and for SMs. In addition, an activation strategy highlights the SMs’ passion for the exhibition’s setup. The event gained significant praise, with the choice of “very” intensifying empathy among Chinese SMs. Finally, the term “in tears” emphasizes the report’s authenticity. (16) “The local police told us to cancel the show a day before it was due to open, because they claimed it contained obscene and violent content,” said an organizer, who gave her name as Sam, and who is also editor of les+ magazine. “We were not sure if we could go ahead until this morning. We removed several sexually explicit works, then they said the exhibition was ok.” (Global Times, 17/06/2009). Extract 16 continues to introduce another exhibition of SMs. This report reveals the complexities preceding the exhibition’s launch. Unlike Extract 15, where SMs are protagonists, this extract presents a dichotomy between police officers and SMs. The tension emerges when SMs face pressure to cancel their LGBT-themed show. Legally, in China, this pressure is valid since the planned exhibition was seen as inappropriate for Chinese audiences. Thus, SMs are portrayed in line with the law. Using Halliday’s ( 1994 ) theme-rheme pattern, the news focus is evident in Sam’s latter statement about the exhibition’s timely launch. Extract 16’s analysis offers two main insights: first, an LGBT-centric exhibition’s bold and risky nature, encapsulated by the proverb mingzhi shanyouhu pianxiang hushanxing (明知山有虎 偏向虎山行taking the bull by its horns). Through the use of predication strategy, the second insight depicts the lesbian as savvy, ensuring success by eliminating any illegal content. Discussion and conclusion Drawing on the discursive strategies, this article presents a corpus-assisted discourse analysis of SMs representations in China’s English-language media. On the one hand, our investigation corroborates previous research findings (Huang, 2018 ; Kang, 2010 ; Zhang, 2014 ) by spotlighting predominantly negative and conservative representation patterns of SMs. This included representing SMs as medically challenged individuals, both physically and mentally, necessitating medical treatment, and as sexually promiscuous figures leading harmful lifestyles. On the other hand, our research illuminates the instances of more liberal and affirmative Chinese media portrayals of SMs, a dimension scarcely identified in earlier studies focusing on Chinese-language outlets. Notably, representations of SMs as victims are strategically juxtaposed with issues such as marriage rights, adoption, fair employment, freedom to organize events, domestic violence, and theft. This underscores the disparities between SMs and heterosexuals, highlighting the prejudice due to their sexual orientation. Additionally, representations of SMs as progressive agents foreground their advocacy for equal citizen rights and their proactive involvement in public welfare initiatives. The particularly positive representations of Chinese SMs can be attributed to various reasons. However, four potential factors are contemplated within the Chinese context. Firstly, the emergence of the “Chinese Dream” combined with increased political openness has fostered a more favorable environment for positive media portrayals of SMs. The consensus is that the “Chinese Dream,” as President Xi expressed it, embodies the aspirations of every Chinese citizen, irrespective of sexual orientations. Guided by principles of freedom, equality, and the rule of law, China is steadily evolving toward an inclusive society where everyone can exercise their rights. For SMs, this transformation is a gradual and hopeful journey toward recognition as equal members of contemporary Chinese society. For example, on 6 November 2018, a Chinese delegation led by the Vice Foreign Minister participated in the third China Review Conference of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. This conference marked the first occasion where the Chinese government explicitly revealed its position on SMs: China upholds the health rights of LGBT individuals, allows voluntary sex reassignment surgery, and respects individual privacy. Secondly, China’s English-language news outlets are actively addressing taboos and confronting stigmatization related to SMs. This trend suggests a growing media freedom and epitomizes “a moderate approach to news reporting” (Guo and Huang, 2002 : 222). By producing news articles that challenge stereotypes and humanize LGBT individuals, these media positively influence news portrayals, enhancing empathy and understanding and prompting societal changes. They offer a broader creative latitude, presenting narratives potentially overlooked or sidestepped by the Chinese-language media. As Yu et al. ( 2022 ) demonstrated, the liberal content is more discernible in English-language news portrayals of gay and lesbian identities than in their Chinese-language counterparts. Furthermore, Chinese news outlets are not entirely detached from global media influences. Positive international media representations of SMs, through TV shows and cultural exchanges, inspire domestic media to embrace more inclusive portrayals, aiming for alignment with international standards and progressive ideals. This corroborates the earlier assertion that Chinese journalists possess a liberal and egalitarian outlook, championing “cosmopolitan worldviews, pluralistic opinions, and occasionally alternative voices” (Guo and Huang, 2002 : 219). Thirdly, the burgeoning “pink economy” enhances the positive representations of SMs in news media. As China grapples with an aging population and confronts challenges like a declining birth rate and economic slowdown, the nation’s consumer strength is gradually rebounding from the repercussions of the Pandemic. In this context, LGBT individuals, though marginalized, hold a distinctive position. They boost consumer spending and generate economic value through legitimate ventures, such as live streaming on Blued and tours catered to SMs. Contributing significantly to the workforce, they are perceived as injecting renewed vigor into Chinese economy. This aligns with Salahshour’s ( 2016 ) assertion that the marginalized groups, such as immigrants, can elevate their societal standing by leveraging their economic contributions. Fourthly, the endeavors of LGBT activists and advocacy organizations also significantly influence the trajectory of news reports toward a more positive stance. Through their persistent efforts, they heighten awareness, counteract prevailing stereotypes, and collaborate with Chinese media channels to foster precise, respectful, tolerant, and inclusive representations of Chinese SMs. Notably, the endeavors and experiences of Le Geng and Yinhe Li Footnote 5 dominate a substantial segment of these news narratives. Engaging LGBT individuals in the news creation process is pivotal in ensuring accurate and non-misleading portrayals of SMs. In terms of future research, scholars could first explore the visual semiotic tools used to represent SMs through a multimodal lens. Such tools in media can serve as “an effective way of housing gendered discourses and ideologies” (Yu et al. 2022 : 3). In addition, a comparative analysis delving into the parallels and distinctions in the portrayal of gay men and lesbian women in the Chinese media would be of value. And lastly, focusing on specific LGBT-related subjects in news media could provide insights into framing news narratives on SMs. Topics such as domestic violence, Pride Parade, same-sex marriage litigations, the issue of homophobic textbooks, and the tongqi phenomenon (gay man’s wife) warrant attention, because “the repetition of certain discourses can affect how [SMs] are talked and reasoned about” (Yoong and Lee, 2023 : 4). Data availability Notes Additional information Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Rights and permissions Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit .

Blued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • When was Blued founded?

    Blued was founded in 2000.

  • Where is Blued's headquarters?

    Blued's headquarters is located at Block B, Building 2, North District of Apple Community, Beijing.

  • What is Blued's latest funding round?

    Blued's latest funding round is Acq - P2P.

  • How much did Blued raise?

    Blued raised a total of $132.09M.

  • Who are the investors of Blued?

    Investors of Blued include UG Capital, CDH Investments, The Beijing News, Vision Knight Capital, China Mobile Games & Entertainment and 10 more.

  • Who are Blued's competitors?

    Competitors of Blued include Grindr and 2 more.


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