Online haven for China’s LGBT community meets its end – China’s latest society and culture news

Society & Culture

A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for September 29, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

“We are going backward in so many aspects.”

“My partner and I started to know each other through the board. We’ve been together for seven years since then and the board has been a witness of our love. It will live in our memories forever.”

The LGBT community in China is in an uproar (in Chinese) over the recent shutdown of “Being your company along the way” 一路同行, a sub-discussion board on one of the most popular online forums, Tianya 天涯. Established in 1999, the board served as a platform reserved for Chinese homosexuals to share their personal stories, publish a variety of gay literature, seek romance, and discuss any LGBT-related topics with others in the minority group.

The closure announcement was made on September 28 by the community administrator, who spoke for the top management of Tianya. The notice reads, “Due to some external factors that are outside our control, this board will stop its operation on September 30, 2017. Users, please archive your personal data independently. We appreciate years of devotion and engagement by board moderators and friends.”

Throughout its 18-year history, the board acted as a place where its users shared a high level of intimacy and mutual support that they couldn’t find in any other online forums. Among the most-discussed topics during the early stage of the board is a republication of Their World: A Study of Homosexuality in China, a book co-authored by the country’s best-known sociologist, Li Yinhe 李银河, and her husband, Wang Xiaobo 王小波, who is also one of the pioneers in China to explore topics like sadomasochism and gay rights. Other topics on the board are mostly centered on private experience. A personal story titled “After six years of wait, we finally had our happy ending” has garnered more than 800 million views.

On the same day that the termination was announced, Xiao Hongxiu 肖红袖, one of the board moderators, wrote, “Now you don’t have to beg me to delete your posts, because all things will be cleared, including your love and hate, your joy and sorrow, your stories, and the time you spent with others in this place.” Zhu Dingzhen 竹顶针, a longtime user of the board, took to (in Chinese) his Weibo account to express his deep sadness and gratefulness for the board, a sentiment that was echoed by thousands of others. “It’s hard to explain how such a board influenced me in just one post,” he wrote. “In retrospect, I am grateful for this virtual space where I could gain comfort and courage from strangers when I was racked by self-doubt and self-denial because of my sexuality.”

Prior to the rise of Baidu Tieba and Sina Weibo, Tianya thrived in an era when internet access was a luxury only available to the elite class in China. Early users of Tianya enjoyed enormous freedom to discuss a wide range of topics such as celebrity gossip, politics, and even their sex life before the platform gradually lost its luster due to its obsolete interface and the drastic change in the country’s netizen demographics.