Comrades Promote Tongzhi Studies

As reported in the Summer 2003 issue of CLAGSnews, our organization has teamed up with the Institute for
Tongzhi Studies (ITS) and, just last fall, helped to bring in a number of scholars and researchers from abroad
to share their work on LGTBQ Studies with people in the New York area. In hopes of providing a wider picture
of ITS’s efforts and the ways in which they intersect with CLAGS’s work, we include here a report on their
background and recent activities.

The Institute for Tongzhi Studies (ITS) is an academic research and exchange program led by
Chinese speaking educators and researchers. Housed at the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York, ITS is a joint project of the Center for Women and Society and the Center for
Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS). The Institute seeks to scrutinize layers of discriminating social
attitudes, cultural assumptions, and public policies against sexual minorities in China and in Chinese
communities around the world. Through education, research, and exchange, ITS coordinates with
institutions with shared values in order to build a body of scholarly work to further the study of gender
and sexuality in Chinese societies.
“Tongzhi” literally means “comrade,” or “people who cherish similar aspirations.” This term was
first used in 1890s by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to describe his followers, and was based on his three democratic
principles for a new China: “Freedom, Equality, Compassion.” Later, Chinese communists re-interpreted
the term to label their revolutionary compatriots. Even more recently, the expression “tongzhi” was
adopted by a Hong Kong gay activist in 1989 to portray same-sex desire in a positive light. The
traditional term “tongxing lian” (homosexuals) was purposely rejected by activists because of its strong
association with a medical term denoting transgression and pathology. “Tongzhi” has now become the
preferred and empowered homegrown phrase for self-identifying Chinese gays and lesbians worldwide.
In no time, “tongzhi” was also adopted by expansive and diverse communities of sexual minorities that
are united in the challenging traditional definitions of gender and sexuality, and the norms attached to
them, including Chinese lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, queers (LGBTQ) and many
Funded by a two-year grant from Ford Foundation, ITS’s tongzhi lecture series is designed to create
dialogues between scholars, educators, students, and artists. As an emerging area of academic
exploration, the field of “Tongzhi Studies” not only aims to record and describe communities, histories,
identity theories, and social activism unique to Chinese culture, it also aspires to open new ground and
provoke dialogues on issues of gender/sexuality/same-sex desires interpreted locally in a global context.
Since fall of 2003, ITS hosted three key speakers from this nascent field: Professor Cui Zi En, a
leading queer activist, independent media artist and film scholar from the Beijing Film Academy, who
presented “Filtered Voices: Queer Artistic Production In Today’s China”; Dr. Li Yin He, Professor of
Sociology from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Ching-ning Wang, Ph.D. candidate in
Sociology at the City University of New York, who presented “Tongzhi, Internet, And Homosexuality In
Contemporary China.” A number of spring 2004 events have already been scheduled, and are listed in
CLAGS’s calendar of events on page 13.
For additional information about the work of ITS, please contact or visit

Mai Kiang co-chairs ITS with Wan Yan Hai. She is currently working as a film librarian at New York University
and has previously served on organizing, programming, and fundraising committees for New York area grassroots
organizations, such as Asian Lesbian of the East Coast, New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and Taiwan