Sex and the Bachelor Chinese Society

Historians note that early Chinese immigrants were primarily males.  Many were bachelors, or if married, left their wives and children, if any, in China while they worked in other countries to send remittances home to support their families. This situation was strongly reinforced in the U. S. by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion laws that were extended until 1943 and in Canada by the Head Tax in 1885 that did not end until 1923 only to be replaced by a Chinese Exclusion Act that did not end until 1947.

Not much has been studied about the sex lives of these bachelor Chinese men.  The general unavailability of Chinese women, aside from prostitutes, greatly reduced their sexual relations with Chinese women, and consequently, a dearth of children born in the countries where they emigrated to. Moreover, racial prejudices against Chinese limited their prospects of forming heterosexual unions, short or long term, with white women. Prejudices of the Chinese themselves led to disapproval of Chinese men who had heterosexual relations with black women.  Clearly, these circumstances affected the sex lives of these bachelors and may have increased their involvement in sexual activities which society strongly disapproved.

For example, some incidents publicized in newspapers suggested that some Chinese laundrymen were pedophiles or suspected of luring children into their shops for immoral purposes. Less attention seems to have been directed toward homosexual partners among Chinese, or for the few Chinese women here, lesbian relations,  Yet, given the circumstances the Chinese faced in North America in the 19th and early 20th century, it would have been more surprising if there had not been homosexual or lesbian relationships.

A thoughtful dramatization of how societal conditions could have contributed toward homosexual relationships among Chinese immigrants is an excellent 1996  short film by Chinese-Canadian writer and filmmaker born in Trinidad, Richard Fung, captly titled, Dirty Laundry with commentary by historians Anthony B Chan, Dora Nipp, Sky Lee, and Nayan Shah. 

dirty-laundry-richard-fung-title-.png

A summary of the film:

Dirty Laundry speculates upon the buried narratives of gender and sexuality in Chinese-Canadian history of the 19th Century, when Chinese communities were almost exclusively male. A story about a chance late-night encounter between a steward and a passenger on a train interweaves with documentary interviews with historians and writers and historical documents brought to life. The video poses nagging questions about the personal and political stakes in the writing of history and in our interpretations of the past.

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