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22 Jun 2011

Police harrassment forces Beijing Queer Film Festival to return underground

The 5th Beijing Queer Film Festival was held from June 15-19 at different locations after the festival, which was scheduled to take place at an undisclosed location in the capital's Xicheng District, was forced to be cancelled.

The 5th Beijing Queer Film Festival, China's first full-fledged LGBT film festival founded 10 years ago, has concluded but not before demands by officials to shut down the event sparked off yet another round of cat-and-mouse which gay community organisers in China are by now so used to.

Previously held in the Songzhuang artist commune outside of Beijing, the festival was moved into the city by organisers because they wanted to make the event more accessible to people living downtown. Originally unsure if this would open the festival to a greater risk of getting shut down, organisers were given the final push when DOChina, an independent documentary film festival scheduled to take place in Songzhuang in May, was forced to be cancelled. 

Organisers eventually decided to host the festival at the Dongjen Book Club, located in the capital's Xicheng District but decided they would not officially announce the venue until the last minute to lower the risk of a premature shutdown. This strategy was similarly adopted by ShanghaiPRIDE in 2010 after the police demanded the cancellation of several events during the inaugural festival a year earlier.

Three days before the start of the festival, however, on June 12, district police as well as officers from the Bureau of Industry and Trade, as well as the Culture Bureau, showed up at the book club, and demanded to meet with the organisers. At this meeting, the police informed organisers that the festival was illegal and had to be cancelled. The book club was also threatened with "harsh consequences" if it decided to go ahead with the hosting of the festival. Organisers, till this day, remain in the dark as to how government authorities found out where they were hosting the event, as the venue was very much a tight secret kept among themselves. 

Eventually, organisers decided they would go ahead with the festival, but host each night's screenings at a different location, and close the event only to invited guests. To the general public though, they gave the impression that the festival was indeed cancelled -- people who had booked seats were informed that the event would not be taking place. 

Notable Taiwanese gay filmmaker Mickey Chen (陈俊志), on his very first trip to mainland China, told Shanghaiist how organisers were still scrambling to finalise the venue for his screening on the day itself. Other guests invited to the festival from outside of mainland China include queer cinema pioneer Barbara Hammer, Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival organizer Sridhar Rangayan, and Chinese-Canadian video artist Wayne Yung. They presented their films alongside about 15 mainland Chinese filmmakers. 

A grand total of 500 people attended the five day festival.

Read the Beijing Queer Film Festival organisers' statement (in English and Chinese) here.

This  article was first published by Shanghaiist on Jun 22, 2011 and is republished with permission.

China » Beijing

Reader's Comments

1. 2011-06-22 18:26  
There is no mention in the article of any stated reason by the authorities for the event being illegal...was it because of the content or because of procedural matters? Is it possible to appeal these official decisions?
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-13 17:20
3. 2011-06-22 21:21  
Still my hats off to the organizers for their perseverance despite the challenges.
4. 2011-06-22 21:59  
A little hard to be a superpower when you are threatened by a small group of queers.
5. 2011-06-22 22:27  
Any public gathering has to be pre-approved by the PSB and, often, other authorities. In this case, I would guess the Ministry of Culture, the Beijing PSB as well as the local police station, and, I would imagine, the State Administration of Film, Radio and TV. No stamped permission, no deal.

In other words, unless you have approval which a million to one you're not going to get, they can shut you down without an explanation.

However, it's wrong to assume the Chinese government is targeting queers in particular - that would mean acknowledging their existence, which the government is forbidden from doing by Party statute. Instead, anything with an overtly political purpose is unlikely to be allowed to proceed. No matter how you try to justify it, a gay film festival qualifies as a political event, simply due to the fact that the open acknowledgement of homosexuality is a political issue in China.

And of course they found out. How many queers do you think there are in the Chinese government?
6. 2011-06-23 00:34  
as usual, big country tiny heart
7. 2011-06-23 01:18  
why are they so afraid?
8. 2011-06-23 01:34  
yet another step backwards for the gay community in China..
9. 2011-06-23 08:54  
ahhh reading this gets me feeling down for the gay community in china , i just wish and hope that one day they get better and more understanding with acceptance
10. 2011-06-23 19:15  
You would think that, as one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, that China would be a bit more socially evolved than the rest of us (much like Europe, as an amalgam of older cultures, is more socially evolved than the US). You would really expect that.

But alas... you would be wrong.
11. 2011-06-23 19:37  
Thanks Xepherus…can you expand on that, what is a Party statute and what relevance does it have to gay people?

The government do seem to have made various estimates of the msm population, at least for health purposes, and they do seem to be recognised in university courses from what we've read here.
12. 2011-06-23 19:40  
@10 - have you never been to Italy?
13. 2011-06-24 01:06  
Not sure Europe is that socially evolved. Europeans pay taxes to support the church. And in the UK the head of the govt is the head of the church. Sounds backwards to me.
14. 2011-06-24 05:45  
are there any Singaporeans left on Fridae or is it just old white guys dating asians now and fake profiles lke Kamabro? god help us, I think gay activists in China need a seminar from their Shanghai breathen on how to fill out the required paperwork to get the necessary approvals then they should be fine and plan ahead
15. 2011-06-24 08:08  
Lagunabro@14, lol, so true, so true :)
16. 2011-06-24 08:18  
Dear talonvon, I'm the writer of this article, a cofounder of ShanghaiPRIDE and a friend of the Beijing Queer Film Festival. I don't think you understand the situation here. If it was just as simple as "filling out the required paperwork to get the necessary approvals", do you think they wouldn't have done that? Why would any organiser spend so much time, effort and money on an event like this just to jeopardise it? Also, Big Brother makes his presence felt a lot more in Beijing than in Shanghai. To be operating in an environment like Beijing requires a good measure of balls, intelligence and capability and I can tell you they've got it all, and they know what they're doing. I say props to them for their courage and for doing what they've been doing for such a long long time. ShanghaiPRIDE is what it is today in part because we stood on their shoulders and on what they've accomplished before we came along. They've been offering us a lot of support in everything we're trying to do here and are happy to see us come this far. We all wish the climate in Beijing wasn't this stifling, but it is what it is.
17. 2011-06-24 17:17  
Pink Dot Film Festival for Singapore!
18. 2011-06-25 11:58  
The date of the festival is so close to July 1st - which is the 90 years birthday of the party. I think that is the main reason why the officials took those actions and they must assure the stability of the whole society and cannot take any risks. I suggest next time trying to avoid some sensitive dates and try to make the 'balance'.

Just personal opinion. Thanks.
19. 2011-06-28 12:11  
OH Drear...'queer'... the name alone is enough reason to avoid it any way
Comment edited on 2011-06-28 12:16:36
20. 2011-06-30 00:26  
@19 ...Wiggy!!!! I love your comments, you're a genius!!!

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