According to the state run China Daily quoting a prominent gay rights campaigner, as many as 12 to 16 million women in China may be married to homosexual men.
Zhang Bei-chuan, a medical professor at Qingdao University and an expert on AIDS and HIV, says about 80% of an estimated 16 million gay men in China have either married or are of marrying age. The number of women with gay husbands works out to be about 12 million, he said, given that same-sex marriage is not legal in the country and men face social pressure to marry and have children regardless of their sexual orientation.
Chinese women married to gay men are often known as "tongqi" (同妻) meaning "wives of comrades," referencing the Mandarin term tongzhi often used to refer to gay men in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
The term has been in use as early as 2009 by renowned sexologist and sociologist Li Yinhe who wrote in a blog post that as many as 80% of 20 million male homosexuals may be married to women.
In a report about the same issue in 2010, the Economist reported that in comparison only an estimated 15-20% of gay men in America marry heterosexual women. It further quoted Liu Dalin, a pioneering sexologist now retired from the University of Shanghai, who put the share in China at 90% and if so, the number of tongqi in China may be as high as 25 million.
A number of support groups such as the Tongqi Association (同妻联合会) and Pink Space Sexuality Research Centre in Beijing now exist to support women married to gay men. Women married to gay men often feel cheated and humiliated as they are usually the last to know the truth about their husbands' sexuality while others may suffer years of domestic violence at the hands of their frustrated husbands.
While a small fraction eventually opt for divorce, most stay on unhappily in their desolate unions to financial dependence, familial or social pressure, or if they have children.
As early as 1993, Professor Li has tried to advocate for same-sex marriage in China. She argues that legalising same-sex marriage would help to significantly reduce the number of tongqi and hollow marriages in China.