Culture

Dongdan Park: Beijing’s gay spot and its cultural symbols

Dongdan Park is an urban park in Beijing, and it is known at home and abroad because it is the oldest gay stronghold since the founding of the people’s Republic of China.

In an era when there is no Internet, or even homosexuality was illegal, Beijing’s GAY gathered here at night in search of dating and sex.

There have been many romantic homosexual love stories in this park, which is only two kilometers from Tian’anmen Square. But it has also caused many people to be infected with HIV because of unsafe sex. It has been written into documentary literature, novels, Chinese media and foreign media reports, and has become the story background of Chinese homosexual films.

Why on earth did Dongdan Park become a gay spot? When did this begin? What does Dongdan Park look like now?

It used to be a real gay spot, but for millennials, it has gradually become a cultural symbol. The real Dongdan Park is almost no longer related to homosexuality, but the 60-year history of the park has to some extent become a history of gay men in China, which is still worth telling.

Once the best-known GAY spot in China

As far as it can be found, Dongdan Park has become the earliest record of a gay spot, in an interview with a well-known elderly gay man in China.

Ning Guofeng is one of the most famous GAY in Beijing in the last century. He has two other names, one is his real name Xiao Shuang, and the other is the nickname “Lady Paris.”

He is called the Lady of Paris because in 1962, at the age of 23, he met and fell in love with a French cook in a foreign embassy in Beijing.

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Ning Guofeng photos of different times

Ning Guofeng still remembers the night he met the Frenchman:

It was almost dusk that day, and there were not many people in the square. I was dressed in white: a white sweatshirt, a white coat, white trousers and a white scarf. The Frenchman sat opposite me, about 40 years old, tall and burly. I like this foreigner very much in my heart. The French smiled at me, and so did I.

There were fewer and fewer people in the square, and the French suddenly said to me in Chinese: “I love you!” I was not on date, and replied in a foreigner’s way: “Thank you!” The Frenchman said, “shall we go out and talk?” I said, “okay.”

After that, Ning Guofeng dated the Frenchman many times, so he got into the habit of calling him “Lady Paris” in the gay community in Beijing. Later, Ning Guofeng learned that the Frenchman was a cook.

The Frenchman had a habit of giving him some pocket money after every date with Ning Guofeng. Ning Guofeng didn’t want to take it because he didn’t want the French to think he was a prostitute. But the French always throw money to him when they leave and say to him, “you can buy some cosmetics.”

Ning Guofeng could only keep the money, but for the Chinese at that time, there was no place to exchange foreign currencies into RMB.

The relationship didn’t end well, and the Frenchman didn’t show up on a date. Later, Ning found the Frenchman walking with others.

In some articles, Ning Guofeng’s encounter with the Frenchman was described in Dongdan Park. But in fact, according to Ning Guofeng’s own dictation, he met the Frenchman in Xidan Cultural Square. But most of the subsequent dates also took place in Dongdan Park, and the name “Lady Paris” was also formed in Dongdan Park.

According to Ning Guofeng’s recollection, Dongdan Park had gradually become a gay spot in Beijing as early as 1960 when he dated the Frenchman. Later, we’ll talk about what changed that park in the 1960s.

At that time, there were two gay spots in Beijing, Dongdan and Xidan, which were located on both sides of the central axis of Beijing, around 2km on the east and west of Tiananmen Square, respectively. Wang Xiaobo’s novel East Palace and West Palace refers to these two places. In 1996, the novel was adapted into a film starring Hu Jun, Zhao Wei, Si Khan and others.

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Stills of the East Palace and the West Palace

The story described in East Palace and West Palace takes place in Dongdan Park. When Xiao Shi, a policeman at the police station near the park, is bored on the night shift, he will arrest one or two homosexuals in the park for trial. Alan is a gay who often haunts the park and behaves enchanting. With many contacts, Xiao Shi listened to Alan talk about his life as a homosexual, and his hidden sexuality began to awaken. After a period of temptation and anti-temptation, Xiao Shi fell in love with Alan.

Although the film was not released in China, it made Dongdan Park famous and made all Chinese gay fantasize about Dongdan Park.

The plot of “the police arrest homosexuals” described in the film was once a real phenomenon in China in the end decade of last century. Ning Guofeng was sent to reform through labor after being reported by his colleagues in 1977 (he was a teacher). He got out of prison in 1986 and spent seven years in jail between the ages of 38 and 47.

The crime of hooliganism, which had been widely used to arrest homosexuals, was deleted from China’s new Criminal Law in 1997, the second year after the film was released. In 2001, homosexuality was removed from the Chinese Classification and Diagnostic criteria for Mental Disorders, and homosexuality is no longer regarded as a disease by the Chinese government.

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Gay men in Dongdan Park. The photos are artistically processed for privacy reasons.

In an era when there is no Internet and even breaking the law, gay men can’t go to hotels or have sex at each other’s homes. Therefore, Dongdan Park is not only their dating place, but also their sex place.

In his 1995 book Homosexuality in China, Fang Gang, an associate professor in the School of Humanities at Beijing Forestry University and a famous Chinese sexologist, gave a detailed account of what it was like in Dongdan Park, which was a stronghold of homosexuality at that time:

“if you look carefully, you will find something different and strange about it (the park). On the bench beside the park path sat twos and threes of men. They seem to be very leisurely, but their eyes are always eagerly searching for something. When they meet a desired target, they either shine in front of their eyes or look at him with implied eyes. “

At the same time, the book also records how homosexuals in the park use codes to identify each other:

“someone will ask you what time it is, but he has his own watch. Someone will borrow a lighter from you, but he doesn’t smoke. The other person may still ask you for directions, but the place where he is going is fictional. “

If you give a positive answer, then you may have sex directly in a hiding place in the park. If you say you don’t know anything, the other person will realize that you are not gay or that you are not attracted to him.

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Gay and transgender men in Dongdan Park. The photos are artistically processed for privacy reasons.

The reason for using the code is not only to avoid harassing non-gay park visitors but also to prevent being “fishing law enforcement” by plainclothes police. Because even if homosexuality is decriminalized, it is still not allowed by law to have sex in a public place such as a park.

At the beginning of the 21 century, gay spots all over the country became lively. Another popular gay spot at that time was “bathing place”. Because bathing place have a more private environment than parks, homosexuals can have sex in lounges or saunas room, which is “a little safer” than in parks.

But the bathing place is charged, homosexuals pay to enter, but may not be able to find a suitable partner. So for the poor and the elderly, they still like parks.

Dongdan Park as an “ordinary park”

Dongdan Park was founded in 1955 and was not a gay spot from the beginning.

In the impression of most Beijingers, it has nothing to do with the homosexuality. The reason why Dongdan Park can become a gay spot is also related to the development of the park itself.

The history of Dongdan Park can be traced back to the Xin Chou Treaty signed by the Qing government in 1901. It became a training ground for foreign troops stationed in Beijing. In 1948, the government of the Republic of China also used this place as a temporary airport.

Therefore, the predecessor of Dongdan Park is just a piece of flat land. As you know, it is impossible for people to choose an open space as a rendezvous place.

In the first five years of the founding of the people’s Republic of China, Dongdan Park had not yet been established, when it was called the “East Land”-an ample open space to the east. In 1955, the Beijing municipal government delineated Dongdan Park from the “East Land”. In 1963, Guo Moruo, a modern Chinese litterateur, put up a plaque for Dongdan Park, which marked the official opening of the park.

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The early Dongdan Park

Dongdan park is generally divided into three parts: the northern hills are luxuriant with small pavilions on the top; the central square is surrounded by cedar, which sets off the statue of “workers, peasants and soldiers”; the western part is a fitness area, which has set up many free fitness equipments after China’s reform and opening up.

Gay men are almost exclusively active in the hills and woods in the north, where there is enough shelter to make it easier for them to have sex directly in the park.

According to records, this part was established around 1968, when Sino Soviet relations were tense. The government dug many air raid shelters in Beijing for the possible third world war, while the muck from the air raid shelters was piled up in the major parks in Beijing and beautified by planting trees. The hills, forests and pavilions in the north of Dongdan park were built at that time.

Because it is close to Dongdan stadium and a sports school in Beijing. Therefore, in the history of “ordinary Park”, Dongdan park has always been a park with a deep relationship with sports.

This year’s 69-year-old CCTV sports host, Ms. Sun Zhengping, recorded a “not a gay spot” Dongdan Park in his memoirs:

In the early days of the cultural revolution, Beijingers who lacked entertainment would play chess, poker, shuttlecock and loyalty dance in Dongdan park. Nie Weiping, a Chinese professional go player who has won the Ninth Section of go, once concealed his identity and practiced go with ordinary go fans in Dongdan park.

At that time, in the awareness of the non-gay community, Dongdan Park was a famous gathering place for go fans in Beijing, and an old man was one of the most famous folk players who thought he had no opponent in Beijing.

Nie Weiping, who had just returned to Beijing from Heilongjiang, was young and energetic and launched a challenge with the elderly. At first, the old man underestimated the enemy, but he was continuously defeated by Nie Weiping. As a result, Nie Weiping was famous in Beijing.

After China’s reform and opening up, Dongdan Park once became an antique market in Beijing. Because of its convenient transportation, many merchants gathered here. During the urban environmental governance in 1998, these merchants were asked to move to Panjiayuan, an antique market that is still in business today.

At the same time, like most free parks in Beijing, Dongdan Park was occupied by middle-aged and elderly people who loved physical exercise.

At the same time, like most free parks in Beijing, Dongdan Park was occupied by middle-aged and elderly people who loved physical exercise. In the morning, some people do morning exercises and do aerobics here, some people kick shuttlecock here and bask in the sun in the afternoon, and some people practice tai chi, dance disco for the elderly at dusk. It was only when night fell that homosexuals began to visit the park.

It is worth mentioning that Dongdan Park is one of the few public parks in Beijing that have been open free of charge since its inception. In addition, it is located in the heart of Beijing and is the location of China’s first subway, only 800 meters away from Beijing Railway Station. At the same time, Dongdan Park is also close to the old embassy district in Beijing, with more foreign visitors.

These factors may have contributed to its becoming a social venue for gay in Beijing. Xidan Cultural Square, which has the same attributes, was once another gay spot in Beijing. On the other hand, lesbians in Beijing used to be mainly active in Zizhuyuan Park.

Become a cultural symbol

Before 2008, Beijing cleaned up many baths where sex was hidden to successfully host the Olympic Games. Dongdan Park, on the other hand, escaped the bullet-because it is just a park and there is no clear evidence that it is a sex place.

At that time, Dongdan Park ushered in its peak as a gay stronghold. The Chinese government even acquiesced in this orientation to some extent – in May 2008, a semi-official volunteer organization “Dongdan Park volunteers” was established in the park.

The volunteer organization was initiated by Wan Yanhai, a Chinese public welfare activist, and government departments such as Beijing Dongcheng District Health and Family Planning Commission, Dongcheng District CDC, Dongcheng District Civil Affairs Bureau and Dongdan Park Management Office were also involved.

The main purpose of the association is to discourage unsafe sex and encourage homosexuals in parks to be tested for HIV. In this context, “unsafe sex” means not only “not using condoms”, but also “having sex in the park”.

Peng Huijie, also a gay man, was one of the first volunteers to join the group. When interviewed in 2015, he had been a volunteer in Dongdan Park for seven years. As a result of working as a volunteer for a long time, he has become a highly respected member of the gay community in Dongdan Park. Many people will come to consult with him about emotional and life problems.

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Peng is showing a gay man his HIV test results, via CNR.

He wrote in his volunteer diary: we homosexuals are not bad, but the moment our parents gave birth to us is different. Be a right person regardless of homosexuality and heterosexuality, you don’t have to promote it, you don’t have to hide it, it’s less weird, you just need more security.

In 2014, Peng conducted 12,000 HIV tests for gay people in Dongdan Park, of which 300 were positive.

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Dongdan Park volunteers are part of the Same heart volunteers. The picture shows the volunteers carrying out popular science activities in the park. Via HaiwaiNet

But in fact, Dongdan Park has declined rapidly since 2008.

This is not because the official policy has changed, but because smartphones have changed everything. Jack’d and Blued (China’s version of Jack’d) are popular among young gay people in China. Young homosexuals are also generally reluctant to have sex in the open air in a public park.

Besides, the public security problem of Dongdan Park is also one of the reasons for the rapid decline of Dongdan Park as a Gay spot.

With more and more domestic and foreign media reports, some fraudsters begin to appear here. It’s no surprise that if you want to have anonymous sex in an open park, you must take the risk of being photographed and threatened.

Using Dongdan as a keyword search on gay forums in China, you can find two kinds of results: one type of post is posted in the dating area to warn everyone that “Dongdan Park is dangerous and easy to be defrauded”; the other kind of post is posted in the literature area. it is often a novel describing one’s sexual encounter in Dongdan Park.

This represents Dongdan Park in reality and Dongdan Park in cultural category respectively.

In 2015, Dongdan Park appeared in the public eye for the last time as a stronghold of gay. This year, an intern reporter for the Los Angeles Times in Beijing published an article called For China’s gay men, Dongdan Park in Beijing offers haven, which also interviewed Peng.

Xinhuanet, China’s state media, partially reprinted the article and translated Haven as a “safe harbor”, objectively describing Dongdan Park as a stronghold of gay. But some Chinese folk anti-gay media unilaterally translated the article and described it as “extremely dirty”, “homosexual chaos” and “shocked overseas”.

However, neither the positive description of this report nor the one-sided attack has attracted more attention.

In a travel note of Dongdan Park in 2019, the author wrote: I saw the old gay sitting in the corner, still snooping and identifying his own kind. This makes Dongdan Park still maintain a mysterious and weird atmosphere.

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