This article was originally written for Belgian newspaper De Tijd and published on 20 December 2013. I have now translated it for any English-speaking readership.

Belgian beer is hip in China. In many places, Belgian brands are growing more strongly than others. Duvel-Moortgat wants to conquer the Chinese market with its Vedett “Penguin” and “Polar Bear”. Chinese especially appreciate the higher quality of the beer.


A normal business day in Kunming, the capital of south-western Yunnan province. On the patio of O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, a group of Chinese in a noticeably advanced state of happiness make each other laugh. Nothing special in itself. After all, drinking is a popular pastime in China. But the fact that they have traded the classic watery liquid for Vedett Extra White or a glass of draft De Coninck, is noteworthy. Especially because this city is over 2,000 km away from hip metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing, and mainly surrounded by poor rural areas.


I never intended to write a background article on the Xinjiang situation, simply because I feel I’m not nearly an expert on the field. But inevitably, when you’re researching a subject and trying to form an idea, article after article pops up, and important people all over the world voice opinion after opinion. And that’s how it’s suddenly noon and you’re still sitting in your underwear on the couch with your head stuck deep into the internet.

Even though I have become a lot wiser about the Xinjiang issue, I am not in a place to make socio-political analysis. However, this terror attack, this fight for freedom, and this cultural and economic oppression are not confined to Kunming, Xinjiang or China. They are not isolated events. And neither are reactions from the opposite side, which slowly but surely tighten the noose of public opinion around the neck of a culture, a religion and a people until it has been stripped of its humanity and hunting season is declared open to shoot down – verbally or literally – anyone connected with it. It’s easy to draw a few parallels to the intolerant climate in Europe in the 1930’s and the world doesn’t need another such occurrence. With this opinion piece I want to contribute, however little, to halt this mass demonisation.

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009
Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS


26 November 2013

Radio 5 NederlandIn the meantime, the folks over at Ikon have uploaded last Sunday’s radio show about homosexuality onto their website. It includes my contribution about the Chinese gay scene. The show is called De (Ver)Ander(d)e Wereld (“The chang(ing/ed) World”) and you can listen to it on-line. The report comes in at about 41 minutes.

I hope you enjoy it, and you can read the full article on my blog if you want to read more about being gay in China.

The background music used by the radio editors is 三十年 (“3 decades”) by Yunnan-born 山人乐队 (“Shanren (Mountain people) band”).

Last week, I was asked by Dutch radio programme De Andere Wereld (“The Other World”) to do a short audio report on being gay in China. During my interviews with several people in the Kunming gay scene, I met so many interesting people and opinions that I realised the subject was worth more than 5 minutes of radio time. I’d like to share my findings with you here.

A man in a Roman toga walks up the catwalk at Nono bar
A man in a Roman toga strides up the catwalk at Nono bar

Legalised in 1997 and scrapped from the list of mental illnesses as late as 2001, homosexuality in China is still a fairly sensitive topic. Even though modern cities as Beijing and Shanghai have a thriving gay scene, many homosexuals remain in the closed, nailed shut by family expectations and a lack of information. This is no less the case in Kunming, the capital of chiefly rural Yunnan province.