Beijing police shut down China's first gay pageant yesterday, saying that the event did not have a licence to take place. The move prompted fears that a crackdown on civil rights was gaining impetus.
Everything was set for a gala evening in Beijing's Lan Club, designed by top French designer Philippe Starck, but an hour before the start police called it off, to the disappointment of spectators who had come from all over China as well as many foreign guests.
It has not been a good week for civil rights in China, after the web giant Google said it might leave over rights to free speech. Recent months have also seen the jailing of top dissidents.
Police told the glamorous crowd that they could have a drink in the bar, but the show would not be going ahead.
The winner of "Mr Gay China" was intended to represent China at a global event to be held in Norwegian capital Oslo next month. It would have been the first time a Chinese representative had made an appearance.
Eight candidates from around China were primed to take part in the final pageant, which was supposed to involve a Q&A session, a fashion show session and an underwear session. The judges had the task of selecting the top three, then the audience would vote for the outright winner.
Contestants and audience members were disappointed, and expressed their fears that the event would not be rescheduled. "No reason was given, of course. They never give a reason for this, ever," said one man who had arrived to attend the event.
Participants and organisers alike had hoped the contest would help underline what many have said are growing signs of acceptance of gay men and women in China, where homosexuality has long been viewed as a cause for shame. But the huge media response took the organisers by surprise.
The event drew massive media attention from foreign TV and press, as well as considerable local attention, which may have forced the police's hand on banning the event. The forced cancellation took place as Germany's openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, was visiting China.
Organisers had hoped the pageant, which was to have featured underwear contests and a freestyle talent display, would be a milestone event heralding a change in the Chinese society's traditionally conservative attitude towards homosexuality.
One contestant, who lived for many years in Europe and goes by the name Jay, was sad the show had been stopped.
"I had no idea it would be stopped. At a rehearsal the other day, there was no sense that anything strange was going on. I don't imagine they will reschedule it at any point," said the contestant.
Homosexuality was considered a mental illness in China until 2001, but China's cities have many gay bars and nightclubs that operate without pressure from the authorities.
Gay men and women face powerful pressure because of social taboos, and also because China's one-child policy makes parents require their only child to marry and have grandchildren.
Many gay men, for example, will marry and have a child, but will live active homosexual lives in secret.Reuse content