‘Gay panic and yellow peril’

An interesting blog post from Canadian Hamish Copley on Racism and homophobia: The Chinese in Victorian Canada, in which he tells of the moral panic expressed in Canada’s 1885 Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration about the apparently rampant homosexual tendancies of the Chinese. Copley writes from the perspective of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) history, and provides some interesting comparisons to other similar discussions of homosexuality at the time.

The arguments put forward in the Canadian Royal Commission evidence are startlingly familiar. They are almost exactly the same as those expressed in Australia. There are no women among the Chinese, therefore they are driven to ‘sodomy’. But what struck me was the date. By the 1880s, white Australian colonists had definitely moved on from a panic over homosexuality – to a panic over the seduction of young white girls and an ongoing fear of the whole racial mixing thing.

The homosexuality arguments were put in earlier discussions of Chinese immigration, particularly in the 1850s, but it seems that in Australia at least there just wasn’t the evidence to sustain that argument for very long. Yes, Chinese men continued to come without bringing Chinese women with them, but the more likely result of this was forming sexual relationships with white women, not with each other.

I don’t know of anyone who’s seriously considered the question of homosexuality among the 19th century Chinese community in Australia. I’ve discussed the fears which arose from the masculine nature of Chinese immigration, with a brief bit about homosexuality in Section 1 of my thesis, pp. 35–41.

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