The five chapters in this section look at the politics of sexuality in the region, including the regulation and stigmatisation of certain kinds of sexual practices, identities and communities, and resistance to the governmental regulation of sexualities. The section opens with Douglas Sanders’ general overview of legal regulations pertaining to sexual minorities in the region. Sanders points out that the evolution of the legal codes in each country covered in the collection is an amalgam of regional and Western influences, leading to diverse ways of framing and regulating non-heterosexual modes of sexual expression. State policies and laws also, of course, regulate heterosexuality in various ways (see Mackie 2009: 139-63).

With the exception of Hong Kong, which inherited aspects of the UK criminal code, including the prohibition of acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men, male same-sex sexual relations have not been specifically targeted in the legal codes of the region. This does not mean that local authorities have not been vigilant in suppressing non-heterosexual relations – gay male activities in particular. In the case of mainland China, for instance, this has been done through general laws prohibiting ‘hooliganism’ rather than a prohibition of specific types of sex act. Sanders notes how in the past decade there has been significant movement in the reframing of same-sex oriented and transgender relationships from a discourse of ‘deviance’ to one of sexual citizenship and rights. This has largely been achieved through the increased visibility of supportive non­governmental organisations on the ground in each country as well as increased use of the legal systems to ensure non-discriminatory practices based on sexual or gender orientation.

James Farrer looks back over the course of the last century to see how cultures of youth sexuality have been transformed in China due to changes in political culture. Farrer notes how the patriarchal tradition of arranged marriage was already being challenged in the Republican period by developing discourses of romantic love and courtship. The Communist Revolution of 1949 further augmented this shift and the Marriage Law of 1950 finally established the equality of husbands and wives and instituted strict monogamy. Due to the ‘bourgeois’ rituals of courtship being viewed with suspicion, however, it was not until the ‘opening up’ of China in the 1980s that there was the re-emergence of a visible youth sexuality based upon dating. It was during this period that ‘romantic love’ emerged as a discourse supporting greater pre-marital sexual exploration and expression. This gained pace in the late 1990s with the widespread uptake of the Internet which enabled enhanced public discussion about sexual practices that had not hitherto been possible in mainstream media. Farrer notes that this new expanded discourse of sexual freedom has impacted most significantly on young women who are increasingly able to explore erotic relations outside of marriage without fear of stigma.

Franck Bille focuses on the nexus of nationalism and discourses of sexuality. He explains the stigmatisation of Mongolian women who engage in sexual activities with non-Mongolian, particularly Chinese, men. As a sparsely populated nation situated between two powerful neighbours — the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China — Bille argues that many Mongolians feel a sense of insecurity with regard to China in particular. In recent decades there has been a massive influx of Han Chinese (the majority ethnicity in mainland China) into the neighbouring Chinese province of Inner Mongolia where inter-marriage between Han Chinese and ethnic Mongolians is common. Given Mongolian ideas that credit only the male line as the true bearer of ethnicity, Mongolian women who marry or engage in sexual relations with Chinese are seen as betraying the greater Mongolian nation by giving birth to ‘Chinese’ babies. Gay men, too, are targeted in the Mongolian media, also around nationalist concerns, for their perceived betrayal of Ghengis Khan-like hypermasculinity. Ironically it is precisely this performance of hypermasculinity and its rituals involving violence and alcohol abuse that is the reason for some Mongolian women’s preference for Chinese spouses who are perceived as making more dependable husbands.

Setsu Shigematsu considers how members of the women’s liberation movement in 1970s Japan addressed questions of sexual politics. In their reaction against the sexism and masculinism of mainstream society and of their erstwhile comrades in the New Left, they had much in common with the women’s liberation movements which sprang up in parallel in the US, Europe and Australia. There were also, however, some distinctive features of the Japanese situation. Women’s liberationists had to come to terms with the violence of extreme left-wing groups such as the Red Army and its offshoots. The women’s liberationists bravely expressed solidarity with violent female members of the Red Army and with women who had committed infanticide when placed in extreme circumstances. Women’s liberationists called for the liberation of sex from androcentric models and envisioned more egalitarian forms of sexual communication between women and men.

The chapter on the tongzhi movement in Hong Kong by Travis Kong, Lau Hoi Leung and Li Cheuk Yin highlights how homosexual law reform became one of many political issues caught up in the negotiations between China and the UK over the reversion of Hong Kong to mainland control in 1997. As the sole British colony in the region, Hong Kong had inherited laws prohibiting male same-sex sexual acts effectively rendering male (but not female) homo­sexuality illegal. This meant that Hong Kong was out of synch with mainland China which had no such prohibitions in the legal code. Despite law reform in the UK in 1967 which had decriminalised homosexual sex in some circumstances, these revisions were not enacted in Hong Kong due to local Chinese resistance until 1991 with the passing of a basic Bill of Rights in anticipation of the handover to China. Kong et al. note how the 1990s saw the emergence of a diverse community of same-sex desiring individuals who identified with the term tongzhi, originally part of communist discourse and meaning ‘comrade’ (see also Martin in this volume).

Tongzhi groups were originally focused on cultural and social activities but recently have been proactive in pushing for legislative reform to acknowledge gay, lesbian and transgender rights as part of a wider body of minority rights that are seen as precarious, given the political influence of the mainland Chinese authorities. As a result, tongzhi politics is no longer simply about greater representation for sexual minorities but is increasingly broad in its outreach to other disadvantaged communities based on gender, class, and ethnic background.