Double of anything holds out the promise of more, including more diversity and greater acceptance of it.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that the traditional Chinese Double Seven Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar – which generally falls in August – has a special place for gay couples.
This year’s celebration of the festival, also known as Qixi or the Chinese Valentine’s Day, on 13 August, saw the media acknowledging same-sex couples’ rights to express their love like any other heterosexual pair.
The conservative, state-controlled Xinhua news agency published a report, “Chinese Valentine’s Day, our gay day!”, noting that “in an increasingly open China, gay people, particularly the young, have grown accustomed to observing Qixi, a holiday that originated from a myth about the love between an ordinary herdsman and a fairy”.
It quoted a leading member of Beijing Gay Center, a non-profit organization in Beijing, as saying that “Qixi festival is all about love, so it should be a day for all Chinese lovers, including gays”.
Though the member withheld his real name, showing that though homosexuality was struck off the list of mental illnesses in 2001 gays are yet to come out of the woods, there were other signs of the community’s greater visibility and higher acceptance of them.
Weibo, the popular Chinese “Twitter”, had users posting messages like "Happy Qixi festival to all lovers, no matter if you are gays, lesbians, heterosexual or bisexual".
Xinhua reported that though bystanders were initially surprised by the sight of gay couples kissing in Beijing’s streets, they soon broke out into cheers and applause instead of sniggers.
A decade ago, the news agency said, homosexuals would not have dared to hold public display of affection for fear of discrimination.
The British news agency Reuters reported how in the past another sedate Chinese publication, China Daily, had carried photographs of gay couples “marrying” in an act of defiance in Tiananmen Square, famous as the venue of student protests, though gay unions are still illegal in China.
Xinhua also referred to a “matchmaking party” organized by the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization in Guangzhou, South China, on the eve of the Qixi festival.
Last year, the festival had seen two young men from Fujian, also in the south, getting engaged in a public ceremony attended by their consenting parents, friends and a crowd of strangers.
Xinhua remarked on the debate over the legality of gay marriage triggered by the event.
However, Reuters warned that the community still has a long way to go.
In February, when Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide, a lesbian couple tried to register their marriage in Beijing but was turned down.
A poll by American think tank Pew Research Center this year found 57 percent respondents in China rejecting homosexuality with only 21 percent showing acceptance.