KU News Release

October 26, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

Professor, student write study on media, homosexuality in China

Tien-Tsung Lee

More Information

LAWRENCE — Researchers have often studied how individuals’ use of media does or does not affect their views in everything from politics to social questions. But very little research has examined media effects on views toward homosexuality in China.

Two researchers from the University of Kansas have authored a study examining that question. Among their findings:

• The more frequently people consume state media, the more negative their stereotypes toward homosexuals are;
• People with more personal contact with homosexuals have less negative stereotypes
• People from smaller hometowns tend to have more negative attitudes on the subject — this also holds true in the United States.

Jiawei Tu, a former master’s student at KU,; and Tien-Tsung Lee, associate professor of journalism, surveyed more than 225 Chinese college students to learn more about their views regarding homosexuality and the media they choose to consume. Tu, a native of China, is now a doctoral student at City University of Hong Kong. The article has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Homosexuality.

The survey was distributed at universities in Beijing, Shanghai and Guiyang. Students were asked a number of questions, including how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements. The most negative stereotypes were that homosexuals are “not fit to serve in the military,” are “sensitive and lonely,” “having a strong need for security” and “not fit for marriage.” The most positive were that homosexuals are “artistic or liking art and literature” and “intelligent or imaginative.”

“What surprised me was, overall, the stereotypes were not that negative,” Lee said. “There were stereotypes, but they were not as strongly held as we expected they might be.”

The students were also polled about their media habits. Official media in China is state controlled, but they also rated how often they view Western media such as movies, television programs and newspapers as well as online media, such as forums, news sites, social networks and blogs. Respondents also rated how often they discuss homosexuality with teachers, parents, relatives and friends as well as how often they have in-person contact with homosexuals.

The survey showed a correlation among students who more frequently use Chinese media and find it more believable and negative stereotypes.

“Among Chinese college students, the more often they use Chinese media, and the less often they have in-person contact with homosexuals, the more negative their stereotypes of homosexuals are,” the authors wrote.

Conversely, students who more frequently used imported media, the Internet and have more frequent discussions on the topic did not hold more positive stereotypes.
Students who had more in-person contact with homosexuals did show less negative associated stereotypes.

“Frequency of imported media use was not associated with more positive stereotypes,” Lee said. “That surprised us. In other words, there was no relationship between stereotypes and the students’ use of Western media.”

There are several ways to interpret the findings, Lee said. One possibility is that state-run media in China portrays homosexuals in a negative light. Another could be that young people depend less on state media. It is also possible that the Internet has never been viewed as a news source in China, as websites there have to rely on state-run media, and sites with user-generated content such as blogs and social networks, are subject to censorship.

When asked about their in-person contacts with homosexuals, the students did indicate that their evaluation of first contact was positively associated with their stereotypes.

“Basically, what that means is, first impressions are in fact important,” Lee said.

Survey respondents were also asked to give their age, gender and size of their hometown. The hometown size variable proved informative, as larger cities are more media diversified and with larger populations, presenting more opportunities for in-person contact with homosexuals.

“The stereotypes of homosexuals held by Chinese college students are consistently predicted by the size of community in which they live, their interest in knowing homosexuals and their in-person contact with lesbians and gay men,” Tu and Lee wrote. “In other words, respondents who live in a big city and have strong interest in knowing lesbians and gay men tend to hold positive beliefs of homosexuals. Developed cities in China are inarguably more media diversified; therefore, more vicarious contacts with homosexuals are available.”

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