Shanghai is China at its most dizzyingly modern, with jaw-dropping skyscrapers, young trendy crowds, and a vibrant nightlife to rival some of Asia’s biggest party hubs. However, it is also rich in history and tradition, from the elegant colonial architecture of The Bund to beautiful temples and narrow winding lanes serving steaming-hot street food. There is perhaps no better place to understand the past, present, and future of China than Shanghai, and it is an equally great destination for eating, shopping, exploring, and partying.
For the gay traveler, Shanghai is home to the country’s most progressive and gay-friendly nightlife, with plenty of gay bars, clubs, and saunas to enjoy. It is at the heart of China’s emerging LGBT movement, as evidenced by the fact that it is home to the country’s only major Pride event every June. Gay Shanghai is extremely condensed for the biggest city in the world, but on the bright side that means you know exactly where to go.
Shanghai is miles ahead of any other city in mainland China in terms of gay nightlife, though it still lags behind other Asian cities like Bangkok. There are a few great gay bars and clubs, plenty of gay-friendly mixed venues, and a strong local gay community that frequents them.
Whilst not really a “Gay Area”, the hub of gay Shanghai is located in the Changing district, albeit at the very edge of it, next to the French Concession area. This makes it very easy to mix gay and straight bars on a night out, which is particularly handy if you are traveling with straight friends.
Many gay visitors choose to stay in the French Concession area as it offers a good compromise between tourist activities and gay Shanghai nightlife. From true 5 star luxury to backpacker hostels Shanghai has it all. As a general rule, you should not struggle to find gay-friendly accommodation in Shanghai. Most places welcome same-sex couples when booking double rooms, but opt for international chains if you want to be sure. Stay in the French Concession area for a good compromise between tourist activities and gay Shanghai nightlife.
Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in China in 1997, and homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 2001. Same-sex marriage remains illegal, and a large number of Chinese gay men remain closeted due to societal pressures.
The authorities in Shanghai are not particularly gay-friendly, but they will most likely not give you a hard time. The locals do not tend to be homophobic, particularly the young, trendy crowd you are likely to see in areas like the French Concession and Jing’an. It is relatively normal for heterosexual men to hold hands, so a certain level of PDA will go by unnoticed. Overall, you are not likely to be hassled, but be discreet unless you are in a gay space.
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