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The Supreme Court Cited Confucius In Its Marriage Equality Ruling And The Chinese Internet Went Wild

Justice Kennedy cited Confucius, and it got people in China asking: Would the ancient philosopher approve same-sex marriage?

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 1:19 p.m. ET

Posted on June 30, 2015, at 11:36 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court's historic ruling favoring same-sex marriage throughout the United States last Friday drew celebration in the U.S. and comments from millions of Chinese internet users.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

After first hearing the news, many Weibo users had the same reaction as this one person did: "Same-sex [marriage] is legalized in the U.S., it's very shocking news! o(︶︿︶)o"

Weibo / Via weibo.com

Some posted pictures of Chinese yuan bills folded into a rainbow pattern.

Weibo / Via photo.weibo.com

Same-sex marriage hasn't been legalized in China. It remains common for LGBT Chinese people to enter into heterosexual marriages and live their lives hiding their identities, fearing social stigma.

The pressure comes from the traditional idea that one has to have children to fulfill one's obligations in life, a philosophy that dates back to ancient China. Mencius, one of China's most renowned philosophers after Confucius, is known to have said, "There are three ways to be unfilial; the worst is not to produce offspring."

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So, when Justice Kennedy cited Confucius in his marriage equality ruling, it quickly caught the attention of Chinese web users and China watchers.

The sentence "Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government" was quoted in several tweets, with many trying to figure out the source of Confucius' quote.

Justice Kennedy cites Confucius on #MarriageEquaility -marriage lies at the foundation of government" Marriage is ancient. See Book of Rites

Many users quickly found the original text in Mandarin.

(2/2) Original text from #Confucius《礼记》“爱与敬,其政之本与” - translated as "marriage lies at the foundation of government." #SCOTUSMarriage

In China, the debate over whether the citation was appropriate or not became heated quickly. Many scholars argued over the translation Justice Kennedy used.

美国最高法院关于同性婚姻的判决说“孔子说婚姻是政府的基础”,注明出自翟氏父子编辑、Legge翻译《礼记》1967年版266页。查中文原文为“礼,其政之本与!”其实这里孔子说的不是婚姻,是包括婚礼在内的礼仪,译成ceremony (of marriage)还过得去。大法官理解错了。

Fang Zhouzi, a high-profile Chinese science writer, tweeted, “The Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage says, 'Confucius said that marriage is the Foundation of Government.' But the original Chinese version actually referred to etiquette instead of wedding, which can be translated into the ceremony (of marriage). Judges got it wrong.”

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Chinese media criticise #SCOTUS citing #Confucius for misleading in marriage ruling http://t.co/k7bZqFelE1 #LoveWins

Chinese media cite scholars: #Confucius never approved same-sex marriage. Instead, Confucius is all about Ying 阴 (woman) Yang 阳 (man) theory

The Paper, a Shanghai-based news website, interviewed Confucius scholars. One said: "Gay [people] are free to have their own sexual orientation ... But if someone wants to be an upright person, s/he must bear the obligations such as having offspring."

Weibo / Via weibo.com

Despite the opposition, the citation of Confucius brought more attention to the rights of LGBT people in China.

Leading Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe told the Global Times, "The US ruling has been hailed by Chinese society and this will be a boost for the gay rights movement here. I've noticed that there are more heterosexuals who support [same-sex marriage]."

On Weibo, a group that calls itself "Fans of Chinese President Xi Jinping" did an online poll to gauge whether users supported same-sex marriage legalization in China. Nine out of 10 top commenters voted "Yes", and it received thousands of "likes."

About 50,000 people participated in the poll.
Weibo / Via weibo.com

About 50,000 people participated in the poll.

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