SHANGHAI, China — Online gay communities in China are lauding e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd for releasing a subtle ad that appears to feature a gay couple returning home for the Lunar New Year.
In the 20-second spot, a young man enters his home and introduces a male companion as "Kelvin" to his mother.
The camera cuts to a father figure leering at the couple with suspicion, and then to two girls sitting at the table who giggle knowingly.
The ad ends when Kelvin refers to his partner's father as "Dad," causing an awkward silence at the table.
The narrator then promotes a site-wide discount on dried seeds and nuts, riffing a Chinese-language expression for watching drama unfold.
The spot began to circulate widely on Chinese social media on Wednesday as gay groups praised it for its good-natured humour and subtlety.
"Chinese New Year is a time for family reunion and inclusion, and the ad is a creative expression to celebrate such an occasion," an Alibaba spokesperson said in a statement.
Depictions of gay and lesbian individuals in entertainment and media are rare, due to government dissuasion or outright censorship.
However, China has vibrant gay communities and activists in its major cities, and same-sex couples are increasingly tolerated across society.
Lovematters, a popular gay-themed account on China's Twitter-esque Weibo, shared and thanked Alibaba's e-commerce site Tmall for supporting the gay community. The account's post received over 25,000 shares.
"The support of large companies for sexual minorities is one of the important factors for sexual minorities to gain visibility and be seen and recognised by the public. Thank you Tmall!" wrote Lovematters.
Alibaba did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for further comment on the ad.
One top-rated comment on Weibo described the position of Alibaba's ad as clever.
The spot "doesn't directly support or not support [same-sex relations], but the fact that we can see it is already an amazing step," the commentor wrote.
Alibaba has supported China's gay community in the past. In 2017, the company teamed up with gay dating app Blued and flew 10 couples to Los Angeles for a week-long trip that included a group wedding ceremony.
By Josh Horwitz with additional reporting by the Shanghai newsroom; editor: Michael Perry.