Gender and Sexuality at the Crossroads: Queer Activism and Gender Politics in the Sinophone World

Title: 1285 | Gender and Sexuality at the Crossroads: Queer Activism and Gender Politics in the Sinophone World
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Gender & Sexuality
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Dian Dian, Emory University, United States (organizer, presenter, chair)
Yayu Zheng, University of Southern California, United States (presenter)
Larry Tung, York College of CUNY, United States (presenter, discussant)
Jackie Wang, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)


Queer studies focused not only on the lives and communities of sexual minorities but also on the social production and regulation of gender and sexuality. Gender and sexuality, similar to “China” or “Asia,” are at the crossroads of multiple power dynamics. Scholars noticed that neither "Chineseness" nor "queerness" can be simply understood within national boundaries. Therefore, a better framework of study Chinese queer in a transnational sense has been proposed: a "queer Sinophone" approach. (Chiang & Heinrich, 2014)
“Sinophone” is a new analytic category that provides an alternative to the dominating discourses of "Chinese" or "Chinese diaspora" that often mediated through a center – China. (Shih, 2007) This attempt of moving beyond an essentialist view of Chineseness, which implies a binary model of China and West, resembles what queer theory seeks to do within queer studies: challenging the dichotomy of sex and gender, and the essentialist understanding of gender/sexual identities.
With this “queer Sinophone” approach, this panel deals with the social production(s) of gender and sexuality in the Sinophone world. We start with a case study of a cross-regional activist network, Chinese Lala Alliance, that reveals the multiplicity of identities of nationality, gender and sexuality. Next, we offer a comparative study of the deployment of queer aesthetics and imagery in TV shows produced in both Taiwan and mainland China. We then further develop the discussion of queer Sinophone film and television into its activist mode. Finally, we trace back to history, comment on the intersections of gender and politics in discussions of women’s labour and national identity during the transition from Republican China to PRC.

Panel Abstracts:
Queer Sinophone Activism: the Cross-regional Network of Chinese Lala Alliance
In recent decades, the intersectional field of area studies and Queer studies has been emerging. However, a certain tension of identities arises. Queer scholars often essentialize their analytical object – queerness, although it is said that queerness “can never define an identity; it can only ever disturb one” (Edelman, 2004) Similarly, scholars in the field of Chinese queer studies often suggest an alternative Chinese way of the social production and regulation of gender and sexuality, which implies a pre-assumed fact of Chineseness. (Leung, 2008; Chiang, 2013)Taking the “queer Sinophone” approach which aims to study queerness in the Chinese-speaking areas without ignoring the multiplicity of the Sinophone world, this paper argues that neither “Chineseness” nor “queerness” can be simply understood within national boundaries. Both concepts are produced in a transnational process and reveal the unstable nature of identities. I will demonstrate it by examining the history, activities, and discourses of an activist network - Chinese Lala Alliance (2008-2018). CLA defines “Chinese” in a transnational way as the “broader Chinese-speaking areas including mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and diaspora.” Its members include activists and grass-root groups of various gender and sexual identities under the umbrella term “Lala,” which refers to intersecting queer women identities. Therefore, the “queer Sinophone” approach works well with the case of CLA and can further analyze through it the multiplicity of identities of nationality, gender and sexuality. I will also discuss the possibility of forming communities and performing political actions without attaching to an exclusive identity.

Queering Sinophone Television Screen: a comparative study of LGBTalk SHOW (2016, Taiwan) and U Can U Bibi (2014, China)
This project offers a comparative study of the rendering and deployment of queer aesthetics and imagery in two online variety shows: LGBTalk SHOW (2016, Taiwan) and U Can U Bibi (2014, China). Both were released around the same time and both through the online channel. The difference is that LGBTalk explicitly highlights the centrality of LGBT theme in its publicity, while U Can is primarily a debate program. Yet, queerness permeates much of U Can, demonstrated by both the active presence of queer-identified debaters and the prevailing practice of non-conforming gender expression. In this paper, I explore the impact of socio-cultural contexts upon the production of these two shows, especially different media environments and levels of social acceptance concerning LGBT content. I also investigate how streaming platforms – YouTube and iQiyi, respectively – exert an influence on their distribution strategies. Moreover, as variety show are initially television programs, I look into the nature of television which is often associated with domestic space and female viewership and allows more openness, flexibility, and innovation regarding content creation. I argue that online television, at least in the Sinophone contexts, functions as a significant stage for bold gender expression and identity display. By applying television theory and drawing on recent scholarship on queer studies, mostly about identity and aesthetics, I detail how these two variety shows cross the limits normally applied to television programs aired on broadcast networks and how queering television/computer screen contributes to the forming, growing, gathering and thriving of LGBT identity.

LGBT Documentary Activism in China
In China, the film and television industries traditionally have been either state-sponsored or highly censored by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, making it virtually impossible to see any content critical of the authority or sensitive in nature. Documentary film as an art form has traditionally been a vehicle to inform the public and foster dialogues and community building. Its link to social justice has been evident in independent documentary filmmaking in China since the 1990s as China became more open socially, politically and economically. Thanks to the widespread digital technology with smartphones and affordable hand-held camcorders, more people, professionally trained or private citizens, are contributing to the documentation of key events in China, particularly the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, as a way to challenge official histories and seek accountability. As part of the LGBT movement in China, pioneering activist filmmakers such as Cui Zi’en and Fan Popo are making films telling stories of the LGBT communities. They also organized LGBT film festivals in Beijing and Shanghai and are often subject to police harassment. This paper intends to provide some analysis of the existing literature and highlight some common threads while making suggestions for future research.

The Politics of Business and Gender: Female Entrepreneurs and Political Activism in Modern China 1927-1951
This paper sheds new light on the role of women in business amidst political change. Studies on gender and business of twentieth-century China have illuminated the changing roles of Chinese women outside home. In this light, the paper adds another dimension to the narrative of Republican-era Chinese women to investigate hitherto understudied aspects of women’s careers: entrepreneurship and political activism. Focusing on Dong Zhujun and her business endeavours, this paper exposes both the deep fragility of female entrepreneurs in Republican China and the political networks involved in business maneuverings. Known as one of the early female “red capitalists” – entrepreneurs with close personal and political ties to the CCP – Dong befriended members of the CCP and aided the party through her business success. She founded a Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai in 1935 called Jinjiang, which became a ‘space’ for members of the underground communist movement. In the early years of the PRC, Dong successfully navigated political complexities and turned Jinjiang into a hotel of the same name, which subsequently became state-owned. From courtesan to businesswoman, Dong Zhujun was an anomaly amongst Chinese women with her multiple identities as a woman. By analysing the actions of female entrepreneurs, this paper comments on the intersections of gender and politics in discussions of national identity and women’s labour. It not only highlights the ways in which she was portrayed but also affirms the significance of her legacy in providing an example of a cultural precedent that facilitated China’s economic and political transition

This panel is on Friday - Session 01 - Room 2

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