Queering China in Cyberspace: Desire, Resistance and Discipline in Imagining Chinese Modern Gayness

Publication Date

April 2019


Kerwin Kaye


Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality


English (United States)


This thesis is an experimental project which tries to address theoretical and political potential of queer theory from a transnational perspective. Taking queer as one particular form of theoretical framework which aims to challenge the very notion of “normativity” and to create a utopian future of collective queer assemblage, I examine the possibility of practicing queer theory in Chinese contexts, and how such new perspective can expand, supplement and reconstruct the meaning of “queer”. To be more specific, I challenge the notion of “queer” as a form of being, or one particular category for identification, and argue for a “performative” understanding of queer, that queer is always about “queering”, an ongoing project of queer life making and queer world making. The transnational perspective of “queering” is important as it provides me with an excellent vantage point to intervene in the meaning-making of queer with post-colonial critiques as well as postmodern critiques. I am interested in neither situating "queerness" into the context of "chineseness", nor using "chineseness" to complicate the meaning of "queerness", as to do so inevitably reduces China as a geographic place of cultural differences and reproduces colonial production of racial otherness. Instead, I would like to point out that "chineseness" and "queerness" nowadays are intimately connected, constantly challenging, cooperating with and reconstructing each other – I define this project of new world making as "Queering China", a reorientation of China's positionality towards a queer future of new possibilities which are both promising and full of uncertainties. Following this logic, I conceptualize cyberspace in China as a "queer space", a platform for queer desire to be expressed, and more importantly, a distortion of space and ideas towards dichotomies of the public and the private, the virtual and the real, China and the globe. Cyberspace, by its very nature corresponds to the boundary breakdowns of dualism, and such breakdowns enable subjects to redefine, reconstruct and resignify old definitions, scripts and even knowledge which eventually help them to constitute their subjectivity in a new discourse for their own use. This is not to claim that cyberspace in China becomes a utopian realm of queerness independent from the larger social structure of heteronormativity, patriarchy, Confucianism, authoritarianism and consumerism. Rather, the project of "Queering China in Cyberspace" is a living strategy utilized by marginalized groups of people to negotiate with real power dynamics and to survive in it. It is undeniable that problems such as fantasization of the community, hypersexualization and commodification of the body, and internalized self-disciplining which produces secondary marginalization and stratification even within the community, are always the very real problems which need to be addressed in the project of "Queering China". However, we are always implicated in the production of meaning and identity, and hence are both agents and effects of systems of power/knowledge. What I am suggesting here is that the relation between subjects and the discourse which constitutes the subjects does not always conform to the assumed dichotomies of passive/active – we are responsible for ourselves. In this sense, the ongoing project of "Queering China in Cyberspace" does not promise an idealized future of freedom in a most liberating sense; rather, it indicates the real labor and responsibility required to a constant orientation towards the future of "queer", the future in the horizon.

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