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Shanghai Lalas

Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China


Publication Year: 2013

This is the first ethnographic study of lala (lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) communities and politics in China, focusing on the city of Shanghai. Based on several years of in-depth interviews, the volume concentrates on lalas’ everyday struggle to reconcile same-sex desire with a dominant rhetoric of family harmony and compulsory marriage, all within a culture denying women active and legitimate sexual agency. Lucetta Y. L. Kam reads discourses on homophobia in China, including the rhetoric of “Chinese tolerance,” and considers the heteronorma­tive demands imposed on tongzhi subjects. She treats “the politics of public correctness” as a newly emerg­ing tongzhi practice developed from the culturally specific, Chinese forms of regulation that inform tongzhi survival strategies and self-identification. Alternating between Kam’s own experiences with queer identity and her extensive ethnographic findings, this text offers a contemporary portrait of female tongzhi communities and politics in urban China, making an invaluable contribution to global discussions and international debates on same-sex intimacies, homophobia, coming-out politics, and sexual governance.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Series: Queer Asia

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is about and for the lala communities in China and Shanghai in particular. I am very grateful to all who have shared the most intimate details of their lives with me. I would like to thank Laoda for her trust and for introducing me to the local tongzhi communities, and all lala comrades in China for allowing me to stand with them ...

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Introduction: Reconnecting Selves and Communities

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pp. 1-18

On 4 June 2005, I was invited to a private party at a karaoke lounge in downtown Shanghai. I was told it was a surprise proposal party between two women. I followed my new lala1 friends to a splendidly decorated karaoke complex and entered one of the small rooms. More than ten women were already waiting inside. ...

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1. Lala Communities in the Shaping

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pp. 19-38

Shanghai is a city of desires. For hundreds of years, it has been a metropolis of commerce and trade, adventure and entertainment, sex and desires. The old Shanghai in pre-1949 had been dubbed as the Paris in the East, the Hollywood in the East and a paradise for adventurers. ...

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2. Public Discussions

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pp. 39-58

This is quoted from one of the fifty-six letters that Ruan Fangfu, a medical expert in China, received from readers who responded to his article “Homosexuality: An Unsolved Puzzle” (Tongxinglian: yige weijiezhimi), published in 1985 in one of the country’s popular health magazines, To Your Good Health. ...

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3. Private Dilemma

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pp. 59-72

Beginning in the economic reform period, the country has seen significant changes concerning private life and sexual morality. Models of intimacy that deviated from the normative one (heterosexual monogamous marriage) began competing for legitimacy and acceptance. Alternative models such as singlehood, multiple partnership, ...

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4. Negotiating the Public and the Private

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pp. 73-88

It is one of the central concerns of this book to document and examine lala women’s everyday struggles and strategies in post-reform China. The pressure of marriage, whether it is the pressure to get married or to maintain a marriage, is shared by almost every lala women I met in Shanghai and other cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou. ...

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5. A Smile on the Surface: The Politics of Public Correctness

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pp. 89-104

In this chapter, I look at the social, political and cultural contexts that have led to the emergence of a tongzhi politics, which I term “the politics of public correctness”. I also look at the various ways in which lalas put this politics into real-life practice, including through the increasingly popular practice of “cooperative marriage”. ...

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Conclusion: Seeing Diversity Among Us

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pp. 105-112

The tongzhi communities in China are fast changing and internally diverse. The life stories, survival strategies and concerns of lalas included in this book represent mainly those of the group of lala informants whom I met in Shanghai during 2005–11. The discussion and analysis of tongzhi politics are based on my participation ...

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Profiles of Key Informants

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pp. 113-116

I conducted formal, semi-structured and recorded interviews with twenty-five informants from 2005 to 2010. Informants’ personal information such as education, residence of natal family and occupation are altered for the sake of confidentiality. All names of key and supplementary informants quoted in this book are pseudonyms. ...


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pp. 117-128


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pp. 129-138


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pp. 139-142

E-ISBN-13: 9789882208452
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139453

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Series Title: Queer Asia