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  • An Unruly DeathQueer Media in Hong Kong
  • Denise Tse-Shang Tang (bio)

Hong Kong is already dead. It died in 1997.

It has become a vampire, how can it die one more time again?

— Chen Wan, CforCulture

The city is dying, you know?

— Dr. Dylan (Joe Junior), When Heaven Burns

Hong Kong has survived a million deaths.1 Predictions of a doomed culture, a failing society, and a place without hope have shaped public discussions and media representations of Hong Kong and influenced academic and literary circles. These deathly predictions are based on sociological observations of the widening gap between the rich and poor, a lack of democratic elections, and the city’s loss of its competitive edge in global finance. As Helen Hok-Sze Leung observes, the city itself is always in crisis.2 The everyday lives of Hong Kong lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are not immune to this message of fatalism.

Several significant factors suggest that the city is now in dark times. In 2005 fundamentalist Christian and conservative religious forces successfully ran weekly media campaigns warning about the dangers of passing the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Policy.3 These same groups resisted the legal process of passing the ordinance itself and influenced some government legislators to abstain from votes that would further the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. State censorship of the media has tightened as obscenity rulings have been handed down to discourage positive media representations of LGBT subjects.4

Pre-1997 Hong Kong saw a proliferation of queer media productions as the city’s handover to China, and the threat of state censorship and diminishing rights of expression, approached. At the end of its postcolonial era, without a bright future, Hong Kong faced broad sentiments of sadness, fear, indifference, frustration, and excitement, thus making the affect of politics ripe for exploration in film and other cultural productions. In Stanley Kwan’s autobiographical film Still Love [End Page 597] You after All These (1997), the city’s political transition is reflected in the director’s own coming out as a Chinese gay man on-screen, as if time cannot be lost at this critical moment for an issue close to home. Yau Ching in her documentary Diasporama: Dead Air (1997) features narrative accounts related to issues of post-colonialism, Hong Kong identity, and Chinese nationality as a way to document her personal fears and anxieties over the handover of Hong Kong to China.5 The post-1997 collapse of Asian financial markets exacerbated Hong Kong’s marginalization and its vulnerability to competing mainland China’s cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen not only in terms of financial investments but also in terms of civic affairs such as cultural arts and architecture projects. In the drive toward an unknown future, Hong Kong queer media artists were bombarded with the repeated vision of a death sentence, for example, the threat of censorship and the introduction of antisubversive legislation Article 23 in 2003. If death organizes time and space in ways that have been linked to heteronormativity as discussed in Judith Halberstam’s usage of “queer time,” then disruptions to this narrative can be understood as queer public interventions.6 In Hong Kong these frequent interventions took place in the media to alert the public not only of a queer/tongzhi presence but also of an unwillingness to comply with its death sentence.7

On a regional level, Hong Kong has indeed lost its competitive edge in terms of Asian queer culture and politics. Taipei has become the gay mecca of Asia; in 2010 fifty thousand tourists attended its annual Pride Parade. Taiwan has also become known as the site of progressive civil politics for sexually marginalized populations. Young Hong Kong lesbians and bisexual women can speak eloquently of Taiwan’s T-Po aesthetics in Taipei’s XimenDing and participate in online voting on who is the cutest T.8 Even mainland Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have overtaken Hong Kong as vibrant sites of gay consumption, lala activism, and cultural arts.9 The Pink Season festival in Hong Kong seems to be outdazzled by the Pink Dot in Singapore...


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pp. 597-614
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