- Queer/Tongzhi China: New Perspectives on Research, Activism, and Media Cultures ed. by Elisabeth L. Engebretsen and William F. Schroeder
In the past three decades, China’s rapid development has significantly reshaped its internal social articulations of gender and sexuality, including same-sex intimacies. Recent years have witnessed the flourishing of English-language scholarship on queer Chinese studies, and Queer/Tongzhi China offers a collective investigation into queer activism, ethnography, and media cultures, although the chapters in the book are not strictly arranged in this order.
The queer activism chapters begin with Stijn Deklerck and Xiaogang Wei’s work detailing their development of a Chinese webcast series Queer Comrades (Tongzhi as Folks). This was the first online queer webcast in China with an activist undertone, promoting mutual understanding between queer and non-queer people, before more entertaining gay webcasts such as Gay Lab Show (Gaoji Shiyanshi, 2013–) came into being. Instead of dwelling on the difficulties facing Queer Comrades, such as state censorship, Deklerck and Wei use a positive approach to outline the social impact of this web series in informing the general public about tongzhi (same-sex attracted people) in China. Under the same oeuvre, queer filmmaker/activist Fan Popo offers a brief discussion of the China Queer Film Festival Tour, focusing on how the national film tour was organized with local associates between 2008 and 2012. This “guerrilla-style” film tour started with [End Page 133] the organizers bringing queer films from Beijing Queer Film Festivals to other parts of China because independent film festivals often face strong state censorship and interference, a point Fan emphasizes. Later in the book, Fan provides an interview with the renowned Chinese queer filmmaker Cui Zi’en about queer and tongzhi as two filmic styles and as two trends in theory and in social activism, and about Cui’s literary and cinematic works which have attracted wide attention in English-language academia.1
Echoing Fan’s two chapters is Hongwei Bao’s analysis of digital video activism and queer memory/nostalgia, based on his ethnographic research on Cui’s documentary and queer film festivals and tours in China. Following Bao in the same ethnographic category, Ana Huang writes about masculine Chinese lesbian women and their transgender (female-to-male) experience so as to examine and situate same-sex desire and gender variance between Chinese and American transgender discourses. Lucetta Yip Lo Kam’s chapter details her field research in a lesbian community in Shanghai, which comes from her recent book on the same topic.2 Similarly, Wei Wei’s and Xiaoxing Fu’s chapters are also in accordance with their respective ethnographic works that have been published in Chinese,3 which focus on the regional queer organizations in Chengdu (Wei) and on the historical transformations of the local gay ghetto in Shenyang (Fu).
The two editors also present their respective ethnographic studies in queer China. William F. Schroeder’s chapter is both theoretically and empirically rich. He starts by questioning the very concept of “activism” in queer Chinese studies, asking “how to recognize activism, and then how to treat it ethnographically” (p. 59), especially through the eyes of a “non-Chinese queer ethnographer” (p. 60). Drawing on anthropological theories, Schroeder discusses his own fieldwork in Beijing and attempts to explain why queer social groups in this city did not show a strong interest in political activism and in driving structural change in China. He argues that these “recreational” queer social groups may face state oppression if they turn out to be political and activist, and their “refusal to engage in politics” presents “a weak position” in today’s queer Chinese politics (p. 74). The political queer activism has therefore become “the politics of having fun” (pp. 75–78). However, downplaying queer social groups and communal events as “recreation” and “having fun” may obscure their sociocultural significance; these groups and events...