- Queer Marxism in Two Chinas by Petrus Liu
Situated in the rich intellectual traditions of queer theory and Marxism, Petrus Liu’s new book offers an investigation into queer cultural practices and social movements across anticommunist Taiwan and postsocialist Mainland China. Liu’s thesis is to bring “historical materialism to bear on queer studies” (p. 14) instead of simply “queering” Marxism, when “postwar theories of sexuality often unwittingly reproduce the logic of liberal pluralism and fail to develop stronger political responses to the dilemmas of the Cold War, which the case of a divided China helps us understand” (p. 30).
Starting with recent examples in queer cultures and activisms, Liu proposes “queer Marxism” as an alternative to liberal pluralist discourses and to the “Cold [End Page 182] War bipolar lens” of cross-strait differences. Liu also briefly captures a “hypervisibility” of queer cultures in today’s mainland China (p. 12), although “it is unclear whether the queer community’s newfound visibility indicated collective social progress, or the cooptation of the gay movement by neoliberal capitalism” (p. 13). In chapter 2, Liu scrutinizes the works of queer and feminist “Marxists” in mainland China and Taiwan, including filmmaker Cui Zi’en, scholars Josephine Ho and Ding Naifei, and Wang Ping and other activists in the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan. Focusing on the intertwined queer concerns (of gendered/ sexual embodiments) and Marxist concerns (of power structures) in these people’s works, Liu argues for a Chinese queer Marxism that demonstrates “capitalism’s failure to discipline desire into fixed identities” (p. 83) and how capitalism has historically reproduced a range of queer subjects, including but not limited to homosexuals.
This argument extends to Liu’s evaluation of the emergence of modern queer Chinese fictions in the 1980s, “as a result of their queer engagements with Chinese Marxism” (p. 86). Here, Liu unveils the “forgotten years” of queer literary history in martial-law Taiwan and prereform mainland China, where Marxism and communism served as creative sources for queer thinking and queer writing, before liberalism penetrated these two Chinese societies (p. 88). In Liu’s analysis, Chen Ruoxi, a Taiwan-born novelist who lived in Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution, connects Marxism and (homo)sexuality through her literary works about these two Chinese societies. Liu reads her transnational love story, Paper Marriage, as “the queer critique of sexual identity and the Marxist critique of national borders” (p. 97), where queer sexuality provided the language and imagery beyond “the metanarratives of class struggle and national liberation” (p. 112).
This reconfiguration of Marxism and queer thinking continues in Liu’s outline of a “genealogy of the self” through Taiwanese writer Xiao Sa’s work Song of Dreams. In this chapter, Liu situates the gendered and sexual “self” in a multiplicity of individual and social histories against “the neoliberal myth of the self-made middle class” and the so-called “economic miracle” of Taiwan (p. 115). While sexual and material desires are inextricably linked to social survival, argues Liu, Xiao’s work and her own real-life story indicate that the internal heterogeneity of gender and sexuality is inseparable from the fragmentary conditions of human existence under global capitalism—a “libidinal economy” that often shows itself under the disguise of freedom and development (pp. 117–120). For Liu, Xiao’s case offers a queer Marxist critique against the hegemonic reproductions of patriarchy and transnational capitalism that have structured the sexual and economic modernizations in East Asia. Liu concludes his book in chapter 5 by problematizing the liberal understandings of queer human rights as a means to rethink the human in Chinese Marxisms.
This research contrasts two Chinese societies, but its coverage of queer cultural materials from Mainland China is disproportionately thinner than its [End Page 183] examination of queer cultures from Taiwan. Also, although the first and the last chapter both contain some recent examples in queer activisms and in media reports of queer issues, the majority of...