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Reviewed by:
  • Queer Marxism in Two Chinas by Liu, Petrus
  • Alvin K. Wong
Liu, Petrus. Queer Marxism in Two Chinas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. 256pp. $84.95 (cloth), $23.95 (paper).

Queer Marxism in Two Chinas is an intellectually adventurous book that engages with crucial debates within queer studies and China studies. Liu presents the two Chinas, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan, as both situated within the orbit of late capitalist modernity and neoliberalism. Yet, the fact that certain neoliberal gay, lesbian, and queer public discourses have emerged in China does not mean that the PRC is simply catching up with Taiwan or the rest of the Euro-American world in embracing queer liberalism and its attendant ideological practices. Instead, Liu probes an important question: “Is there a critical, dissident, and, indeed, queer Chinese culture anymore?” (4).

In the course of addressing this question in chapter 1, the author also overcomes two underlying assumptions in queer theory and China studies. The first assumption posits that, as LGBT people are becoming more included within the nation-state and liberal ideology of normativity, critique of queer liberalism is the most radical intellectual agenda for queer studies. The second and related assumption views Taiwanese culture as leading the way for LGBT equality in Asia, which is often juxtaposed with the PRC’s presumed intolerance of queer subjects. Refusing to settle for either the queer liberal critique or economic determinism, Liu develops two highly original arguments about queer culture, Marxism, and geopolitics through a revitalized concept of queer Marxism. First, queer Marxism challenges queer theory’s investment in overcoming the ills of neoliberalism (self-reliance and the turn to include previously excluded racial, sexual, and gender others into its fold of normalization) through critiques of queer liberalism and homonormativity. Instead, the concept “emphasizes the impersonal, structural, and systematic workings of power” (7). The second argument is a geopolitical one—that the post– Cold War geopolitics of the two Chinas and the surprising existence of queer Marxist theory in Taiwan provide a nonliberal model for overcoming the aforementioned assumptions in queer theory and China studies.

Chapter 2 bridges disciplinary dialogues across queer studies, Marxist theory, and China studies. Liu presents intellectual case studies about how the language of liberal tolerance fails to capture the systematic working of power that disciplines queer people in the two Chinas and within which they forge new politics of alliance and resistance. Liu carefully weaves sociohistorical studies on the criminal category of hooliganism (流氓罪 liumang zui) with theoretical insights, showing how modern [End Page 306] Chinese criminal law actually operates to discipline sexual and social subjects who fall outside of the state purview of normativity and social order. Therefore, one cannot speak of sexual orientation discrimination issues outside of the systematic working of state biopolitics. This sociological account enables Liu to make the revisionist argument that “Chinese queer theory enters an alliance with Marxist critique to challenge the distribution of resources (symbolic and material)” (38). In so doing, Liu also proves that Chinese queer Marxism presents a rigorous case about how social formation actualizes a different theorizing of queerness. Queer theory does not present a universal set of principles to be selectively applied to different areas of the world. In this way, Liu’s book also engages with recent intellectual conversations in the humanities to overcome the intellectual division of labor between theory and area studies. Along the way, this chapter presents the writings and activism of Cui Zi’en (崔子恩; PRC), of Josephine Ho (何春蕤), Liu Jen-peng (劉人鵬), and Ding Naifei (丁乃非; all three in Taiwan), and of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association in Taiwan as demonstrating the vitality and necessity of queer Marxism.

Chapters 3 and 4 can be read in parallel to one another, as they present how two Taiwan writers, Chen Ruoxi (陳若曦) and Xiao Sa (蕭颯), through seemingly heterosexual narratives, actually show how the queer selves are relationally formed. Chapter 3, “The Rise of the Queer Chinese Novel,” reads Chen Ruoxi’s 1986 novel Paper Marriage (纸婚 Zhihun) as a transnationally mediated narrative between China and America. Chen herself was first attracted to the radical socialism of the Cultural Revolution and later disillusioned with it. A...


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