- "I Want to Make Queer Films, But Not LGBT Films:"An Interview with He Xiaopei
Despite decriminalization in 1997 and partial depathologization in 2001, homosexuality remains a sensitive topic in contemporary China. This is reflected in mainstream and online media, where representation of LGBTQ-related issues are often subject to heavy censorship. However, despite the austere restrictions that exist, the past two decades have witnessed the emergence of "new queer Chinese cinema" (Leung 2012; Yue 2012; Pecic 2016; Bao 2018). Led by a number of young independent queer filmmakers along with advancements in new media technologies, this underground movement of queer filmmaking has created new possibilities for imagining sexuality and gender as well as opportunities for community building.
He Xiaopei is a leading queer feminist filmmaker, activist, and director of Beijing-based NGO Pink Space, an NGO dedicated to promoting sexual [End Page 811]
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rights and gender equality. Her films include The Lucky One (Chong'er, 2012), Our Marriages: Lesbians Marry Gay Men (Yisheng qiyuan, 2013), Yvo and Chrissy (Ruci Shenghuo, 2017), and Playmates (Wanban, 2019). The Lucky One tells the story of Zhang Xi, a HIV-positive woman with only a short time to live. A kind of video diary of Zhang's life, the film questions notions of fact and fiction, as well as the politics of representation when working with marginalized people. Our Marriages: Lesbians Marry Gay Men explores how two lesbian couples in Northeast China negotiate norms and expectations around marriage, and the possibilities for queer life in Chinese society. Yvo and Chrissy follows the lives of two people from England who gave up an inheritance of one million pounds as well as several properties, and reflects on questions of wealth, gender, sexuality, and happiness. He's work to date has demonstrated a distinctly antinormative approach to gender and sexuality, while also highlighting some of the less-discussed issues of class, precarity, and marginality in China and elsewhere.
In February 2017, Séagh Kehoe, then a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham, spoke with He about her work and the place of documentary filmmaking in queer activism in China today.1
I'd like to begin by talking about how you came into filmmaking and your work with Pink Space. You were working for the Chinese State [End Page 812] Council for fourteen years, where you were involved with the task of healthcare reform. Can you tell us about your journey from there to becoming one of China's leading queer feminist filmmaker[s] and sexual-rights activist[s]?
Before I joined the government, I was a shepherd in rural China and then a professional mountaineer in the Chinese national mountaineering team. I had never wanted to sit in an office, but the office was in Zhongnanhai and everyone thought it was a good job.2 I was in the health care system reform team. For the job, I attended weekly meetings with state councillors and ministers. Everyone said it was an important job and of course health care reform was very important. During the time I was working for the government, I also joined the feminist movement before the 1995 UN Women Forum [World Conference on Women] took place in Beijing, and then I also joined the lesbian organizing.3 So that brought me to gender studies at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK. After that I studied for my MA in sexual dissidence and cultural change at Sussex and then I started my PhD in cultural studies. My research was on HIV/AIDS and I looked at how people lived with HIV/AIDS in China in the 1990s.
After I finished the PhD, I came back to China. Together with three other women—lesbian and bisexual women—we set up Pink Space. All of us had grown up within the lesbian movement, and we knew how important it was to work together, to share our experiences, and...