Workshop on Queer Theory and Activism in China

28 October 2011, 10.15 at NIAS 

Queer theory was introduced to mainland China more than ten years ago. From Lin Yinhe's (2000) translation of Ku'er Lilun (‘Queer Theory') to the popular use of the term ku'er (‘queer') in China's gay community (e.g. ku'er dianying, ‘queer film', and ku'er yishu, ‘queer art'), the term ‘queer' and the queer theory with which the term is associated have been put under careful scrutiny: Is there a queer identity in China? Does China need queer theory? Damien Liu (2011), a US-based gay activist, published an online article in May, 2011, arguing that the queer theory, as anti-identitarian politics derived from the developed Western societies, does not fit into the Chinese Context, and that gay identity politics instead should be advocated in contemporary China. His article triggered heated debate in China's lesbian and gay community.

This workshop responds to the aforementioned debate by considering the relationship between queer theory and China. It asks the following questions: Does China need queer theory, and why (not)? Has queer theory been misinterpreted or creatively appropriated in China? What has queer theory done to China? Has it empowered lesbians and gays in China, or has it done more harm to them? Moreover, drawing on Petrius Liu's (2010) question ‘why does queer theory need China', the panel also asks: does queer theory need China, and in what way(s)? Why does the non-Western experience of sexuality matter to the knowledge production and queer politics in the West? Through the discussion of the cultural translation of terms, theories, sexualities, identities and politics in the translational context, this workshop wishes to unravel the complicated process of academic knowledge production and the production of sexual identities and politics in the global nexus of power, together with innovative ways of inhabiting in the transnational geopolitics of desire.

The workshop, which is made up of three parts, combines theoretical discussion with case studies. It examines different aspects of the non-heteronormative identity and community in China, including lesbians, gays and transgender people:

Part I ‘Queer Activism in China' focuses on queer activism in China. It invites queer media producers and activists from China to talk about how the use of media has empowered lesbians and gays in China. The speakers include: Fan Popo, director of Beijing LGBT Centre, who will talk about independent queer film making in China; Wei Jiangang, founder and host of ‘Queer Comrades' community webscast, who will talk about how the online media is used in China's gay community; Yang Yang, organiser of the Beijing Queer Film Festival, who will talk about her experience of organsing the festival during the past ten years, and how the ‘guerrilla warfare' tactics negotiates with the media censorship in China; and Cui Zi'en, one of the most famous queer film directors and activists in China, who will talk about the challenges and opportunities of the LGBT Movement in China.

Part II "Queer theory in China" Based on the cases and examples mentioned in Part I, as well as the presenters' ethnography in China, the three presenters will discuss the implications of queer theory to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activism in China, as well as the implications of the Chinese experience to the queer theory and politics in the West. This panel argues that the LGBT activism in China offers important insights to the Euro-American-centric queer theory. It is necessary to challenge the Western theories of gender and sexuality, and to examine the dynamic and innovative forms of queer identity formation and activism in the non-Western context.

Part III showcases four independent queer documentary films from the 4th and 5th Beijing Queer Film Festival. Considering the length of the films, they can be screened on two nights. The directors (Cui Zi'en, Fan Popo and Wei Jiangang) and the chairman of the Beijing Queer Film Festival (Yang Yang) are invited to present the films and interact with the audience. These films documents the history of LGBT Movement in China (‘Queer China, Comrade China'), a ‘gay wedding' in Beijing (‘New Beijing, New Marriage'), the history of Beijing Queer Film Festival in the past ten years (‘Our Story'), and interviews with Chinese young people regarding family, education, love, sex and future (‘The Next Generation'). They also demonstrate queer theory and activism in action in contemporary China.