Hosts, Hybrids and The Nation: A Study of the Queer Subject and Community Reconfiguration in Modern China
“Maybe, though, this is for the best, as unexplored terrain implies that we still have somewhere to go. Indeed, it is the dream of unreached destinations that motivates such transnational and transtemporal journeys… not only in search of someone, but somewhere to whom they can whisper their secrets and shed their sorrows; or, at the very least, next to whom they can share a rare moment of solace.” - Caroline Guo
When studying the formation of queer identities in China, Bao proposes that the production of novel citizen-subjects in relation to the country’s postsocialist design is one that becomes intrinsic to the nation's “social engineering to construct new bodies, identities, desires and dreams, “ (p. 75, cited in Hird & Song 2018). This coalesces a transnational desire of modern China to align both the nation-state and the sexed individual in collective union. From that, we can extrapolate that the belonging and kinship afforded to queer communities is negotiated through the parameters of cosmopolitanism. In this essay, I aim to explore the role of homogenisation in contestating belonging for queer Chinese communities, and the social realities that are imbricated through notions of hybridity, reconfiguration and homonationalism through the nation state.
Hosts & Hybrids
Framing cultural politics as a domain of contestation signifies that there is such a battling of belonging, identity, and culture that occurs with the emergence of subcultures. The affirmation of this transformative process is one that either espouses or rejects ideas of the State. Take Baos’s proposal, that the social realities of queerness in a metropolitan hub such as Shanghai resemble more of a ‘domain of contested politics,’ as opposed to a utopian world of universal love approximated by urban migration (p. 60, cited in Hird & Song 2018). This deviation from the Western Queer Imaginary does not assign power to queer communities as confined within the geographic locus of big cities (p. 260, Weston 1995), but rather, wields influence through the process of cultural configuration.
Proposed by Kraidy as hybridity, this process adopts aspects of the host culture and disseminates it to form seamless hybrid identities (Cited in Knott 2010, p. 60). We can apply Mainland China as the host culture that presides over this configuration. Factors extending to cultural and political revolutions, branching diasporas and diffusions in Asian American or Australian identity surface in the absence of that very host. These transnational dimensions become globalised through spheres beyond the People’s Republic of China, differentiated less from geographical proximity and more from values bypassing that of the original host (Hird & Song 2018, p. 2).
Wong Kar Wai references film as one of the mediums that succinctly capture this deviation: "This is what the difference is between Hong Kong and Chinese cinema - Chinese cinema was made for their own communities. It was for propaganda. But Hong Kong made films to entertain, and they know how to communicate with international audiences.” Community as defined by these subgroups resist the Western desire “to be a part of the pulse”; (p. 260, Weston 1995) as it eschews constructions of community by quantification, or mass. Nations like Taiwan and Hong Kong, which though informed by cultural signifiers like history and spatiality are more so shaped by change and movement — migratory patterns that are not only temporal, but artistic and social. This supports Kraidy’s thesis while hybrid states can be defined as ‘mixing’, they should not be seen as weakened because they are derivatives of the once pure and homogeneous Chinese host.
Furthermore, it is precisely through the rift of geophysical boundaries that hybrid sub-identities are formulated, and thus constituted as inferior (p. 61, Knott 2010). Recognising this pitfall in our study of nationalist or essentialist rhetoric is crucial, particularly when observed against the greater picture of community formations, and who they serve. For communities situated in that juncture, one has to interrogate whether such processes can flourish especially when pitted against the umbrella of State-backed cultural identities.
The State-Sanctioned Great Leap Forwards
Conversely, I would like to consider the foundational purpose homonationalism serves by orienting the context in which queer communities exist within Contemporary China. Defined as the promotion of nationhood through LGBT activism and politics, Homonationalism is the process of state championship through the induction of its queer subjects (p. 113, Yue 2012). The framework of the state in sanctioning what sociocultural projections can exist is also understood as ‘double consciousness’, the assertion that being queer does not contradict with being Chinese. (p. 81, Hird & Song 2018). As a result, the provisional condition of being queer enriches the cultural and social blocs which support nationalistic qualities of progressivism and knowledge production.
Class, which is an essential bloc in the performance of post-Mao Chinese identity, also adheres to the scope of cosmopolitanism in the dissemination of Queer culture. In the pseudonym-penned novel Beijing Comrade, gay protagonist Lan Yu drinks foreign wine, drives European cars, and dons clothes exclusively from Hong Kong, while living in the strip of upper crust Beijing deliberately dubbed “Bei Ou”, or Modern Europe (p. 76, Hird & Song 2018). This distinction is prevalent when we consider the dynamics which preside over the performance of queerness. Gay sex is understood by Lan Yu and his romantic interest, Han Dong, as a sign of upward mobility; the more financially strife Han Dong assures his mother that the sleeping with other men is a whimsy of upper class society, “a game that rich people play nowadays,” (p. 83, Hird & Song 2018). He continues his defence by citing pop culture and historical allusions to same-sex eroticism, which absolves his mother, and by extension, the greater webbing of Han Dong’s community of the shameful associations cast upon homosexual preferences. The acceptance here is deliberate: it hinges on the explicit negotiation where global attitudes and what Knott terms diasporic entities, meet. These figures, “non-elites, working-class, and people of colour”, like Han Dong and his mother, evoke the greater ethos shared by the Chinese State.
To understand cosmopolitan traits as “a penchant, or willingness for diversity” underscores this “awareness of increasing economic and socio-cultural interconnectedness” (p. 62, Knott 2010) that the statehood shares. This encapsulates the premise of Chinese homonationalism — not as an outward acceptance of queer modes of existence, but a tolerance that hinges on the symbiosis of the individual mobilised within the greater nation.
To close, the formation of Queer identities in China is mediated through the homogenous reconfiguration of the sexed individual and the nation-state. I have concluded that the disparity between greater Mainland China and its hybrid constructions are entrenched in cosmopolitanism and the transnational desire to align state-supportive communities with the desires of its individuals. Thus, it is evident that the belonging and kinship afforded to queer Chinese communities are imbricated through notions of hybridity, homonationalism, and socio-capital similitude. In conclusion, I believe that the global impetus to which change can be enacted for such communities will require a queering of a new social imaginary — one that refutes both the utopianism etched within Western ideology and the Nation-state apparatus.
Hird, D. and Song, G., 2018. The Cosmopolitan Dream: Transnational Chinese Masculinities in a Global Age. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Knott, K. and McLoughlin, S., 2010. Diasporas. London: Zed Books.
Weston, K., 1995. Get Thee to a Big City: Sexual Imaginary and the Great Gay Migration. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 2(3), pp.253-277.
Yue, A., 2012. Queer Asian mobility and homonational modernity: Marriage equality, Indian students in Australia and Malaysian transgender refugees in the media. Global Media and Communication, 8(3), pp.269-287.