Hongwei  Bao Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Hongwei Bao

Associate Professor in Media Studies
The University of Nottingham

I work at the intersection of queer studies, China/Asia studies, and cultural studies. My transdisciplinary research primarily concerns queer culture in contemporary China: from community media to queer cinema, from literature to contemporary art, from theatre to musical cultures, and from cultural history to political theory. My work aims to de-Westernise queer studies and cultural studies, and to bring Marxism and queer theory together for a critique of transnational neoliberalism.


I joined the Department of Culture, Media and Visual Studies (formerly Department of Culture, Film and Media), the University of Nottingham, in 2013. Prior to this, I worked as Lecturer in Asian Media at Nottingham Trent University (2012-13), Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Potsdam (2011, part-time), Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Sydney (2006-10, part-time) and Lecturer in International and Intercultural Communication at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, Beijing (2002-06). I was DAAD Fellow at the Free University of Berlin from 2010 to 2011, and British Academy Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths College,University of London, from 2011 to 2012. I received a PhD in Gender Studies and Cultural Studies from the University of Sydney, Australia, in 2011.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    I work at the intersections of queer studies, China/Asia studies, and cultural studies. My transdisciplinary research primarily focuses on queer culture in contemporary China - from community media to cinema, from literature to contemporary art, from theatre to musical cultures, and from cultural history to political theory. Bringing together diverse research methods and innovative approaches in humanities and social sciences, my research hopes to de-Westernise queer studies and cultural studies, and bring Marxism and queer theory into critical dialogues with each other.

Personal Interests

    I am interested in mediated cultural politics in a transnational context, including but not limited to gay identity and queer activism, community culture and citizen media, as well as independent films and film festivals. I am primarily concerned with how media relate to issues of gender, sexuality and identity, and how they participate in community building, empowerment of minority groups, and grassroots mobilisation. I also consider how media and contemporary culture respond to a postsocialist world dominated by neoliberal ideologies, and how socialist and democratic forms of community cultures and social forms are lived and experienced in everyday lives and social movements.



Featured Title
 Featured Title - Queer China -- Bao - 1st Edition book cover



Queer China reviewed in China Literary Journal

By: Hongwei Bao


{Written by Elaine Chiew, this review is part of Issue 46 of Cha.} {Return to Cha Review of Books and Films.}

Hongwei Bao, Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature And Visual Culture Under Postsocialism, Routledge (London & New York, 2020), 213 pgs.

Shaping an “Asian queer studies” framework (to borrow gender scholar Megan Sinnott’s term) outside of Western-centric rubrics that also takes into account a post-socialist China and globalisation effects is an epistemology-in-progress, and Hongwei Bao’s Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature And Visual Culture Under Postsocialism carves out new ground through a combined theoretical and empirical case study method. Building upon his 2018 monograph Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China  (NIAS Press), which focused on male homosexuality and political activism, he broadens his scope in Queer China to encompass queer cultural production in the post-socialist era (1978 to the present). Bao’s belief that such studies performatively shape culture and community-building as a form of queer activism in the PRC is the raison d’être of the book.

This triangulation of epistemology-empiricism-activism covers an ambitious interdisciplinary range of creative forms including literature, film, and the visual arts. Admittedly, his selection process for the case studies within the book is eclectic, being, as he says, “inevitably mediated by [his] preoccupation, politics, idiosyncrasy and affective experiences”. While acknowledging his lack of specific disciplinary training in the various artistic fields, he emphasises the usefulness of juxtaposing different modes of production and searching for commonalities and similarities as well as highlighting differences, because they manifest “structures of feeling” and provide insights into queer culture in China, its unfolding and transformations sparked by Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening-up era”.

This post-socialist timeframe is critical in understanding and evaluating this study because of certain socio-temporal signposts: the break with Mao-era socialism, which augmented the growth of the middle and upper classes; China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, signalling its embrace of neoliberal capitalism within a socialist framework and its accompanying bid for globality; and, further, specific LGBTQ+ movements as a result of queer activism, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997 when the term “hooliganism” (liumang zui), used to prosecute homosexual activities, was removed from China’s Criminal Law, the partial depathologisation of homosexuality in 2001 within the classifications of mental disorders, as well as the undeniable burgeoning of queer spaces and activities in major urban areas amid a changing neoliberal and transnational social and economic milieu. These developments are instrumental not only in creating a burgeoning “pink economy” but also in activating community awareness and support for LGBTQ+ rights in China, even as government censorship remains omnipresent and its tolerance of queer identities ambivalent at best. Same-sex marriage is also not yet recognised within China’s civil code.

Bao, along with queer theorists like Eve Sedgwick and Jack Halberstam, establishes “queer” and “trans” as contingent and unstable umbrella terms, and “queer” in fact functions more like a verb in unsettling the relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire. Sedgwick uses the term to include all non-normative identities and practices, and this, according to Bao, in turn flips “queer” as an identity category into a post-identitarian stance. This logic carries through to the organisation of the book.  Part I offers a theoretical and historical context for understanding the formation of queer identities from socialist to post-socialist China (and makes no attempt to connect the formation to time periods prior to this). The logic for including within this overarching background in Part I the case study of Women Fifty Minutes, an independent documentary by filmmaker and artist Shi Tou and her lesbian lover Ming Ming, is rather more obscure, and doesn’t necessarily illustrate Bao’s thesis of rejecting the Foucauldian “repression hypothesis” for China (where he argues that Chinese queer historiography positing a repression of all queer expression and sexual practices during the Mao-era isn’t altogether true but lacks sufficient empirical proof).

However, Women Fifty Minutes is undeniably iconic, not just because Shi Tou is one of China’s best-known queer personae and activists and considered a member of the New Documentary Movement and New Queer Chinese Cinema, but also because Bao’s analysis highlights the interpolation of queer women identity with feminism playing out in dispersed geographic locations, both urban and rural, and linked with myriad social issues, from folk traditions to environmental degradation and uneven economic development, and into which Shi Tou interjects her own artworks and imagined spaces and fantasies. Interestingly, the chapter begins with a Shi Tou quote on the precepts “yin” and “yang” – “you yourself are a combination of yin and yang” (Shi Tou, 2013 on her artwork Concave-Convex) – a gesture towards a broader definition of “tongzhi” that attempts to connect to an older moral-philosophical epistemology that resists a Western-centric toggle between sexual binaries. Perhaps because he dealt with definitional extrapolations of “tongzhi” in his other writings, Bao instead seeds the idea of how cinema and queer female subjectivities can function as utopian queer “social space” (along a Henri Lefebvre and Fredric Jameson spatial theory framework) and opens up the inquiry into how filmic spaces can be affective, performative, and act as counter-hegemonic constructs or antidotes to the commercialisation of space.

Part II, aptly titled “Queer Becoming”, focuses on literature, although given the heavy censorship of print literature, the literary case studies here are chiefly concerned with the freewheeling, more tolerant world of online fiction: Beijing Story (published in 1998 under a pseudonym, deals with BL: Boys’ Love, and has been made into a movie titled Lan Yu by Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, thereby expanding its reach into the Sinophone world) and Pink Affairs (fan fiction based on a reality TV show called Super Girl – a Chinese version of Pop Idol, published almost a decade later in 2007 also under a pseudonym, and deals with GL: Girls’ Love). It is Bao’s analysis of Pink Affairs that steals the spotlight within this compendium of case studies; not only is it laudably exhaustive and incisive, it fascinatingly highlights the tension between identification and disidentification within Asian queer communities, because, as Bao shows, queer sexual desire here is enabled by class and privilege, as well as by subscribing to a transnationalism that is heavily Western-centric. If you have upper class aspirations, becoming queer can be a status symbol. As he says,

The emergence of homosexuality and gay identity in post-socialist China, therefore, becomes an important marker for the country’s grand social engineering project to construct new bodies, identities, desires, dreams, and aspirations that would bring the country into a new historical era and the world of global capitalism.

Both stories also transpire in urban milieus, showing how participation in the “neoliberal capitalist” project is facilitated by urban modernity, with the leisure and desire to engage in virtual social spaces in constructing their own identities and subjectivities. These two case studies provide brilliant comparisons of the degree to which queer desire, as synecdoche for a general “desire” for freedom, opportunities and wealth in China, are activated by cross-streams of class aspirations and transnationalism (dovetailing with the “global gay” movement as a further sign of status – as Bao writes, “guowai (abroad) is…a symbol of modernity” – and upward mobility). Both case studies are Bildungsromans of becoming queer (neither the two male characters in Beijing Story nor the two female characters in Pink Affairs were born queer) and both are testament to the state of flux inherent in the formation of queer identity: in Beijing Story, the male protagonist Han Dong characterises his gay relationship to his protesting mother as temporary “playing around” engaged by China’s social elites, purifying it of the stigma of low class “homosexuality”, even as he maintains relationships with both men and women; and in Pink Affairs, both female protagonists are childhood antagonists who re-encounter each other abroad in France and then become lovers, and who also happen to be half-blood sisters, thus exemplifying how non-normative family relations can muddle sexual and gender relations.

By contrast, the two case studies in Part III (titled “Queer Urban Space”) are attempts to unveil how social disparities and class differences transact with public or urban space: the first details a photoshoot of two same-sex weddings on Valentine’s Day 2009 in Qianmen Street, a tourist spot near Tiananmen Square; while the latter focusses on poet Mu Cao (a pen-name meaning “grass on the grave”, adopted for its working-class identification), Cao’s poetry and the live poetry reading scene in Beijing. In the case of the two same-sex marrying couples, particularly noteworthy is Bao’s delineation of the politics of “coming out”, more prevalent within Western gay identity politics. Because the couples here are in fact volunteer actors and actresses (rather than actual couples) and the event staged by local queer NGO, Tongyu, the actors and actresses plumb the boundary between secrecy and disclosure. Within the context of the PRC, the idea of “masking”—because of the government as panopticon—troubles the Western-centric politics of visibility as legitimation. Bao writes,

Masking does not prioritise truth and authenticity; the boundary between what is reality and what is a staged performance is often blurred in a masked event. …Truth does not matter so much in the case of masking; it is the context, that is, wearing the right mask at the right time and place, that matters. For many queer people in China, one does not need to be completely “in” or “out”.

—Hongwei Bao, Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism

Bao’s study brilliantly shows how performance art and the shrewd deployment of social media serve as “soft-form” activism and a remaking of public space, but simultaneously raises more questions than it answers in how this activism dovetails with same-sex wedding performances as a bid for homonormativity, and what various bids for homonormativity mean overall for the construction of an Asian queer studies epistemology.

The case study of poet Mu Cao is saddled with the heavy burden of representing the rural and the working-class in this monograph—“rural” and “working-class” here being synonymous with the underprivileged or those left behind by the Chinese “middle-class dream” (and poetry itself lags behind in popularity and readership when compared to online fan fiction). While much needed to complement Part II, less satisfying is the analysis of how Mu Cao’s live poetry reading as a working-class poet in Dongjen Book Club, a middle-class queer urban space, contributes to shaping communal gay identity or becomes a disruption of space that reveals social and class inequalities. The poor attendance at the event minimises its impact, and underscores that the rural-urban divide is rather more rigid and unbridgeable than presented; footnotes suggest that it’s the recognition of Mu Cao’s work overseas that bolstered his impact as a queer artist in Beijing.  

Such is also the case for queer rural artist Xiyadie and his papercutting art, examined in the final section, titled “Queer Migration”. Xiyadie only learned to call himself gay when he moved to Beijing, and only when his queer papercut artworks gained recognition overseas was his identity as a queer artist cemented at home. In this Part IV, Bao also discussed an international cohort of drag queens in Shanghai who perform in a show called Extravaganza and how the sociality of this community contains within it an important element of “play”, a concept with attributes similar to masking in terms of deploying creativity as a form of destruction and deconstruction and “soft-form activism”. Transnationalism as evidenced in these case studies, however, undercuts any argument that an Asian queer epistemology can be queered from inside out, and also complicates the building of a Sinophone queer theoretical framework markedly distinct from a Western-centric one.

Overall, Bao’s approach of stand-alone case studies examined under its own theoretical concerns—from feminist to spatial to hauntology to performance theory—yields a theoretical richness, but lacking an adequate conclusion, the various case studies produce a “silo” effect that don’t facilitate comparisons of similarities and differences. However, in raising more questions than it answers, Bao’s monograph emphasises just how much work still needs to be done, and how fruitful the inquiry is (significantly useful is his appendix of queer history chronology in China as an attempt to memorialise neglected or censored community history), particularly inquiries into intra-disciplinary workings, explorations of diverse queer cultural production engagements with or against the various strata of government in different settings and geographies, the tensions and interconnections that exist between the urban and the rural, and even within specific urban communities such as Shanghai versus Beijing, and the PRC within the larger Sinosphere. The PRC’s neoliberal capitalist environment poses challenges for a post-identitarian stance, not just because of transnational flows but also because of China’s local characteristics and social values informed by its history and culture, as well as the convergence of technology with cultural production. As the first scholarly monograph on queer cultural production in the PRC, the realisation is of having seen just enough to know one hasn’t seen enough.

How to cite: Chiew, Elaine. “Hongwei Bao’s Queer China Under Neoliberalism with Socialist Characteristics.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 19 Nov. 2020, chajournal.blog/2020/11/19/queer-china/.

Originally from Malaysia, Elaine Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London. She is now a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015). Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore. Her short story collection The Heartsick Diaspora, and Other Stories (2020) is now available. Elaine lives in Singapore.  

Themed Playlist: Queer Cinema From Mainland China

By: Hongwei Bao

Hongwei Bao's playlist on Chinese queer cinema has recently been published by the University of St Andrews' Centre for Screen Studies as part of its Playlist Initiative. For more information, please visit the website: 

book talk on Queer China, hosted by Hamburg University, 8 November 2020

By: Hongwei Bao

Time: Sonntag, 08.11.2020, 19.30 Uhr (CET) 
Zoom online platform -The access link will be sent after registration
Concept and moderation:
Dr Wang Yi, Team leader of the international department, University of Hamburg
Dr Hongwei Bao, University of Nottingham

Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism

The event will be held in English.The participation in the afternoon and evening programs of the German-Chinese cultural Sundays are free of charge.
Registration: www.ki-hh.de/veranstaltungen/anmeldung

A book review of Queer China published on Feminist Encounters

By: Hongwei Bao

Offering in-depth analyses of a wide range of queer cultural texts produced in the People’s Republic of China from the postsocialist era to the present, Queer China paints an excellent picture of the vibrant and fast-developing LGBTQ+ cultures that continue to shape and transform the lives of sexual minorities in China. From lesbian painting to gay papercutting, from a transgender documentary to a same-sex wedding in Beijing, the book reveals the effervescent and ever-changing complexion of queer communities and cultures in China.

Significantly, Queer China showcases the strong linkage between activism and culture, arguing that queer cultural production such as film, art and performance not only shapes and alters queer communities—it also works as political and social activism in a country where political rights and representation is limited. It is a wonderful and timely contribution to the studies of art, film, media as well as to the broader academic fields such as China and Asia studies.

Consisting of four parts (two chapters in each) and covering nearly four decades, the book employs several research methods in its investigation of the complexities of queerness and queer representation in postsocialist China and its immersion in neoliberal capitalism. Part one discusses the emergence of queer desires in postsocialist China. Arguing that the contemporary ‘gay identity’ is a product of China’s historical and social conditions—namely, its entanglement with neoliberal capitalism, transnational (popular) culture and LGBTQ+ movements—Bao presents the case that public declarations of gay desire and identity should be viewed in terms of China’s transition from socialism to postsocialism and the subsequent epistemic shift in gender, sexuality and subjectivity. As the country opened up to transnational and global capitalism, so did the intellectual and nationalist discourses on modernity, enlightenment and China’s position vis-à-vis the West. Here, discourses on sex and sexuality become parts of China’s ‘imagining of modernity’ where the revolutionary sentiment of socialist utopia is transformed into various and at times competing notions of sexual liberation, change, nostalgia and a coming into one’s own. Bao’s analysis of the queer filmmaker and activist Shi Tou’s 2006 film Women Fifty Minutes, for instance, delineates the emergence of queer women’s spaces in postsocialist China. By showcasing the multifaced subject positions inhabited by (queer) ‘women’ in contemporary China, Shi Tou’s work engages critically with Western liberal feminist discourses on women’s ‘liberation’, emphasising the heterogeneity of Chinese women and introducing class and ethnicity in her investigation and portrayal of female queerness during China’s economic development.

Bao’s close reading of the queer online narrative Beijing Story, which was adapted into the film Lan Yu (2001) by the Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, pointedly explicates what Lisa Rofel has identified as ‘Desiring China’—the site where desire and sexuality work as means of becoming a transnational citizen-subject. By emphasising other ‘desires’ in Beijing Story, such as wealth and recognition, Bao positions the story as a national allegory of postsocialist China. The emergence of gay identity as well as sexual and desiring subjectivities, he argues, highlights China’s full entry into capitalism. Whilst this comes at the risk of concealing the underlying the issues of class, as China’s socialist past is subsumed into Western notions of gay universality, Bao notes that the historical forms of homoeroticism in the story serve as queer resistance to such a neoliberal subjectivation. Similarly, in Pink Affairs (Feise Shi), a piece of Super Girl (an annual talent contest in China) fan fiction, which depicts homoerotic love between young women and falls into the genre of Girls’ Love, queer desires are closely linked with middle-class aspirations of owning a home in a cosmopolitan centre. Becoming ‘modern’ means constructing a gendered and sexed subjectivity that is contingent on the formation of classed identities and desires that make a ‘modern China’. Whilst the story shows the two women’s aspirations of being modern and participating in global queerness, it nonetheless does not eradicate their ‘Chineseness’. In other words, as the women imagine a cosmopolitan queer life, they also place it firmly within the comforting confines of a Chinese home which offers them comfort and security, something that cannot be found abroad.

The third section of the book looks at two cases of queer urban activism. The first case is a same-sex wedding ‘event’ which took place in Beijing in 2009. The wedding, it turned out, was a queer rights advocacy campaign ‘performed’ by queer activists near Tiananmen Square on 14 February (Valentine’s Day) 2009. The performance consisted of two same-sex male and female couples posing for photographers whilst a ‘TV crew’ interviewed bystanders about their attitude towards homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At the end of the act, both the actors and the audience dispersed and went their separate ways. Bao argues that this kind of ‘soft’ activism is exemplary of the Chinese queer engagement with politics through performance art and digital media. Significant here is the noticeable dissimilarity between the well-established gay rights activism of the ‘West’, which is based on visibility and confrontation, and that of the ‘soft kind’ found in China, which involves other kinds of community-building activities such as cultural and sporting events. This is not to say that there is a clear distinction between Western and Eastern queerness. Rather, Bao argues, the cultural and political codes of the West vis-à-vis queer visibility are being re-appropriated by queer activists in China as a means of raising awareness of queer rights without direct engagement in state politics. This kind of cultural translation creates space for context-specific political activism that circumvents government censorship and enables sexual minorities to participate in sustainable community building practices that do not subscribe to the ‘global gay’ narratives of gay liberation and visibility. The other example of queer activism comes in the form of a poetry reading by the Chinese queer poet Mu Cao at Dongjen Book Club in Beijing, a public education programme organised by the Bianbian Reading Group. Engaging in participant observation and combining it with textual analyses of Mu Cao’s poems, Bao highlights the repercussions of queer China’s celebration and embrace of the country’s transition from socialism to neoliberalism. Focusing on Mu Cao’s literary production and his realist style and aesthetics, Bao argues that the poet’s work issues a warning about the precariousness of President Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ in the form of a (queer) Marxist critique of neoliberal China and its rise as a global economic power. Focusing on sweatshops and inhuman working conditions in production factories, Mu Cao’s poetry introduces queer sexuality as a ‘perverse’ pleasure that works against the toil of manual labour. As such it ‘denaturalises both capital and sex’, ushering a critique of the urban Chinese gay identity which is based on consumption and a middle-class lifestyle.

The last part looks at two kinds of migration—transnational migration of an international group of drag queens in Shanghai and the national migration of the queer artist Xiyadie’s from the countryside to the city. In these two chapters, Bao argues that migration deterritorialises identities, paving way for new ways of ‘becoming’ that is never settled and which defies gendered, sexual, cultural and national affiliation and belonging. In chapter 7, he looks at Extravaganza, a 2018 documentary film directed by the British filmmaker Matthew Baren, which depicts a drag show (as well as pre-show preparations and post-show celebrations) performed in 2017 at the Pearl Theatre in Shanghai. Whilst the constant flow of people, culture and capital in Shanghai enables the emergence of various forms of queer cultures, making it a highly commercialised city with a ‘pink economy’—Bao’s analysis of the film shows that drag queens and kings use the city’s creative and cultural industries to imagine a future that is based on consumption and entertainment without ascribing to (self-)orientalising discourses of sexual oppression. This transnational film ‘gazes back’ at homogenising discourses of national and gendered identity, pointing towards a more inclusive queer ‘family’ which spans national and cultural boundaries. In the last chapter, Bao looks at the papercutting works and the life of the queer artist Xiyadie. Besides being the subject of an award-winning documentary, in which he was portrayed as an artist pursuing his art and passion against the odds (perhaps as an allegory of China as a struggling nation in pursuit of glory), Xiyadie also gained the attention of the Beijing LGBT+ Centre, which recognised his gay identity and bestowed upon him the distinction of being a ‘living Chinese queer artist’.

This ‘discovery’ of a queer Chinese artist, whose work provides a sense of indigeneity to Chinese traditional folk art, happened in the context of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997, its depathologisation in 2001 and the growing number of LGBTQ+ organisations and social movements in the new millennium. Thus, Xiyadie went from being an artist to being a queer Chinese artist to being tongzhi. His work, on the other hand, does not easily conform to cosmopolitan gay middle-class sensitivity. Bao notes that Xiyadie in his papercutting not only inserts homoeroticism within the Chinese folk traditions; he also ‘indigenises’ it. Significantly, by depicting gay cruising sites in Beijing, his art functions as a political statement, whilst his depiction of the rural and the migrant poor exhibits a class sensibility that speaks to the hierarchies of desire between the periphery of the underprivileged and working-class and centrality of the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie.

Queer China is an important contribution to the study of Chinese queer cultures. It makes a strong case that queer cultural production in China works as a form of queer activism which is culturally sensitive and highly attuned to the contexts surrounding it. This non-confrontational politics re-works, re-appropriates and re-constitutes any fixed notions of a gendered and sexual identity based on national affiliation. Relatedly, perhaps the book could have benefitted from a wider geographical and/or conceptual focus, particularly in terms of documenting and examining the emergence of queer communities outside the two metropolises. Here, I am thinking of the disparity not only within China’s queer communities but also between them. In other words, what is the state of queer China on the periphery of ‘Chineseness’? Moreover, how and where do we place the most recent work of offline/online activists such as Fan Popo who, in order to escape censorship and pursue artistic freedom, are based outside the PRC?
In Queer China, Bao weaves together multiple subject areas across academic disciplines in a language that is personal, reader-friendly and jargon-free. The book will appeal to students, scholars and anyone interested in Chinese queer studies.

Citation: Pecic, Z. L. (2020). [Review of the book Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism, by Hongwei Bao]. Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, 4(2), 38. https://doi.org/10.20897/femenc/8526

From Queer Comrades to Queer China

By: Hongwei Bao

In this blog entry, author Hongwei Bao introduces his two books on queer Chinese cultures and reflects upon how he documents China’s LGBTQ community history and conceptualises a postsocialist queer politics in the context of a neoliberalising China.

I see myself as a queer historian and I conduct research on contemporary queer history in the PRC context; that is, the history of LGBTQ people in the post-Mao and postsocialist era (1978 to the present). There has not been much research on this part of history to date. Most historians focus on queer history before this era because the post-Mao period is considered too recent and still ongoing to be given a definitive account. There have, however, been numerous studies of contemporary Chinese queer cultures, primarily from sociological and anthropological perspectives, focusing on the everyday practices of LGBTQ people in the PRC and the Sinophone sphere. This includes Queer/Tongzhi China: New Perspectives on Research, Activism and Media Cultures, published by NIAS Press in 2015.

My first book, Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China (NIAS Press, 2018), was therefore among the first scholarly monographs that examine gay identity and queer activism since the 1980s as history. In Queer Comrades, I situate gay identity and queer activism in the post-Mao and postsocialist contexts, tracing the emergence and development of these identities and activist practices, and documenting important people and events in the past forty years. 

Queer Comrades thus offers a ‘genealogy’, or constructed history, of the emergence of gay identities and queer desires in contemporary China. It focuses on the development of an indigenous — and undoubtedly glocalised — form of Chinese queer identity: tongzhi (literally comrade, meaning gay or queer). The term and its associated identity of tongzhi is worth studying because it is an identity primarily used in the LGBTQ social movements in the PRC and the Sinophone sphere, and therefore it is political, activist and transnational; it goes beyond a conventional understanding of sexuality simply being a personal preference or sexual act. It is also fascinating because the term was appropriated from China’s Maoist and socialist era (1949 to 1978) – originally a political identity designating a collective and socialist politics – and transnational LGBTQ movements in the Sinophone sphere. I find this identity and its associated politics fascinating. I am primarily interested in how the term has been used in contemporary China’s LGBTQ movement and what are the connections between the socialist comrade identity and the postsocialist queer identity, if any, apart from the term’s obvious Sinophone connections. Hence the book Queer Comrades.

In the book, I translate tongzhi into ‘queer comrades’, bringing together the socialist comrade identity and the postsocialist queer identity, through which to imagine a transnational queer politics based on political activism and socialist visions. My major argument of the book is that, contrary to the common perception that sets the socialist comrade identity and the postsocialist queer identity apart, seeing them as binary opposites incompatible with each other, the socialist comrade identity actually lays a foundation for and has a significant impact on the postsocialist queer identity through its politicised subjectivity, socialist aspiration, collective decision-making, and activist strategies such as mass mobilisation and ‘guerrilla warfare’. Many queer activists in the PRC may or may not be aware of China’s socialist history, and yet they selectively — and often unconsciously — appropriate terms and practices from China’s socialist politics for their use. This is interesting because this type of tongzhi activism is less reliant on the identity-based activist strategies commonly seen in the West, such as ‘coming out’, pride parades, parliamentary lobbying and ‘pink economy’; rather, it focuses more on consciousness raising, grassroots mobilisation, coalition building, as well as contingent activist tactics, all of which are strategically drawn from China’s socialist experiences as well as transnational LGBTQ movements. Tongzhi thus embodies the potential to challenge the ‘global gay’ identity and politics based on liberal and neoliberal values. In other words, tongzhi marks a type of non-liberal queer identities and politics in China and the Global South; it has significant implications for decolonising, de-Westernising, and re-imagining transnational queer identities and politics.

Since its publication, Queer Comrades has been positively received in the academic communities. In a period of two years, the book has been reviewed by around twenty scholarly journals and websites covering a wide range of academic fields including China/Asia studies, gender and sexuality studies, media and cultural studies, sociology and anthropology, and cultural geography. At the same time, I was working on my second book, partly because I realised the urgency and importance of documenting and analysing the booming — rapidly developing and yet also fast disappearing — queer cultures in contemporary China, partly because I needed to answer a question I had from my first book: What is activism in the PRC context where political activism is increasingly discouraged and even repressed? Can we think of activism in the same way as how the term is understood in a liberal, Western context? What is the role of culture — and community culture in particular — in developing contemporary China’s queer activism?

My second book, Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020), offers a critical account of queer cultural production in contemporary China, including queer literature, art, film, and performance. It has constructed a cultural history of the LGBTQ communities in the post-Mao and postsocialist China. Although there have been individual research articles dedicated to the study of queer Chinese cultural texts, this is the first book-length study that examines queer literature and visual culture in the contemporary PRC context.

My goals for this book are as follows: firstly, to document key queer cultural texts in the PRC since the 1980s. I consider it an important  job for me as a cultural historian to resist forgetting and historical erasure by writing the history down. Secondly, to argue for the crucial role that culture plays in contemporary queer activism. In a context where explicit forms of political activism are forbidden and restricted, cultural activism becomes a context specific and culturally sensitive form of queer activism in the PRC. But cultural activism applies to other social and cultural contexts too. In the transnational LGBTQ movement, we are often too preoccupied with political agitation and rights advocacy, most of which are based on an essentialised notion of identity. In contrast, cultural activism is different: it is less dogmatic, rigid, and more open and flexible. It has an affective dimension that makes LGBTQ movements interesting, approachable, and attractive, meanwhile attending to the complexities and nuances of people’s experiences and connections. Cultural activism is therefore an indispensable component of transnational queer activism. Thirdly, to challenge the gay identity politics associated with a Western form of LGBTQ identity and politics, and to imagine a post-identitarian and socialist type of queer politics. Most of the cultural texts I analyse are about and ‘beyond’ identities: as these texts construct identities; they also challenge and subvert identities. This post-identitarian queer politics has significant implications for imagining an inclusive, coalitional, and transnational form of queer politics that sees political goals and social processes (instead of identities) as its starting point and basis for action.

On top of all these, Queer China also launches a powerful critique to the neoliberal capitalism that depends on identity politics and the China/West, Global North/Global South geopolitical divisions. It contextualises the (re)emergence of gay identities and queer desires in the PRC in the post-Mao and postsocialist era. Arguing against a simplistic ‘repressive hypothesis’ – that is, LGBTQ people’s sufferings during China’s Maoist and socialist era, and their ‘liberation’ in the post-Mao and postsocialist era when China re-entered the global capitalist economy — Queer China pinpoints the ideological complexity of gay identities and queer desires in contemporary China. These identities and desires are products of a state-endorsed neoliberal capitalism and they witness China’s dramatic social transformations under global capitalism: from ordinary people’s loss of a secure livelihood and social warfare, to the emergence of the middle class and elite class; from the collective forgetting and erasure of class and socialism, to the enthusiastic endorsement of sexual difference, conspicuous consumption and pink economy. In this context, queer cultural production and consumption not only reflect these ideological complicities and struggles; they also articulate socialist longings and utopian aspirations. These hopes and optimism deserve our attention amid the despair and pessimism of neoliberal subjectivation in our times.

Overall, both books are about contemporary Chinese queer histories and Chinese cultures; both have a distinct political and activist orientation: they focus on media, cultural, and activist practices in the PRC in the post-Mao and postsocialist era. Many scholars have studied queer ‘mainstream’ and commercial media (such as the dating app Blued) and queer popular culture (such as boys’ love and girls’ love fan fiction and television drama) in contemporary China; they have rightly critiqued political censorship and commercialisation of queer culture. I, on the other hand, have been fascinated by what queer people do in their communities, with their identities, and for LGBTQ rights. My account of queer history should thus be more aptly called a ‘queer community history’, written from the perspective of a self-identified queer community historian. I have lived and participated in that history, and I identify with the people and communities I write about. I often see my historical account an engaged and embodied queer history. I am not obsessed with notions such as objectivity; instead, I often write my own subjectivity, feelings, and embodied experiences into the history I document. In this context, I am also critical about the queer history I document and remain self-reflexive about my own subject positions. I hope that readers will enjoy reading the two books and become motivated to find out more about Chinese queer histories and cultures.

How Shanghai’s LGBTQ community came out for Pride Month in 2020 (news article for The Conversation)

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Psychology

How Shanghai’s LGBTQ community came out for Pride Month in 2020

Hongwei Bao  

July 3, 2020


Pride Month events scheduled for June 2020 were cancelled in most parts of the world due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, bucking the trend – and perhaps giving a message about China’s handling of the crisis – Shanghai’s LGBTQ community has just celebrated Pride with a series of public events.

The longest-running pride festival in mainland China, ShanghaiPRIDE has been held in June each year since 2009. Although COVID-19 lockdown was eased in Shanghai a couple of months ago, people still have to wear face masks when attending public events and many prefer avoiding public gatherings altogether.

So, according to ShanghaiPRIIDE co-founder Raymond Phang, organisers had to take special measures to protect participants’ health and safety, such as scaling down the size of events, checking participants’ health apps installed on their mobile phones, providing face masks and sanitisers for participants. People’s temperatures were checked on entry into event venues, which were all either outdoors or well-ventilated.

Running between June 13 and 21, the nine-day festival consisted of a job fair, an open day for LGBTQ groups, three panel discussions (on mental health, inclusive academia and rainbow marriage respectively), a Pride run and a “Rainbow Brunch”. There was also a half-day of film screenings as part of the ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival, two parties, and a “Pride Talk” meet-up and discussion event. These events all took place physically in Shanghai’s public urban spaces.

‘Raise the Pride’

Although there was no actual Pride parade in the western sense, many events in Shanghai still brought queer people together. ShanghaiPRIDE organised a “Rainbow Bike Ride” to mark the IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia) on May 17 as a prelude to the festival. Six teams of cyclists wearing different rainbow coloured shirts rode along different routes around the city before they arrived at the same destination, uniting different colours of the rainbow.

The Pride run on June 14 encouraged people to jog together, wearing or carrying rainbow signs. Participants chose to follow six or 12 kilometre routes and met at a final destination in the city centre where there was a celebration.

ShanghaiPRIDE co-founder Charlene Liu said in a video interview:

In China, there are no Pride parades. Perhaps we don’t really need it. That’s why we have different cultural events such as film festivals, theatres and so on. Sport events such as the bike ride and the run are the closest to what we can get to having a Pride [march]. You know, obstacles are there not to help you stumble – obstacles are there to help you overcome them.

This year’s ShanghaiPRIDE English slogan is “Raise the Pride”. Its Chinese slogan, “敢晒,敢骄傲,” literally translates as: “Be brave enough to show yourself and be proud of yourself.”

Other groups in Shanghai have also been putting on public events and community activities for Pride month. CINEMQ, a Shanghai-based independent queer film collective formed in 2015, has recently started to collaborate with Shanghai Community Radio to run an online talk show called Queer Screen Chitchat.

Every other Tuesday evening, two or three talk show hosts and guests chat live online and interact simultaneously with LGBTQ audiences about queer films and various community issues. A recent show discussed the representation of black queer people on screen to support Black Lives Matter.

The city has a third LGBTQ film festival – the Shanghai Queer Film Festival. This is a volunteer-run, independent festival held annually since 2016. The festival – which this year is expected to take place in September, depending on the status of the pandemic – works closely with filmmakers from China and the rest of Asia to support queer film culture. It also champions a more inclusive queer politics by showcasing diversity and differences within communities.

Queer-friendly China?

With its annual Pride celebration and three queer film festivals, Shanghai is one of the most queer-friendly cities in China. But BeijingChengdu and Guangzhou also host their own versions of queer film cultures and Pride events. This demonstrates how far China has come along the road to LGBTQ acceptance.

Members of China’s LGBTQ community and their parents spent four days on a cruise trip organised by Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 2017. How Hwee Young

Homosexuality was decriminalised in mainland China in 1997 and was removed from the country’s classification of mental disorders (CCMD-3) in 2001. But LGBTQ people still face challenges from a heteronormative society, with an emphasis on Confucian family values and social conformity. All these make it hard for LGBTQ people to come out.

In recent years, discussion of LGBTQ issues has increasingly been discouraged or even banned on mainstream media and social media. Organising queer public events has also become more difficult and organisers sometimes face prosecution.

The 19-year-old queer activist Xiang Xiaohan, who organised a small-scale pride march in Changsha on IDAHOBIT in 2013, was arrested by the police and detained for 12 days. And in 2019, IDAHOBIT celebrations were banned on several university campuses and in a few cities across the country

Despite all the difficulties, civil society groups fighting for LGBTQ rights have achieved some limited success. In 2017, China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress, amended Chinese law to allow “legal guardianship”. This enables same-sex partners to make important decisions for each other regarding medical and personal care, death and funeral arrangements and property rights.

In December 2019, a National People’s Congress spokesperson acknowledged that the legalisation of same-sex marriage was among the most popular requests for revisions to China’s civil code. But the Chinese Congress passed the new civil code in May 2020, rejecting same-sex marriage rights. So, despite some advances, there’s a long way to go before the LGBTQ communities are fully embraced in mainland China.

S_Z book review of Queer China

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Psychology

S_Z Review: On Hongwei Bao’s Queer China

While many people are going through a difficult period, being grounded while unsettled and uncertain because of COVID-19, a number of online talks, open access resources, and new publications, providing a sense of caring and being together, help to fill in the appalling void for those who find themselves a bit lost as they face ongoing changes (physical, economic, cultural, political, ideological…) not just in everyday news but also in front of their own doors or even within their homes. The book Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postcolonialism (Hongwei Bao, 2020) is one of them.

As one title in the series Literary Cultures of the Global South, Queer China’s existence is a positive sign showing that queer studies is on its way to break away from the label of “subculture” in the academic world and enter the general conversation, such as (regional) ethnography. It provides a careful chronology of the development of the Chinese queer scene, which is a piece of go-to material for anyone looking for a quick glimpse of the past four decades of Chinese queer history (and less about its interactions with the rest of the world). As part of the community himself, the author generously shares some of his own memories and experiences to help us understand the various metamorphoses that happened/ are happening in postsocialist China, which is one of the traits that make the book reader friendly. Another one sees the author adopting an extremely neat fashion as he strcutures each chapter complete with an announcement of purpose and occasional guiding reference before the main body that includes a full description of the case together with the straight-to-the-point analysis, and an emphasis on the key points before ending the chapter.

The book puts together some of the noteworthy queer cultural practices of the last few decades according to the author’s “own preoccupation, politics, idiosyncrasy and affective experiences”(p. 19). The selected cases include the lesbian icon Shitou’s independent documentary Women Fifty Minutes (2006) and her paintings and photography (1990s~2000s), the online gay story Beijing Story (1998) and the lesbian fan fiction Pink Affairs (2007), a street performance of same-sex weddings in central Beijing (2009) and its accompanying documentary film, Mu Cao’s poetry (2000s~early 2010s), the drag performance Extravaganza (2017, 2018) and film, as well as papercut artist Xiyadie’s work (1990s~2010s). It deliberately casts its focus within mainland China and makes sure to avoid any material that has set foot outside even if it’s closely related to the mainland context. For instance, the film adaptation of Beijing Story titled Lan Yu was made by Stanley Kwan in 2001, a piece that opened the door to the world of homosexuality for many mainland audiences and led to much broader media attention, public discussion, as well as the rediscovery of the original story, despite the fact that it never got the chance to enter movie theaters in the mainland. 

For more information: 


Questions and Answers with the Author

Hongwei Bao, 29 June 2020

1. What do you think are the major signs of continuity and differences between the Chinese queer scene around the turn of the century and that in recent years?

If we compare queer cultures in the PRC in 2000 and now (2020), we can see that a lot has changed:  there is more awareness and acceptance of queer identities and communities in Chinese society now than back in 2000. For example, people only knew about homosexuals (tongxinglian) or gay, or comrade (tongzhi), back in 2000; now we are more likely to talk about queer (ku’er) or LGBT or LGBTQIA+, showing a greater awareness of a multiplicity of identities. In 2000, people were primarily talking about whether one is gay and whether being gay is normal (i.e. not a form of pathology); now, many queer people in urban China would be talking about a wide range of topics such as dating, coming out, same-sex marriage, adoption, surrogacy, and discrimination in the workplace, topics that are not much different from other parts of the world where LGBTQ rights have been more officially recognised.   

With the increasing visibility of queer identities, different communities based on these identities have also started to emerge. So have various community spaces. In 2000, there were very few queer public spaces and events; now, there are queer public venues such as bars, clubs and community centres; there are also events such as Shanghai Pride, Shanghai Queer Film Festival, and Beijing Queer Film Festival, which bring people together to form communities. In 2000, few people talked about sexual minorities as a community (shequ or shequn), now we hear phrases such as Shanghai Shequ Diantai (Shanghai Community Radio) or ‘women de shequn’ (‘Our Community’, a Shanghai Pride slogan). So, communities based on shared but diverse gender and sexual identities have come into being in the past twenty years. 

But there are also setbacks. The government attitude toward queer issues seemed more relaxed twenty years ago, and there was overall a sense of optimism in Chinese society at the time. As a result, there were many grassroots initiatives and there seemed many spaces for new ideas and a lot of creative energy in China at the time. Today, these spaces have shrunk significantly, both online and offline, and many queer activists I met were highly pessimistic about what is going on. Those who organise queer community events are constantly faced with the realities of government censorship or police crackdown. Back in 2000, Hunan Satellite Television hosted a talk show programme called ‘Face to Face with Homosexuals’ (Zoujin Tongxinglian), inviting queer people to a state TV studio to talk about homosexuality. Today, such a programme would be impossible to imagine: firstly, the programme director would have chosen other terms denoting multiple identities than the old-fashioned term ‘homosexual’; secondly, it would be difficult for such a programme to pass China’s media censorship and be on air today. This seems a bit paradoxical: while queer identities and communities have proliferated, their media representations and public spaces have not kept up. Of course, one can cite examples of queer commercial spaces and queer elements in commercial and mainstream popular culture to make an argument for the expansion of queer commercial and cultural spaces. But queer political and activist spaces have certainly been under serious constraint in recent years. Here we see not ‘progress’ but ‘backlash’ and even ‘regression’ in terms of queer-friendly public policies in China. 

2. In light of today’s global tendency of physical and political isolation, what’s your vision of the Chinese queer scene in the near future, which, as you mentioned in the book, often relies on the construction of community and various sorts of support from abroad (despite it being locally specific in many ways)?

A large part of the job that academics do is to look back upon what has happened, and not to predict what will happen, or how thing will happen. History has a lot of uncertainties. The situation you mentioned, the global pandemic, could not have been imagined by most people. But I am pleased to see that queer communities were not passive during this crisis. During the lockdown, many queer individuals and groups reached out to one another, offering timely help and support, when queer people’s needs were neglected by mainstream society. For example, volunteers from the Wuhan LGBT Centre offered free HIV/AIDS drug delivery services for community members who had no access to drugs because of the lockdown. There is a strong community feeling during the pandemic, and this is great! The crisis can become a good time for community support and community building; it also offers a good opportunity for queer people to think about their relationship to other people and communities who are suffering not only the pandemic but other forms of structural inequality and injustice. 

Of course, queer activism in China has always been a part of the global LGBTQ movement. Queer activists in mainland China have worked together closely with activists from Asia, the West, and other parts of the world. But this is not to say that they rely on ‘support from abroad’. In particular, since the Chinese government passed a stringent NGO law in 2016, many international organisations had to withdraw their support for China’s grassroots organisations and civil society, and many queer organisations stopped running because of the lack of funding or policy support. So queer activism in China is at a difficult stage at the moment. But this can turn out to be a blessing in disguise: many queer activists and organisations have to work more closely with community members and respond to the community needs. When explicit forms of queer political activism become difficult or impossible, other strategies including cultural activism – that is, community building through engaging in shared cultural activities – become more popular, and this is the major argument of Queer China

In the context of today’s ‘global tendency of physical and political isolation’, queer communities in China have been actively building communities by bringing people together, online and offline, and raising awareness of issues about identities and rights. The Shanghai Pride and various queer public events in China during the Pride Month (June) are good examples. The focus on community culture and grassroots participation is a positive development in recent years and will likely have a long-lasting impact for the future.  

3. As you locate Chinese queer culture under the arch of the Global South, in which way do you think the Chinese situation can acknowledge/inspire queer scenes in other countries in the Global South, apart from the premise that they all try to establish their own discourses distinct from the Western narrative?

In my view, the Global South is not an alternative to the Global North. Besides being infiltrated by discourses and power relations from the Global North, the Global South is also full of inequalities, injustices, and hegemonic power relations. My emphasis is on heterogeneity of the Global South, as well as the entangled relationship between the Global South and the Global North because of historical experiences and current conditions of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. Global South should not be seen as a homogenous and essentialised space for utopian longing and creative resistance, although it can embody the potential for a postcolonial, democratic, and anti-hegemonic politics. My emphasis in the book is both on the hegemonic discourses dominating the Global South and on the emancipatory potentials of the Global South. This is why I discuss the neoliberal capture in which queer China is situated throughout the book. In delineating different forms of neoliberal subjectivation, I also look for spaces of resistance and ‘lines of flight’.  It is worth noting that this book has been inspired by a Deleuzian way of thinking, according to which differences are immanent, and new emergences are ubiquitous. It is under this light that this book’s discussion of the Global South should be understood. 

4. Conducting English research on non-Western culture brings many challenges, such as what is untranslatable, the gap between (Western) theories and (non-Western) realities, etc. Could you share some experiences and thoughts on that, and how can we overcome these challenges to establish an effective postcolonial way of thinking?

This is a great question. Many authors, myself included, are working on it and exploring their own answers, so there is no definitive answer. I like your use of the term ‘untranslatable’, which points to the process of cultural translation. It is productive to think about researching and writing as processes of cultural translation. I would even stretch the argument to say that everything we do can be seen as a form of cultural translation: we observe things and figure out in our mind the meanings and significances of these things, and this is helped by our knowledge, experience, society, culture, and conceptual framework. We reflect on, summarise, and write down our lived experiences and our understandings of the world by using different forms and styles of language, and this is cultural translation too. This process is also mediated by our understanding of language, the world, and our own personalities and positionalities. If translation requires the use of language (defined broadly), at least two sets of context or reference framework, and a busy mind, we are doing the work of cultural translation all the time. And if we understand cultural translation as a fact of life, as a mundane daily experience, then the question of West and non-West may not be that important. This is not to suggest that geographical locations and social contexts do not matter – after all, they are shaped by history and often unequal power relations and cannot be dismissed – it is rather an emphasis on perpetual differences. Non-West and West are but one set of these differences, and they sometimes may not be the most important set. I usually look at contexts or situations – under what specific circumstances certain sets of relations are prioritised, and what effect these configurations may engender.  

When I write, I do not think so much about where theories, or analytical tools, come from. I tend to think about things in terms of contexts or ‘toolboxes’: to understand something, what set of tools do I need from my ‘toolbox’? Whatever tool works is best. Needless to say, there are tools that I have obtained and carried with me from China and the West, as I have been educated both in Chinese and in English. A ‘toolbox’ has its limits; the strengths and limits of my ‘toolbox’ may shape some of my analysis. But if I stop thinking about what the best tool is and ask instead about what tool works the best in a specific context, there are then encounters, connections, and pleasant surprises. For example. although I have primarily resorted to a Foucauldian and Deleuzian toolbox in analysing Xiyadie (the ‘Siberian Butterfly’ in Chapter 8)’s life, I finish the chapter with Zhang Zi (Chuang Tzu)’s story ‘Pao Ding Jie Niu’ (‘The Dexterous Butcher’), a story I learned from high school in China. I could not have anticipated the use of the story beforehand, but it came to my mind naturally when I was writing about Xiyadie’s papercutting skills. I was not deliberately following a postcolonial way of thinking, but the contingent encounters with different tools in the ‘toolbox’ helped bring different lines of thought together. However, in the sense of celebrating cultural hybridity and resisting rigid identity categories, I am exploring a postcolonial way of thinking.

Queer China recommended by the Chinese-language website Media and Culture Review

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Mass Communications, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

(Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism)
作者:Hongwei Bao



Queer China featured on the University of Nottingham website

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Psychology

A new exploration of queer culture and activism in contemporary China

A new analysis of queer culture in contemporary Chinese art and literature and how it is driving political and social activism has been published by the pioneering University of Nottingham media studies scholar Hongwei Bao.

Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism is an accessible new book that examines the latest artistic and cultural production in China – from gay/comrade literature, to lesbian painting and girls’ love fan fiction, gay papercutting art, live theatre, digital films and experimental documentaries.

The book reveals a vibrant picture of queer communities and cultures from their inception in post-Mao China to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997 and the ongoing campaign for legal recognition of same-sex relationships and LGBTQ rights.

Queer China is the result of a decade-long multi-disciplinary research undertaken by Hongwei Bao. It breaks new ground and brings a non-Western perspective to the wide variety of artistic activity currently reflecting LGBTQ life in contemporary China. The book weaves together original historical and archival research, analysis of texts, media and discourse, with extensive interviews and ethnography.

Dr Bao said: “In this book I have set out to de-Westernise queer theory and cultural studies of LGBTQ communities in China and East Asia more widely. I wanted to show how crucial a role the artistic culture of these communities plays in queer politics – the two aspects are to a large extent mutually dependent. I argue that political activism and social movements are not just about agitation, lobbying and mass mobilisation – community-based cultural and artistic production is just as integral to the political and legislative process.

“The literature and visual culture of Chinese LGBTQ communities can have a profound impact on wider popular culture, helping to disrupt rigid beliefs and traditional ways of thinking about all identities and their places in society.”

In a richly illustrated chapter, Dr Bao analyses the artwork of Chinese queer papercutting artist Xiyadie, also known as the ‘Siberian Butterfly’. Using the traditional art form of papercutting to represent homoerotic themes, Xiyadie’s artwork challenges the popular belief that gay identity is a Western phenomenon and has nothing to do with China’s cultural tradition. Depicting rural and migrant workers’ lives, Xiyadie’s work also challenges the hegemony of a global queer culture dominated by urban and middle-class experiences. 

In another fascinating chapter, Dr Bao documents a same-sex wedding photoshoot in central Beijing on a Valentine’s Day, highlighting the role of public performance in increasing LGBTQ visibility in Chinese society. He also points out that such a public performance is strategic and culturally sensitive. Activists must often take into careful consideration China’s cultural tradition and specific social circumstances. Although a pride march is banned in China, LGBTQ activists still come up with ingenious ways to bring queer culture to a space space – through a wedding photoshoot in this case.

Examples like these convincingly demonstrate that art and culture have a positive role to play for LGBTQ people in terms of identity formation, community building and social activism; they also help shape a more pluralist Chinese society. They offer a complex and nuanced picture of China beyond government discourses and newspaper headlines.

Dr Bao’s new book has been well received in academia and by China’s LGBTQ communities. A video interview in Chinese with Dr Bao about the book has had 310,000 viewings on the Chinese social media Weibo.

Chinese queer filmmaker Popo Fan, whose film New China, New Marriage is discussed in the book, commented: ‘Covering a relatively long period of forty years, Dr Bao’s book offers an in-depth analysis of the highly invisible queer culture in contemporary China. I am pleased that my work is documented in the book and will be introduced to a larger international audience.’

Chinese lesbian artist Shi Tou, whose artwork appears on the book cover and is also discussed in the book, said: ‘Queer China is a pathbreaking book about the burgeoning queer culture in the PRC. By working closely with Chinese queer artists and critically engaging with their artworks, this book documents the rich and often neglected history of China’s LGBTQ communities and culture.’ 

Queer China spans multiple academic areas including literary and cultural studies, media and communication, film and screen studies, contemporary art, theatre and performance, gender and sexuality as well as China/Asia studies, cultural history and geography, political theory and the study of social movements.

Hongwei Bao is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK. His first book Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China was published in 2018.

Online talk on Queer Community Media and Health Communication in China

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Asian Studies, Communication Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Health and Social Care, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Other, Psychology

Pagers, Zines and Dating Apps: Queer Community Media and Health Communication in China
Hongwei Bao, in conversation with Zairong Xiang and Gero Bauer
Thursday, 9 July, 14.00–16.00 (Central European Time)

With the public (re-)emergence of LGBTQ identities and communities in post-Mao China, health and wellbeing have become important issues for queer people. This event revisits a few key moments in China’s queer history when media play an important role in health communication and community activism. They include: the use of pagers and telephone hotlines in the 1990s, the nationwide distribution of self-published leaflets and zines in the 2000s, and the almost ubiquitous use of dating apps in queer communities in the 2010s. These social, collective, and participatory forms of media shape identity, community, and politics in specific ways. This brief archaeology of queer community media hopes to highlight the crucial role of media in identity construction, community formation, and subcultural health intervention.

In this online panel, with a talk by Hongwei Bao (Nottingham) at its centre, Zairong Xiang (Duke Kunshan), himself an expert of decolonial feminism and queer theory, and Gero Bauer (Center for Gender and Diversity Research, Tübingen) will engage in a conversation with Dr Bao on queer community media and health in China, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and other issues.

Dr Hongwei Bao is Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he also co-directs the Centre for Contemporary East Asian Cultural Studies. He is the author of Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2018) and Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020). He is currently working on a book on queer community media in China.

Dr Zairong Xiang is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, and Associate Director of Art at Duke Kunshan University. He is the author of Queer Ancient Ways: A Decolonial Exploration (punctum books, 2018), and has co-edited the special issues “The Ontology of the Couple” (2019) at GLQ – A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and “Hyperimage” for New Art 新美術 (2018). He is co-curating the 2020 Guangzhou Image Triennial and is working on two projects, dealing with the concepts of “transdualism” and “counterfeit” in the Global South, especially Latin America and China, respectively.

Dr Gero Bauer teaches English Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Tübingen, and is the managing director of Tübingen’s Center for Gender and Diversity Research. Since the publication of his first monograph, Houses, Secrets and the Closet: Locating Masculinities from the Gothic Novel to Henry James (2016), he has been working on a new project on hope and kinship in contemporary Anglo-American fiction. He has also published journal articles and book chapters on early modern natural philosophy (2014, 2017), gender and literature (2017), queer film and television (2018, 2019), and queer pedagogies (2020).

Online registration: 



Online talk on queer community media and cultural production in contemporary China

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

Queer Community Media and Cultural Production in Contemporary China

In this talk, Hongwei Bao will talk about his new book Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020). The book analyses queer media and cultural production in contemporary China to map the broad social transformations in gender, sexuality, and desire. It examines queer literature and visual cultures in China’s post-Mao and postsocialist era to show how these diverse cultural forms and practices not only function as context-specific and culturally sensitive forms of social activism but also produce distinct types of gender and sexual subjectivities unique to China’s postsocialist conditions. This talk hopes to highlight the crucial role of media and culture in queer identity construction and community formation in China and transnationally.

Dr Hongwei Bao is an associate professor of media and cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK, where he also co-directs the Centre for Contemporary East Asian Cultural Studies. He is the author of Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2018) and Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020).

The talk is featured in the Macau University of Science and Technology campus news: 

當代中國酷兒社區媒體與文化生產 諾丁漢大學包宏偉博士雲端開講

澳門科技大學人文藝術學院於2020年6月23日下午在ZOOM會議平台舉行“學術新銳前沿工作坊·2020在雲端”活動,諾丁漢大學媒介與文化研究副教授包宏偉博士應邀發表題為“Queer Community Mediaand Cultural Production in Contemporary China”的主旨演講。工作坊由人文藝術學院章戈浩助理教授、張曉助理教授聯合主持,吸引了近百位人文藝術學院師生及其他海內外學者的參與。



Hongwei Bao’s talk on Queer China at a Hong Kong University book launch event

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

(online book launch hosted by Hong Kong University, 16 June 2020)

Thank you, Jamie, for your kind introduction. I would like to thank Alvin, Gina, Christine, Georgina and the Department of Comparative Literature, CGED, CSGC, and Gender Studies, HKU, for organizing this great event. It is fascinating to see that during a global pandemic, we can still get together to forge transnational queer solidarity and enact queer practices of care and support in an online environment.

Although people have different understandings of the relationship between China and the Sinophone, the relationship between Queer China and Queer Sinophone should nonetheless be less controversial. Queer people have been marginalised in many Chinese and Sinophone societies. They have worked together transnationally in the past to fight discrimination and injustice. It is their shared political commitments for equality and social justice that bring together queer China and queer Sinophone. This can also form a basis for a transnational and coalitional politics. Today’s book launch event is a great example of such a solidarity.

A physical copy of Queer China arrived at my doorstep a week ago. It was a surreal experience to pick it up. It was hard to believe that after many years of work, the book finally exists in this world. I was also surprised to see how beautiful the book is: the book has a distinct cover, designed by Chinese lesbian artist Shi Tou; it has 31 images in the book. The whole book is printed on glossy paper, which resembles an art book. Most importantly, it has paperback and eBook versions, which are relatively more affordable for most readers.

The book has a companion webpage (otherwise known as an ‘author’s page’) on the Routledge website, with news updates, background information, articles, pictures, and videos. https://www.routledge.com/authors/i19813-hongwei-baoThe website functions as a useful teaching and learning resource centre for teachers and students. Teachers can request free inspection copies of the book on the Routledge website for classroom use. The book is included in Routledge India’s Literary Cultures of the Global South series. I thank my editors at Routledge for their great work. They include Russel, Aakash, Brinda, and many others.

I am also grateful to many people here who have offered me kind help and support over the past ten years. Most importantly, I would like to thank Howard Chiang and Jamie Jing Zhao for reading my manuscript meticulously and offering insightful comments and suggestions. I also have a lot of academic friends and queer friends to thank. The list is too long to read it out here, and I save this for the book’s acknowledgement section. This book is dedicated to queer people in China and the Sinophone sphere, another manifestation of queer transnational solidarity.

Let’s start with this beautiful picture, which I use as book cover. The picture is titled ‘Mandarin Duck and Butterfly Series: Zhang Zhou Dreams of A Butterfly’ 鸳鸯蝴蝶之庄周梦蝶. Those who are familiar with classical Chinese philosophy and modern Chinese literature will recognize the references. The artwork was painted by Chinese lesbian artist and filmmaker Shi Tou in 2000. I thank her for granting me permission to use her artwork in the book and as a book cover. On the left-hand side on the slide, we see Shi Tou and her partner Ming Ming. They often work together to make films and artworks. On the right-hand side, the two women in the picture are modelled on Shi Tou and Ming Ming.

Shi Tou seems fascinated by butterflies, so do many other queer artists such as the papercutting artist called Xiyadie, the Siberian butterfly, featured in this book. It is not coincidental that many queer people are attracted to butterflies. Perhaps the transformative and metamorphosis potential of a butterfly tunes in well with the queer desire to become different, become other.

A key concept of this book is ‘postsocialist metamorphosis’, which I use as a theoretical framework. ‘Postsocialist metamorphosis’ points to changes and transformations, which are constantly changing and never stay static. It signifies processes of becoming rather than states of being. This concept brings together the Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’ and the ancient Chinese philosophy of change, represented by the concept of yi 易 (‘change’) in Yi-Ching 易经 (Book of Change). In Queer China, I have painted a picture of constant change and endless mutation and transformation. Here metamorphosis functions at two levels: at the individual level – the change of human subjectivity, gender, sexuality and identity; becoming gay, lesbian, trans or queer; at a societal level – the transformation of Chinese society from socialism to postsocialism and neoliberalism into some unknown future forms. It is important to note that the transformations of individual subjectivity and identity are often shaped by historical and social changes; and in turn, social changes also effect and enact individual and collective transformation of subjectivity. It is the intersection of the two processes that is the focus of Queer China. 

Queer China is a book on queer cultural production in the contemporary PRC from 1980s to present. It adopts a case studies approach, by studying seven key queer cultural texts or practices including literature, film, art, and performance.  It argues for the importance of culture in identity formation, community building and social activism.  It refutes the idea that literature and art are unimportant for social activism, or that queer activism in China has to follow the Western model of pride parades and coming out. I argue that literature and art are important means to think about identity and politics: while they create representations of gender, sexuality and identity, there is also enough ambiguity and contradiction in their representation and interpretation that refuses a linear, progressive and identitarian mode of thinking. Queer China therefore brings together Chinese and Western philosophies of change and champions a post-identitarian mode of thinking about queer identity and politics.

Apart from an introduction and an epilogue, Queer China is divided into four sections. Each section has two chapters. Together, they trace the emergence, development, mutations, and transformations of queer identities and desires in the PRC from the 1980s onward.

Part I, ‘queer emergence’, traces the emergence of queer identities and desires through discursive constellation and cinematic representation. Chapter 1 delves into medical and legal documents and oral histories to document the re-emergence of homosexuality and gay identity in the post-Mao era. Part 2 analyses Shi Tou’s film Women 50 Minutes 女人五十分钟 to explore how queer women’s desires have emerged in the contested feminist discourses about women in post-Mao China.

Part II, ‘queer becoming’, examines two instances of queer becoming: one is a ‘becoming gay’ story in an online queer fiction Beijing Story 北京故事, later adapted into a film titled Lan Yu 蓝宇; the other is a ‘becoming lesbian’ story in a Supergirl fan fiction called Pink Affairs 绯色事. Not coincidentally, these two stories both portray non-essentialised sexual identities and processes of change, which are intimately connected to China’s historical and social change in the post-Mao and postsocialist era.  

Part III, ‘queer urban space’, studies various manifestations of queer identities and desires in China’s urban spaces. It does so by juxtaposing two forms of urban engagements: a same-sex wedding in central Beijing performed by a group of young, middle-class, and aspiring citizens; and a group of cruising homosexual’s use of urban spaces portrayed in migrant working-class poet Mu Cao’s poems. This part highlights the class disparities of queer lives in China as a result of China’s neoliberal transformation and urbanization.

Part IV, ‘queer migration’, explores queer mutations in a transnational and translocal context, facilitated by migration and mobility. It examines two case studies: a group of international artists and filmmakers who have formed a small drag community in Shanghai and put on a drag show called Extravaganza in 2017. And the translocal and transnational journey of Xiyadie, also known as Siberian Butterfly, a papercutter who transforms from being a farmer to being an international queer artist. As I document these transnational and translocal queer connections, I also query the role of art in making and unmaking identities.

The appendix chronicles some major historical events in China’s queer communities in the past forty years, from 1981 to 2019. It is the most comprehensive chronology published to date and will be useful for historians and queer people who are interested in community histories. After all, as people often say, only by having a history can a community assert its own existence.

That’s all for my presentation. Thanks for listening. I hope you will enjoy reading the book. I am putting up some useful information about the book here for your reference. Routledge has provided a discount code FLR40 for this book, and the code can be used on the Routledge website when you purchase the book to get a 20% discount! https://www.routledge.com/Queer-China-Lesbian-and-Gay-Literature-and-Visual-Culture-under-Postsocialism/Bao/p/book/9780367462840

Questions, comments, and critiques are welcome.

Queer China featured in the summer issue of Refeng Xueshu: A Journal of Cultural Studies

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

Queer China was featured in 'new book' section of the summer issue of the Chinese-langauge cultural studies journal Refeng Xueshu 热风学术 (issue 17): http://www.cul-studies.com/Uploads/image/20200615/20200615204153_40450.pdf



Queer China video interview in Chinese published online

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

A video interview on Queer China has just been uploaded online. Thank Lyn Dawn, Veronica Wang, and other Academic Bird volunteers for making this video possible. 

The interview is in Mandarin, with subtitles in simplied Chinese: 


The interview is also available on the Chinese-langauge social media Weibo and WeChat: 



趁着六月的骄傲,学术啾很高兴能在这个时刻和包宏伟老师一起酷儿。 从石墙运动一路走来,对于性取向、性与性别、性少数群体的讨论日益增多,然而运动发展过程中也涌现出关于身份政治、西方中心主义以及本土主义的反思。 酷儿这个词近年来多被提及,然而什么是酷儿?相对LGBT,酷儿的历史和意义又是什么?在社会主义到后社会主义的变形记中,同志历史和酷儿文化有着怎样的交织?何谓同志?何谓酷儿?哪里有着一个更开放、更流动、更令人觉得自由的想象空间呢? 希望可以带着大家一起走进这片酷儿森林。微博:@学术啾



唐凌是牛津大学东方学系博士候选人。TA以社会学为艺术,尝试包括学术写作、创意写作、音乐和影像等多种媒介的创作。文字作品发表于《Asia Pacific Business Review》、《明报月刊》等期刊。在音乐上,TA以本名写歌创作,也是滑倒乐队的成员。TA是学术脱口秀“学术啾”联合创始人。

Lyn Dawn (Ling Tang) is DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies at University of Oxford. She considers sociology as art and vice versa. Her art media include academic writing, creative writing, sound, photography and film. Her words were published in Asia Pacific Business Review and Mingpao and music were released under the names of 唐凌 Dawn (solo) and Slip (band). She was the co-founder of the Internet academic talk show Academic Bird.    


Jingyi Wang (Veronica) is a PhD candidate of cultural studies at the University of Cambridge, co-found of the knowledge talk show ‘academic bird’ on Chinese Internet, also a poet in her own time. She was the president of the British Postgraduate Network of Chinese Studies for 2018-19, and her master thesis was awarded ‘Fei Xiaotong Prize’ 2017/18. During her undergraduate and graduate time at the London School of Economics, she participated in the Chinese version of ‘Vagina Monologue’ as an actress and producer and London and Oxford, also was the Vice-President of CSSA LSE for 2016-17. She is dedicated to the exchange of academia and society both as a researcher and a social entrepreneur. 

《学术啾》志愿者鸣谢名单:R Ji,Chloe Ta,饺子,sumyee桃,披着花皮的野菜,Tany. 

20% off Queer China from the Routledge website using the code FLR40 in Pride Month (June) 2020

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

To celebrate the Pride Month (June 2020), 20% off Queer China from the Routledge website using the discount code FLR40



Queering China: A Cha Literary Journal online book event

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

ZOOM: https://bit.ly/2MwLnmr
(Meeting ID: 942 3163 7789)
Date & Time: https://bit.ly/3h3PBQP

"Queering China", featuring Hongwei Bao, Alvin Wong and Jamie J. Zhao, will take place on Thursday 16 July 2020. The three speakers will talk about their research and read from texts that are relevant to the topic. There will be a Q&A session as well. This discussion will take place via Zoom and people from all over the world are welcome to listen in. [Find out what time it will be where you are: https://bit.ly/3h3PBQP.] Moderated by Cha's co-editor Tammy Lai-Ming Ho.

Date: Thursday 16 July 2020
Time: 7:30 - 9:00 p.m. (HK) [https://bit.ly/3h3PBQP]
Platform: Zoom https://bit.ly/2MwLnmr
(Meeting ID: 942 3163 7789)
Languages: English
Speakers: Hongwei Bao, Alvin Wong and Jamie J. Zhao
Moderator: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

{{{ If you would like to participate in a Cha reading, or if there are topics you would like to suggest, please write to us ([email protected])! Here is the list: https://bit.ly/3dkIFgf }}}


◓ HONGWEI BAO (speaker)
Hongwei Bao is an Associate Professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham, UK. He holds a PhD in gender and cultural studies from the University of Sydney, Australia. He has written extensively about queer literature, film, art, and activism in contemporary China. He is the author of Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China (NIAS Press, 2018) and Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism (Routledge, 2020). Queer China has been recently published by Routledge and a sample chapter is available free access on the publisher’s e-book website: https://bit.ly/2WJgkKh

◓ ALVIN WONG (speaker)
Alvin K. Wong is Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. His research covers Hong Kong culture, Chinese cultural studies, Sinophone studies, queer theory, and transnational feminism. Alvin is writing a book titled Queer Hong Kong as Method. He has published in journals such as Journal of Lesbian Studies, Gender, Place & Culture, Culture, Theory, and Critique, Concentric, Cultural Dynamics, and Interventions and in edited volumes such as Transgender China (Palgrave, 2012) and Queer Sinophone Cultures (Routledge, 2014). Alvin also coedited the volume, Keywords in Queer Sinophone Studies (Routledge, 2020).

◓ JAMIE J. ZHAO (speaker)
Jamie J. Zhao is a global queer media scholar and currently Assistant Professor of Communications at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies from CUHK and completed another PhD in Film and TV Studies at Warwick. Her work explores East Asian media and public discourses on gender and sexuality in a digital, globalist age. Her academic writings can be found in a number of journals, such as Feminist Media Studies, Celebrity Studies, Critical Asian Studies, and MCLC. She also coedited Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols: Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (HKUP, 2017).

◒ TAMMY LAI-MING HO (moderator)
Tammy Lai-Ming Ho is the founding co-editor of the first Hong Kong-based international Asia-focused journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journals Victorian Network and Hong Kong Studies, and the first English-language Editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine (聲韻詩刊). She is an Associate Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she teaches poetics, fiction, and modern drama. She is also the President of PEN Hong Kong, a Junior Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, an advisor to the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, and an Associate Director of One City One Book Hong Kong. Tammy’s first collection of poetry is Hula Hooping (Chameleon 2015), for which she won the Young Artist Award in Literary Arts from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Her first short story collection Her Name Upon The Strand (Delere Press), her second poetry collection Too Too Too Too (Math Paper Press) and chapbook An Extraterrestrial in Hong Kong (Musical Stone) were published in 2018. Her first academic book is Neo-Victorian Cannibalism (Palgrave, 2019). Tammy edited or co-edited seven literary volumes having a strong focus on Hong Kong, the most recent one being Twin Cities: An Anthology of Twin Cinema from Singapore and Hong Kong (Landmark Books, 2017). She guest-edited a Hong Kong Feature for World Literature Today (Spring 2019) and the Hong Kong special issue of Svenska PEN's PEN/Opp (formerly "The Dissident Blog"). Tammy is also a translator and her literary translations can be found in World Literature Today, Chinese Literature Today, Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, among other places, and International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong (香港國際詩歌之夜) volumes (2015, 2017 and 2019), published by the Chinese University Press. Her own poems have been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latvian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. She is currently editing a Hong Kong chapbook for Cordite Poetry Review and co-editing several volumes of essays on topics pertaining to Hong Kong, online creative writing, and translation. She is also co-editing a bilingual anthology of Hong Kong poetry with Chris Song.

Queer China online book launch

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

Queering China and the Sinophone:
A Joint Book Launch of Keywords in Queer Sinophone Studies and Queer China

Date: June 16 2020 (Tuesday)
Time: Hong Kong (GMT+8) 13:00 – 15:00
Duration: 2 hours (1 hour for each book, including Q&A and discussion)
Venue: Zoom
Please register at https://forms.gle/tGXV1HPrgYCZ3XfH7 for Zoom link and access to speaker biographies

Event blurb
Queer cultures in China and the Sinophone world have undergone rapid development in recent decades. What are they like? How do they relate to each other? How do they help us understand sexuality, identity, globalization, nationalism, racism, and COVID-19?
This joint book launch event will launch two books recently published by Routledge:
1. Keywords in Queer Sinophone Studies, coedited by Howard Chiang and Alvin K. Wong
2.  Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture under Postsocialism, authored by Hongwei Bao

Some contributing authors will introduce their articles in the former book; Dr. Jamie J. Zhao will chair the event and discuss the latter book. Together, these authors will chart the fascinating terrain of queer Chinese and Sinophone studies; they will also ask urgent questions about the place of queer cultures and queer theory in the global pandemic.

Queer China introduced to a Chinese-language readership

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Applied Arts & Music, Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Film and Video, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, History, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

Queer China has recently been featured on the Chinese-language Media and Communication Studies Network (传媒学术网) and introduced to a Chinese-language readership. 

Book information in Chinese: 

《酷儿中国:后社会主义语境下的同性恋文学与视觉文化》(劳特里奇出版社,2020年6月出版,ISBN 9780367462840,精装、平装、电子书, 214页,31张图片)






前言: 酷儿中国与后社会主义变形记

第一部分: 浮出历史地表


第二章: 《女人50分钟》:追寻女性的酷儿情欲空间











附录: 改革开放时期中国性少数社区历史大事记(1981-2019)



包宏伟博士毕业于澳大利亚悉尼大学社会性别与文化研究系,现任英国诺丁汉大学媒体与文化研究专业副教授。除本书之外,他还著有《酷儿同志》(Queer Comrades 北欧亚洲研究中心出版社,2018年) 一书。

For more information: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/EpKB1kjjhZ_rqA4ik64Q4Q


Notches interview on Queer China

By: Hongwei Bao
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Asian Studies, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Gender & Sexuality, History, Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications, Psychology

The following is an exerpt of the Notches interview. Please follow the Notches weblink for a complete version of the interview. 

Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture examines lesbian and gay cultural production — including literature, art, film and performance — in the People’s Republic of China (PRC or mainland China) during the post-Mao and postsocialist era (1976 to present) to map out the role of identity, community and culture in contemporary political activism and social movements.

NOTCHES: In a few sentences, what is this book about? Why will people want to read your book?

Bao: This book offers a critical analysis of key cultural texts ranging from gay novels and poetry to girls’ love fan fiction, from lesbian paintings and photography to gay papercutting art, from a feminist film to a transgender documentary, and from a drag performance in Shanghai to a same-sex wedding in Beijing. It reveals a vibrant picture of queer communities and cultures since their inception in post-Mao China. It also makes a strong case for the crucial role of culture in constructing LGBTQ identities and communities, and in enabling queer political and social activism.

This transdisciplinary book speaks to a wide range of academic fields, including the study of literature, art, film, media, performance and social activism. It is of interest to scholars in gender and sexuality studies, media and cultural studies, as well as China, Asia and Global South studies. Employing multiple theoretical perspectives and research methods, this book presents rich empirical and historical data; it also offers a nuanced analysis of the complex relationship between neoliberalism, queer sexualities and cultural production. This timely intervention aims to de-Westernise queer theory and cultural studies, and to queer China, Asia and Global South studies.

NOTCHES: What drew you to the topic, and what are the questions you still have?

Bao: This book can be seen as sequel to my first book Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China, though both books can be read independently without having to cross-reference each other. In Queer Comrades, I traced the emergence and development of a politicised queer identity in the PRC called tongzhi (literally comrade, meaning gay or queer), along with its concomitant political and social activism. After Queer Comrades, I found it difficult to continue this line of enquiry because of the limitations of the term ‘political activism’. I needed to rethink what is ‘political’ and what constitutes ’activism’. Obviously, the Western sense of queer political activism does not map neatly onto China. LGBTQ prides do happen in the PRC, but they are irregular occurrences; many ordinary queer people tend to stay away from these spectacular and slightly confrontational type of identity display. Many activists in China have adopted a more pragmatic approach for identity and community building; that is, they engage in cultural activities such as film, literature, art and theatre — ‘cultural activism’ in other words. I find this approach fascinating, because these cultural activities often perform what ‘activism’ is supposed to do: they bring people together; they forge a sense of togetherness; and they articulate feelings of hope and optimism. At the same time, they are much safer, more interesting, flexible, creative, affective and effective. In other words, cultural production can function as a form of queer activism, and this strategy is context specific and culturally sensitive, and therefore works better in the PRC context. Also importantly, many of these creative and cultural activities are not obsessed with fixed notions of gender and sexual identities; there are often enough ambiguities, contradictions, openness and flexibility in the identities they represent and construct. This manifests a post-identitarian mode of politics. That is to say, sexual identities are not singular and static; they are often multiple, fluid and transient; they should be seen not as being but as becoming, not an end but as a starting point. So, after Queer Comrades, I started to look at different creative and cultural forms including novels, poetry, fan fiction, film, performance, painting, photography and papercutting in relation to queer subject formation. Queer China was the result.

One of my goals for this book is to practice identity critiques without subscribing to identity politics. I hope that Queer China delivers on this goal. Having said this, I acknowledge that identities should not be rejected all together; they are often useful as tools to build communities and politics. People involved in social movements are constantly aware of the uses and abuses of identities. Here comes my remaining question: how can identities be used productively to mobilise politics and build social movements? To answer this question, we would need to look at collective and activist forms of media and cultural productions. Queer community media — that is, the films, videos and websites produced by, for and about queer people — are good examples, and they will be the focus of my next book.

NOTCHES: This book is clearly about sex and sexuality, but what are other themes it speaks to?

Bao: This book makes a case for the crucial role of culture in queer politics, and in other anti-hegemonic politics and social movements as well. Political activism and social movements should not merely be about political agitation and mass mobilisation, or merely concerned with how to deal with the state and the market. Cultural production is an integral part of the political process. Literature and visual culture make a movement interesting, affective and approachable; they also help disrupt rigid lines of thinking about identities, which often underpin some fundamental premises and inform key strategies of a movement.

As already mentioned, theoretically, I use a post-identitarian approach to bring together a wide range of materials. Literature and visual art are seldom entirely about identities; nor do they explicitly advocate identity politics. They may depict identities, but the meanings of these representations are always multiple, ambiguous, ambivalent — in other words, they are beyond identities. This inspires me to pursue a line of enquiry that focuses on the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of identities in a specific historical conjuncture. In analysing literary and art works, I have paid meticulous attention to how identities are represented and constructed, as well as how they can be potentially challenged, subverted and perhaps dismantled. This approach is productive, because it helps me rethink the globalisation of sexual identities — the debate of whether there is a Westernised ‘global gay’ identity in China, Asia and the Global South; it also enables me to critique reified identities under neoliberalism, and to highlight the significance of China’s socialist history and postsocialist experience for an anti-hegemonic transnational politics. A key concept of this book is ‘postsocialist metamorphosis’; I use the term to describe the transformations of gender, sexuality and identity in a neoliberal and postsocialist context, which are bound to be incomplete, uncontrollable and unpredictable. By depicting these processes, the book offers a critique of gay identity politics and neoliberal subjectivation; it also offers hopes, optimism and ‘lines of flight’ under the global neoliberal hegemony.

NOTCHES: How did you become interested in the history of sexuality?

Bao: It has taken me a long time to realise that I have been documenting China’s queer histories, and that I am essentially doing a historian’s job. On the one hand, I was not trained as a historian. Media and cultural studies where I situate myself are usually associated with the study of contemporary society and culture. On the other, the queer history I am working on, from the 1980s to present, seems too recent for many people to consider ‘history’. And yet they are definitely histories: sexualities and identities are historically specific and socially constructed; queer history can therefore tell us a lot about national and transnational histories as well as the power relations that construct them. Also, histories are important for marginalised people and communities. If global or national histories often erase or marginalise queer people’s existence, it is all the more important for us to trace it, write it down and to remember it. After the publication of Queer Comrades, many queer people said thanks to me, and I did not understand why. As it turned out, they saw my book as a record of China’s queer history. However incomplete this historical account is, writing them down is the first step and is a crucial thing for communities that have traditionally been denied their histories. With this realisation, I have come to appreciate the value of my own research, and the historical and social roles I have been thrown into. This can sometimes become a burden for an individual, but at the moment I am doing what I can to document China’s queer histories in the past four decades, from my own perspective. This is how I have become a self-identified community historian.

Here I would also like to highlight that this book is an important documentation of China’s queer history in the post-Mao era. The appendix of this book features a chronology of key events in PRC’s queer history in ten pages, covering a period of almost thirty years from 1981 to 2019. I have compiled this chronology by myself, in reference to numerous historical sources and critical scholarship. This chronology is far from being complete, and there may be occasional inaccuracies because I was not able to locate every primary source, but it is the most comprehensive Chinese queer chronology published to date. I hope that this chronology will be of use to community members and queer researchers alike.

Chapter 1 of this book is also worth mentioning from a queer historian’s perspective. This chapter traces the re-emergence of homosexuality in the post-Mao era. It makes an important argument about the ‘repressive hypothesis’ in the post-Mao era; that is, a way of talking about sexual repression in the Mao era and sexual liberation in the post-Mao era. Recent oral histories conducted by Wenqing Kang and Travis Kong support my argument in refuting the simplistic thesis that homosexuality was repressed or non-existent in the Mao era. It is then important to reflect on the power relations embedded in the ‘repressive hypothesis’. Chapter 1 also encourages us to consider the ambivalent role that Chinese intellectuals have played in the post-Mao era when they speak about a repressed homosexuality and thereby bring it under a scientific gaze. Indeed, the ‘incitement to discourse’ in relation to homosexuality in the post-Mao era marks a collective denial and erasure of China’s socialist past, as well as the socialist and egalitarian principles underpinning it. This insight has profound implications for the prevalence of queer liberalism and even neoliberalism in our contemporary historical moment. The re-emergence of homosexuality in the post-Mao era is therefore an ideologically complex discursive and social practice for a country, and even for a world, that has gradually departed from socialism and embraced neoliberal ideologies and modes of governance. I hope this insight — with an emphasis on class politics and the ideological ambivalences of gay identity — is useful for the study of Chinese and transnational queer histories.

NOTCHES: How do you see your book being most efficiently used in the classroom? What would you assign it with?

Bao: Each chapter of this book deals with a different topic, a separate case study, informed by a set of theoretical perspectives. They can therefore be used independently in classroom teaching, depending on the topic and the need of the course. If readers are interested in learning more about gay identity and queer activism in the PRC, my other book Queer Comrades could be useful. Interviews about Queer Comrades can be found on the NotchesNew Books Network and CeMEAS websites. I also coedited, with Elisabeth Engebretsen and William Schroeder, a book titled Queer/Tongzhi China, which examines queer activism, research and media cultures in the PRC and features articles from a transnational group of queer researchers and activists, and I highly recommend that book.

This book is about queer cultural production. It is therefore a good idea to use the book in conjunction with the queer cultural texts that it covers. While it is true that some texts are only available in Chinese (e.g. the girls’ love fan fiction Pink Affairs), many texts have been translated into English, including Beijing Story (also known as Beijing Comrades, translated by Scott Myers) and some of Mu Cao’s poems. You can also find Mu Cao’s novel In the Face of Death We Are Equal translated by Scott Myers and recently published in English. Many of the artworks by Shi Tou and Xiyadie are available online; a simple google search will yield many exciting discoveries. Fan Popo and David Zheng’s documentary New Beijing, New Marriage is also available for online streaming, with English subtitles. You can find a trailer of Matthew Baren’s film Extravaganza online too.

If you read Chinese, I encourage that you read Pink Affairs on a Chinese website. Ling Yang and I have also co-written an article discussing the affective sociality of the Super Girl fandom; that article can be read in tandem with Chapter 4 of this book, the latter of which has a stronger focus on reading the fan fiction text. For readers interested in learning more about fan cultures and other forms of queer popular culture in China, I recommend that they read two recently published books: Boys’ Love, Cosplay and Androgynous Idols (edited by Maud Lavin, Ling Yang and Jamie Jing Zhao) and Love Stories in China (edited by Waning Sun and Ling Yang). For readers interested in learning about queer cultures in the Sinophone sphere, I recommend Queer Sinophone Cultures (edited by Howard Chiang and Ari Larissa Heinrich) and Queer Chinese Cultures and Mobilities (by John Wei). I also look forward to reading Howard Chiang’s forthcoming book Transtopia in the Sinophone Pacific and his co-edited book, with Alvin Wong, Keywords in Queer Sinophone Cultures.

NOTCHES: Why does this history matter today?

Bao: This book has documented an important queer community history. Queer identities and communities emerged in the PRC context in the 1980s and 90s. In a country where homosexuality has only recently been decriminalised and depathologised, and all kinds of political activism are still forbidden under a repressive regime, it is crucial to understand the pivotal role of culture in queer identity and community formation, and for political activism and social movements.

This book also makes a strong critique to neoliberal capitalism, together with a neoliberal mode of sexual identity and politics focused on individualism, private property and consumption. This book sheds important light on how neoliberalism shapes identities and desires, demarcating them along licit and illicit, reputable and irreputable lines. Class is an important keyword as this book discusses rural, working-class, and migrant sexualities. This book thus critiques an urban, middle-class, homonormative and even homonationalist form of queer culture with perfect identifications. It also points to the gaps, irregularities and lines of flight in neoliberal subjectivation. Indeed, subjectivation is never complete, in the same way that identities are never fixed and coherent. It is the incompleteness of subjectivation and the gaps and fissures in neoliberalism that should give us hope and optimism.



Interview with Popo Fan, Popo Fan’s Fictional Filmmaking

Published: Nov 20, 2020

Interview with Popo Fan, Part 2. Popo Fan’s Documentary Filmmaking

Published: Nov 20, 2020

Interview with Popo Fan, Part 1. Queer Films and Film Festivals in China

Published: Nov 20, 2020

Queer China book talk (51 min. version)

Published: Nov 08, 2020

Queer China book talk at Hamburg University, 8 November 2020

Queer China, a book talk by the author

Published: Nov 01, 2020

Queer Community Media and Health Communication in China

Published: Aug 01, 2020

Pagers, Zines and Dating Apps - Queer Community Media and Health Communication in China Hongwei Bao, in conversation with Zairong Xiang and Gero Bauer, Thursday 9 July 2020 More information: https://uni-tuebingen.de/fakultaeten/philosophische-fakultaet/forschung/zentren-und-interdisziplinaere-einrichtungen/interdisciplinary-centre-for-global-south-studies/academic-events/international-forum-2020/queer-china/

Hongwei Bao on Queer China, a book launch talk

Published: Aug 01, 2020

This video clip is from the 'Queering China and the Sinophone' book launch event hosted by the Department of Comparative Literature, CGED, CSGC, and Gender Studies at the University of Hong Kong on 16 June 2020. More information about the event: https://genderstudies.hku.hk/events/queering-china-and-the-sinophone-a-joint-book-launch-of-keywords-in-queer-sinophone-studies-and-queer-china/

Queer China video interview by Academic Bird (in Mandarin w/ Chinese subtitles)

Published: Jun 14, 2020


Hongwei Bao interviewed by CeMEAS about queer activism in China

Published: Jun 12, 2020

The video series “Voices of Struggle: LGBTQ and Feminist Activism in China and Beyond” was filmed on the sidelines of a symposium of the same name held at the University of Göttingen on 17 April 2018. https://www.cemeas.de/

Lan Yu (a film directed by Stanley Kwan, 2001)

Published: Jun 12, 2020

Lan Yu (a film directed by Stanley Kwan, 2001), based on the online fiction Beijing Story (discussed in Chapter 3 of Queer China).

Cui Zi'en's 2008 documentary Queer China, Comrade China

Published: Apr 14, 2020

Cui Zi'en's 2008 documentary Queer China, Comrade China

A Documentary on Xiyadie: The Siberian Butterfly

Published: Apr 14, 2020

A documentary on Xiyadie: The Siberian Butterfly (Queer Comrades and Sexy Beijing, 2012) (discussed in Chapter 8 of Queer China) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTsXO1fQ2CQ

Matthew Baren's 2019 film Extravaganza

Published: Apr 14, 2020

Matthew Baren's 2019 film Extravaganza (discussed in Chapter 7) July, 2017, Shanghai. Drag queen Miss Jade has brought together 12 of the city's drag performers for a one night show. They are the fiercest kings and queens in town. Extravaganza takes you behind the scenes of one of China's most dynamic drag scenes. Feel the shade, live the fantasy.

Fan Popo and David Zheng's 2009 documentary 'New Beijing, New Marriage' trailer

Published: Apr 14, 2020

Fan Popo and David Zheng's 2009 documentary 'New Beijing, New Marriage' trailer (The film is discussed in Chapter 5 of Queer China) New Beijing, New Marriage (新前门大街) Director: 范坡坡Fan Popo 郑凯贵David Zheng | Producer: 郑凯贵David Zheng Genre: Documentary | Produced In: 2009 | Story Teller's Country: China