Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 3, January 2000

Cultural Representations, Translations, Appropriations:
Spaces, Media and Performance: Introduction

  1. The main theme of this third issue of Intersections revolves around the effect of modernity/post-modernity on the perception and negotiation of gendered and sexual identities, and of (post)-colonial cross-cultural translations and appropriations of gender narratives within public spaces, media spaces and performance. In turn, this brings into question the multi-faceted forms of deconstruction and reconstruction of the 'grand narrative' of gender taking place in the context of socio-political and historic transformations and/or cross cultural encounters. Hence the emphasis placed in a number of papers presented here on the importance, as Siumi Maria Tam puts it, of historicising and contextualising 'the processes of gender negotiations in order to understand their complexity.'[1] That these processes in fact do not break down Western or local dominant narratives of gender in spite of 'a panoply of disparate voices, practices and form,'[2] to borrow Todd Holden's words, is amply demonstrated by the contributors to this issue. What the analysis of these processes show, however, are the contradictions and ambiguities inherent to these processes.
  2. It is in the two first papers presented here that contradictions are perhaps the most strongly highlighted. Taking an ethnographic approach in the context of Hong-Kong on the eve of the hand over to China, Siumi Maria Tam tackles the little explored subject of the cultural identity of women in the medical profession. In her paper, 'Practising Gender and Practising Medicine: Tradition and Modernity in Post-Colonial Hong Kong', she demonstrates the way in which women doctors constantly negotiate their lives and their gendered identity between ideology and praxis, between the roles of traditional Confucian woman and modern doctor - in a political and social space which marginalises them. In the end, she contends, the way 'tradition and modernity [are] jointly manipulated in the construction of individual identities'[3] allows women doctors to negotiate their lives in a modern profession, but also serves to remodel patriarchal gender relationships in Hong Kong.
  3. Laura Lochore's 'Virtual Rape: Vivian's Story' also illustrates how a particular space, this time the internet, can be both a site of empowerment and disempowerment for women. Following Spivak and Appadurai, Laura points out the contradictions of a medium which both gives the subaltern a voice, albeit as she explains, in a circumscribed, marginal way and 'also makes possible the appropriation of [this] voice ... for neo-(post)colonial ends.'[4] To this effect, she meticulously traces how the story of young Indonesian-Chinese woman's rape during the 1998 riots in Indonesia, first posted on the net in Bahasa Indonesia and written in the first person, was subsequently appropriated and reconstructed without acknowledgement - in other words raped - to suit the audience of two western newspapers. She deconstructs the power relationships visible in the process of translation resulting in a third person, degenderised, text which effectively perpetuate patriarchal and orientalist assumptions.
  4. Working on popular culture in Japan, both Todd Holden and Mark McLelland tackle what might be seen to some extent as two sides of the same coin. In line with the papers presented in the last issue of Intersections, they also demonstrate that constructions of sexuality specific to the West do not necessarily hold sway elsewhere. Weaving text and a considerable number of still ads in an extremely effective manner which validates once more the research value of online presentation - and showcases Carolyn Brewer's talents as HTML editor - Todd Holden examines gender as a major secondary discourse of advertising. In his paper, '"I'm Your Venus"/"You're a Rake": Gender and the Grand Narrative in Japanese Television Advertising,' Todd uses Goffman's deconstruction of gender-specific behavioural styles in the United States in the 70s as a framework, and shows that in Japan (at least insofar as adverts consistently depict heterosexuality as the norm, men as central, strong and dominant, women as objectified nurturers and home makers), this narrative is still alive and well. However, he also argues that the discrepancies that can be found in this narrative, both in terms of women's images and in terms of representations of homosexuality and/or androgyny, are not a result of post-modern, globalising transformations, but, rather, of long standing internal cultural and historical processes and contradictions.
  5. In turn, Mark McLelland', in his 'Male Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Modern Japan' takes a stand against Dennis Altman's theory of 'global queering' and the imposition of a US and European queer and lesbian view of homosexuality. Looking at a number of Japanese media, especially those manga (comics) written for and often by women, as well as film and television, he unpacks the numerous, culturally anchored, meanings and symbolisms attributed to same sex love. He shows the way it is often associated with transgenderism and cross-dressing. In this context he analyses the the way, in women-focussed media, that male sexual relationships are constructed as being 'pure' and equal and he points to stories that depict women who enter into relationships with gay men, in refusal of the unequal heterosexual relationships so well symbolised in advertising. McLelland argues that these confused and unrealistic representations in fact '[work] against the development of a personal identity based upon sexual-object choice for those gay men who express 'normal' gender identities,'[5] especially as they often do not want to go against the grain of mainstream values of which they often still partake.
  6. Three papers turn our attention to inter-cultural theatre production and performance and to film direction. First, Helena Grehan and Jenny de Reuck together present two companion pieces centred around the issues of interculturalism and gender in the Japan Foundation Asia Centre's production of Shakespeare's King Lear presented in exclusivity at the Festival of Perth, Western Australia, in 1999. Conceived and produced by Yuki Hata, this project, LEAR was a collaborative work between the Japanese playwright Rio Kishida and the Singaporean director Ong Ken Sen. As such it brought together performers and performing traditions from six countries in Asia. In her theoretical paper, 'Performed Promiscuities: Interpreting Interculturalism in The Japan Foundation Asia Centre's LEAR, Helena Grehan especially raises the issues of interculturalism and spectatorship in a way that goes beyond the play itself. She discusses Stone Peters' challenge of existing intercultural theory and juxtaposes Clifford's idea that tradition and authenticity are fluid, dynamic and multiple, and carry different meanings for different groups, with Ong Ken Sen's claim that 'no one culture should be able to understand [LEAR's production] in its entirety.[6] This in turn leads to issues of reception and spectatorship through a reflexion about Helena's own role as a non-Asian critical spectator/witness in Australia.
  7. One of the aims of this intercultural reworking of Shakespeare's universal text, Jenny de Reuck explains in her paper, '"The mirror shattered into tiny pieces": Reading Gender and Culture in The Japan Foundation Asia Centre's LEAR', was to rework the themes of patriarchy, tradition and gender already present in the original King Lear in order to investigate and challenge the patriarchal constraints shaping identities in the Asian region. In this context, Jenny's specific objective, is to explore the impact on a western audience of the reconceptualisation of gender in LEAR. Bringing to the fore some of the ambiguities inherent in the project, she argues that despite its inter-cultural diversity and challenge of authority, at least as far as gender is concerned, the play does not achieve the emancipatory possibilities intended by its creators.
  8. Yiman Yang's paper, 'Chinese Box, Camera Box,' is an analysis of yet an other intercultural work, this time the film Chinese Box[7] directed by Chinese-American director Wayne Wang. Like Siumi Maria Tam's work, this work is located in Hong Kong at the historical moment of its hand over to China. The film itself draws a constant parallel between the death of Hong Kong as a British colony seen through the eyes and the camera lenses of John, an English journalist, and the anticipated death of the journalist himself. Using Brett Nichols' concept of epistophilic voyeurism, and Christian Metz' concept of scopophilia, Yiman analyses the different gazes John respectively projects on the two women protagonists presented as two faces of Hong-Kong in transformation. This allows her to raise the issue of the relation between images-making and fantasising, as well as that of the relationship between master and slave, journalist and subject, colonised and coloniser, English man and Chinese woman - a relationship, she argues, in which the female protagonists, like Hong Kong itself along its history, are constantly betrayed.
  9. Before turning to the book section, we are also very pleased to be able to present Alphonso Lingis's reply to Peter Jackson's paper 'Spurning Alphonso Lingis' Thai 'Lust': The Perils of a Philosopher at Large' which was published in the second issue of Intersections.
  10. In the book review section we welcome back Peter Jackson with an analysis of Scott Bravman's Queer Fictions of the Past - History, Culture and Difference. Also, Todd Holden reviews The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture:Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Cultures, edited by D.P. Martinez, while Stephen Frost looks at Mandy Thomas' Dreams in the Shadows: Vietnamese-Australian Lives in Transition, and Cynthia Hunter at Maternities and Modernities: Colonial and Postcolonial Experiences in Asia and the Pacific, edited by Kalpana Ram and Margaret Jolly. We wish to thank Frank Conlon of H-Asia fame for allowing us to reproduce his review of Enrica Garzilli's book, Journal of South Asian Women Studies 1995-1997. Finally, Leonie Stickland continues the review of Orie Endo's work, that she, along with Anne McLaren and Iwane Shibuya, began in the preceding issue of Intersections: see Chinese Women's Script and Focus on Orie Endo.
  11. Finally, Carolyn Brewer and I would like to thank all those who have helped and participated in putting Intersections together. In particular, the production of this issue was once more facilitated by a grant from Murdoch University's Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education. We also wish to acknowledge Murdoch University School of Asian Study for its continuing material and moral support. To the referees whose invaluable work is carried out behind the scenes goes a particular vote of thanks and appreciation. Our very personal thanks also go to Ian Henderson, art designer and online promotion officer extraordinaire, to Steve Dobbs who can turn any beast into a state of the art computer, to Jenny and Vicki in the computer department of the SSHE division, and to Sandra Wilson for her unstinting support and help.

    Anne-Marie Medcalf
    31 January, 2000.


    [1] Siumi Maria Tam, 'Practising Gender and Practising Medicine: Tradition and Modernity in Post-Colonial Hong Kong,' in this issue of Intersections, Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, paragraph 1.

    [2] Todd Holden, '"I'm your Venus, You're a Rake": Gender and the Grand Narrative in Japanese Television Advertising,' in this issue of Intersections, paragraph 2.

    [3] Siumi Maria Tam, 'Practising Gender and Practising Medicine: Tradition and Modernity in Post-Colonial Hong Kong,' in this issue of Intersections, paragraph 38.

    [4] Laura Lochore, 'Virtual Rape, Vivian's Story,' this issue of Intersections, paragraph 13.

    [5] Mark McLelland', in his 'Male Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Modern Japan,' in this issue of Intersections, paragraph 13.

    [6] Helena Grehan, 'Performed Promiscuities: Interpreting Interculturalism in The Japan Foundation Asia Centre's LEAR,' in this issue of Intersections, paragraph 9.

    [7] The film Chinese Box was also reviewed by Stephanie Donald in the film review section of the second issue of Intersections, (September 1999)


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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