Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 33, December 2013

Pink Writing:
P.R.C.-Based Publishing in English on Queer and Post-Queer Issues

Maud Lavin

  1. At this historical moment, English is the coin of the realm for academic publishing in China, as in the rest of Asia, for writers who aim to reach a large international audience.[1] This is mixed news. The good news is of course that its use does allow access for Asian-based writers, particularly if the text is circulated digitally, to a variety of transnational readers. It is also, though, in non-English-as-first-language countries, an elitist language, and the Internet is still an elitist interface and set of technological infrastructures; elite here defined broadly according to educational and technological access. Still, the discursive and circulatory possibilities are useful, particularly in terms of networked gender and sexuality discourses.
  2. Limits and potentials both need to be considered. In addition to the elitist boundaries, the use of English can elicit wariness concerning the colonialist and postcolonialist, neoliberal connotations of the language. (And there is literature both presenting and questioning the use of English as cultural imperialism theory such as Claus Gnutzman's edited anthology English in Academia-Catalyst or Barrier?.)[2] But the largest piece of bad news is that it is simply unfair in terms of academic labour and time; the global scholarly lingua franca English may be, but fluency and ease of writing in terms of nuanced, complex argumentation is labour-intensive to come by. For these reasons, for some scholars what is convenient is to collaborate on writing journal articles with an English-first-language writer, and these collaborations can also open doors for creatively mixing discourses and linking terminology and methodologies rooted in different regions.
  3. Another alternative for English fluency is of course to obtain part of one's education in English, and that is often expensive for families and therefore class defined; for some gender restricted as well. Here, although class issues matter of course, I think easy, often western-based assumptions should be avoided that class markers alone determine whether or not a student may be sent to an English-first-language environment for post-secondary education—in fact I think there is some bigotry in the assumption that this is simply a decision based on money since it ignores real sacrifices some families make, and related to those sacrifices complex decisions about which children in the family—based on gender, birth order, etc., will be educated like this. Noteworthy is that even in this education, through what is usually geographic dislocation, and in other kinds of English acquisition, English is not necessarily seen as belonging exclusively to the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and other Anglophone nations, but instead it has world ownership and usage.[3]
  4. For faculty in People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) universities, there are a mix of incentives and disincentives to publish in English, and a useful overview is offered by the work of John Flowerdew (University of Leeds) and Yongyan Li (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) in their 2009 article 'English or Chinese? The trade-off between local and international publication among Chinese academics in the humanities and social sciences.'[4] Most mainland-China-based academics they interviewed in the humanities and social sciences did not publish in English, but, among those who did or were intending to, one compelling, understandable, and to a western reader somewhat ironic reason can be summed up by saying English is too important and influential a language to be left to westerners. In other words, one danger that was articulated by some scholars Flowerdew and Li interviewed was that Chinese academic writers needed to write in English so that academic globalisation, specifically discourses, disciplines, and transdisciplinary issues expressed in English, would not be left solely in the hands of westerners, so that, in short, Chinese contributions can spread. At many top-tiered universities in Hong Kong and on the mainland, English publications are all but required for tenure, as international influence is desired.
  5. Here in this essay I want to focus specifically on what publishing in English allows at this historical moment for P.R.C.-based writers publishing on cultural issues that ambitiously explore genders and sexualities. This issue is structural, it is large, it is underdiscussed.
  6. Leading into these considerations of differences is also a sensitivity to general differences in practice which should be noted. For instance, in general terms, as Meaghan Morris has articulated, within cultural studies and talking about three-language colleagues (operating in Cantonese, Mandarin and English) in Hong Kong, Morris writes 'only [on] the "Chinese" side of the English/Chinese disciplinary divide one is fully obliged to grapple with the difference—one that Western cultural studies arguments in English fail to admit or even to imagine. Yet it is crucial to recognise these little civilisational differends if we are ever to talk sensibly about transnational cultural studies.' She goes on to talk about using English to pitch to refereed journals and to apply for grants. In other words, it sucks in labour terms if your first language is not English, but at the same time the process immerses you in enacting cultural difference, not the only way to be immersed, but still immersed, in a daily way even if you happen to be living in the culture of your upbringing. Of course, people on both sides of the English/Chinese divide should be so immersed.[5] As my colleague Fang-Tze Hsu has noted, such issues of difference and communication among as well as across Asian nations have much to do also with the use of English in trans-Asian scholarly exchange; to cite one of numerous examples, the journal Inter-Asia Cultural Studies is published only in English.
  7. In some discursive areas to do with culture and gender issues, there is the leveraging of these and other language- and culture-related differences in order to expand spaces available to talk about complex, mobile differences in genders and sexualities. Specifically I'm interested in and moved by what publishing in English at this historical moment can do for writers writing in English about queer and post-queer cultural issues related to femininities.
  8. By queer I mean either writing that uses queer theory and/or is about LGBQT issues. To me, such scholarship is co-extensive and discursively linked with post-queer writing by which I mean not only the annoying academic tendency to cycle quickly through intellectual styles—what's hot, what's not in academia (first queer, then post-queer or trans-)—but also the more exciting spread of gender and sexuality studies, including queer studies, beyond a flipping of norms to a diffusion and multiplication of possibilities in these areas, available for use for re-scripting key explorations of the self, relationships, and society. I focus here on writers who intersect these discourses with those on femininities because I find such writing important and less discussed, in general, than writing on masculinities and queerness. And my own scholarly interests are to do with cultural representation, production and transnational circulation of femininities, genders and sexualities, so I cite here authors whose work is important in my own research.
  9. Let me consider two specific examples, one from mainland China and one from Hong Kong, by highlighting first the current and recent publications of Ling Yang, an assistant professor in Chinese Studies at Xiamen University, who is publishing a number of journal articles on Chinese fanfic or fan fiction with collaborators, specifically—for consideration here—a co-authored one on 'Pink Bar' fanfic (bars are online bulletin boards, and fanfic is fan-written fiction for other fans—in the cases of Boys' Love and Girls' Love fanfic, stories involving romantic and/or sexual pairings of real or fictional same-sex characters) related to the now-government-extinguished TV show Super Girl.[6] And second by considering the use of English in the work of Hong Kong-based Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, assistant professor in Humanities and Creative Writing at Hong Kong Baptist University and author, most recently, of Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China.[7]
  10. We know that since 1997 China has removed homosexuality from being outlawed as hooliganism. Public representations and presentations of homosexuality, though, are still rather arbitrarily suppressed by officials at various levels of government; these actions range from nationally issued policies about censorship and computer software to local police harassment. And the knowledge that this could happen at almost any time is very repressive. In 2009, for instance, Shanghai was preparing for China's first-ever Gay Pride week of related celebrations—concerts, symbolic and publicly performed marriages, bar parties, movie screenings, etc. About a week before these scheduled festivities, though, and even after the start of events, many of the celebrations were abruptly cancelled by city officials on such grounds as (supposedly) correct licenses had not been obtained, which some Shanghai citizens, journalists and Chinese and foreign activists felt was just a trumped-up governmental excuse for discrimination. There was a scramble to obtain new licenses for the celebrations, usually at smaller and less conspicuous venues than had first been sought; some were granted, some not. It was a display of governmental power.
  11. This is one of many historical accounts that could be told, are told, but not usually in official Mandarin texts for obvious reasons. Here I quote an English-language article from Agence-France Press (AFP), which offers its news in English, French and other mainly European languages: 'This week Kathleen's Five restaurant was forced to cancel a planned screening of a lesbian-themed film after local officials said it was not authorized to screen movies…. Authorities also forced the cancellation of a play that was to be performed at a local photo gallery on Fri. night.'[8] Journalistic venues in English could and did report these specifics, because English is not the language of the masses and therefore of little interest to the Chinese government with its continual focus on maintaining power through what it calls 'stability' and 'harmony'; it is also a journalistic language used in China by, among others, moneyed expats and foreign investors, so perhaps best for 'business' reasons at times left alone.
  12. And yet, as cultural anthropologist Lisa Rofel has written in her book Desiring China, in a chapter mainly on male gay life in Beijing, solely western definitions or attributions of western influence of the complexities of homosexual experience in China fall short; instead more intricate Chinese-cultural markers of cultural belonging are often interwoven with cosmopolitan definitions to contribute to self-articulations.[9] And where the different uses of published English may appear in this weave is going to some extent depend on the particularities of historical moments and specific publications, writers and readers.
  13. In general, contemporary Chinese academics wanting to delve into the complexities of changing definitions and performances of genders and sexualities can strategically use English to do so in transnational academic journals and Internet circulations. Where acknowledged by the Chinese university point systems, these publications can further the authors' careers, assist them in making contributions to international discourses, and allow great license (and I use that work intentionally) to explore queer and post-queer subjects,[10] because as long as these writings do not attack the government directly, it appears that the Chinese government may not care.
  14. Consider Ling Yang's co-written essay with Hongwei Bao, then a visiting fellow at the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London, now a lecturer at Nottingham Trent, for the May 2012 issue of the journal Cultural Studies, 'Queerly intimate: friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community.'[11] The essay focuses on fanfic stories online on Baidu's 'Pink Super Girl Bar' where writers pair contestants from the 2006 Super Girl TV show. Super Girl, produced by Hunan Satellite TV, was an American-idol-type show featuring competing amateur singers and attracting many millions of viewers. A year earlier, in the 2005 finale when singer Li Yuchun won, there were over 400 million viewers watching which amounts to more than the populations of the U.S. and Canada combined.[12] The show ran from 2004 to 2006, was halted by the government for three years, and then was on again from 2009 to 2011 when it was again stopped, this time apparently permanently. In 2006, Liu Zhongde, a former Chinese Culture Minister and a current member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference served as a spokesperson against Super Girls, decrying its lowbrow quality, the subservience to the market it represented (via profits made by Hunan Satellite TV and telecom operators who made considerable money from the text messages of support, i.e., voting), and declared that its youth audience was being 'poisoned' and that contestants appeared wearing 'vulgar fashion.'[13] Notably Li Yuchun, who won in 2005, and other winners of different years were most often self-styled as androgynous tomboys, authentic new New Women (xin xin nüxing) from the provinces, sincere and fresh in their talent and rather extreme in their androgyny signalling different kinds of independence, and for some viewers (for some adamantly not) even minoritarian sexuality.
  15. Fanfic written by women, whether originating in Japan, China, or, say, the U.S., is most commonly written by heterosexual women about homosexual romances between homosexual men. Alternatively it can be about Girls' Love instead of Boys' Love and/or written by women—or men—who self-identify differently than heterosexual. The Pink Bar space that Yang and Bao write about is girl slash girl, in other words, stories usually by women about imagined homosexual pairings of real female contestants. Yang and Bao delve deeply into the homosociality of this space. In their words, 'We argue that the GL [Girls' Love] fan fiction community has become a space of female homosociality, intimacy, and affect in which a new generation of young Chinese women actively enact friendship and female subjectivity in a way that refuses the normalization of gender, sexuality, and social relations.'[14] They continue later, 'Our aim is to explore what fans do in a particular GL community, what they gain from their fan experience, and how they use the homosocial "emotional capital"…they have acquired from the fan community to restructure their social and emotional lives.'[15] Although lesbianism is front and center in the Pink Bar stories, and key to Yang and Bao's exploration of affective fan community ethnography, Yang and Bao need room to explore what happens around these stories; what is sex in other words a code for—homosociality—that is, same-sex social bonds, desire, the self, imaginary interchangability of romance and female friendships among community members, control of one's own life, and so on. Yang and Bao mark their journal article as queer right from the title, but what stands out to me as a reader is how, that said, great nuance is developed in looking at what I'd term post-queer homosociality. In the Chinese culture of three nos with regard to homosexuality—no approval, no disapproval, no promotion—publishing in an academic English-language journal does in fact count for promotion even though the subject is about girl slash girl fanfic writing that could be viewed as linked to homosexuality. This is one strategic side-step away from those nos. As Ling Yang summarises, 'It's definitely easier for me to publish writings on gender and sexualities in English than Chinese, because I'll deviate from the official lines and mainstream scholarship at home.'[16]
  16. Scholars working in Hong Kong who wish to reach Hong Kong, mainland and international readers are yet a different case from mainland-based scholars. Consider Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, author of the 2013 study Shanghai Lalas, who was born in Shanghai and whose first language is Shanghainese. Kam has lived mainly in Hong Kong, where she has received her education from grade school on. She is an assistant professor now at the Hong Kong Baptist University and earned her doctorate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Both these universities use English as a teaching language (CUHK uses Sinophone languages as well). For her fieldwork for Shanghai Lalas, Kam used Shanghainese Cantonese, and Mandarin, and she wrote her book in English for Hong Kong University Press. I e-interviewed her about the intricacies of English usage.
  17. Kam clearly outlined the advantages of using English: 1. In terms of readership to 'introduce the issues to the English-speaking academic community and invite discussion outside China'; and 2. In terms of academic careers, 'Besides the factor of promotion and the language requirement of research output (English is preferred), major university presses prefer English publications. So if we want to publish our works by a recognized university or academic press, it's hard not to write in English.'[17]
  18. And Kam articulated the disadvantages, 'The new knowledge produced in English is inaccessible to the majority of people in local LGBTQ communities and [the] academic community in China. Inaccessible because of the language proficiency and also because of the accessibility of English books in [mainland] China. Distribution of English academic publications is extremely difficult in China. We might need to publish a Chinese translation after the English one.'[18]
  19. Politically, and when a scholarly author is fluent in English and Mandarin (and/or other Sinophone languages), as Kam is, it can be powerful to do one's own translation and republish a study written in English as a Sinophone text. This is key to reaching lay readers as well as scholars. However and of course, labour, time, publishing funding and livelihood are large issues here. As Kam explains, 'For many local scholars in HK, in order to meet the demands of research output and promotion etc., we have to publish in English. But many of us also try our best to write in Chinese to encourage local discussions and participate in local LGBTQ activism, even though all this effort is not included nor valued in institutional evaluation assessment.'[19]
  20. The key role of Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Unit of the P.R.C. since 1997, as well as being a hub of LGBTQ activism, needs to be noted here. Too, the strong international leadership of Hong Kong University Press in publishing books related to queer and post-queer issues in Sinophone cultures cannot be stressed enough. For scholars at Hong Kong universities, there seems to be a great deal more openness available to write about queer issues in a number of different languages without the 'three nos' applying. The politics of tenure in Hong Kong will continue to bear close watching in this regard.
  21. In conclusion, what P.R.C. scholars, writers and critics do with English is crucial to consider, particularly when it comes to what is said and not said publicly about genders and sexualities in academia and in the networks academic writing links to beyond academia. In labour terms, all is not as it appears at first glance. While it can be challenging for non-English-as-first-language scholars to publish in English-language journals, it should also be remembered in the P.R.C. frame that Chinese-language academic journals may be difficult to access as well for different reasons; the review process for some can be murky, extremely hierarchical, and stacked against young scholars. English is the elephant in the room and it needs to be considered as a publishing tool in a complex way not only by those who use English as a second or third language for publishing, but also by those of us for whom English usage demands no translation.
  22. So, the politics of publishing in English, while loaded, very loaded, also at this historical moment can open some transnational doors, and does, and can invite nuanced discussions of genders, sexualities and affect as regard femininities innovatively being created and thought through in China and elsewhere in Asia—and then shared across at least some boundaries in English.


    [1] This essay grew out of a talk I gave at the New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World Conference, organised by Sonal Khullar and Sasha Su-Ling Welland at the University of Washington, Seattle, November 2012. I'd like to thank Sonal and Sasha, and I also greatly appreciate the input of these other discussants and/or e-interviewees: Ling Yang, Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, Shu-mei Shih, SooJin Lee, Fang-Tze Hsu, and Karen Morris. And at Intersections I would like to thank Carolyn Brewer and Kumiko Kawashima.

    [2] Claus Gnutzman (ed.), English in Academia—Catalyst or Barrier?, Tuebingen: Gutner Narr Verlag, Tuebingen, 2008.

    [3] Claus Gnutzman, 'Fighting or fostering the dominance of English in academic communication,' in English in Academia—Catalyst or Barrier?, ed. Gnutzman, Tuebingen: Gutner Narr Verlag, Tuebingen, 2008, pp. 73–92, p. 83.

    [4] John Flowerdew and Yongyan Li, 'English or Chinese? The trade-off between local and international publication among Chinese academics in the humanities and social sciences,' Journal of Second Language Writing vol. 18 (2009): 1–16.

    [5] Meaghan Morris, 'From criticism to research: the "textual" in the Academy,' Cultural Studies Review vol. 12, no. 2, (September 2006): 17–32. Online:, site accessed 1 August 2013.

    [6] Ling Yang and Hongwei Bao, 'Queerly intimate: friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community,' Cultural Studies vol. 26, issue 6, (2012): 842–71, online:, site accessed 3 August 2013.

    [7] Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

    [8] Julie Desne (AFP) 'Shanghai gay pride: the show goes on,' 13 June 2009, online:, n.p., site accessed 5 September 2012.

    [9] Lisa Rofel, Desiring China, Raleigh-Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

    [10] By post-queer I do not mean that global cultures are in any way post- a time of LBGTQ politics and struggles for rights. Those struggles are still very much present and necessary. I use the term instead, along with trans-gender theory, to flag the opening up in academia of considerations of complex matrices of genders, sexualities and homosocialities, as well as other social networks that intersect with these; I find this opening up to be a constructive one, expanding beyond a dichotomous consideration of heterosexuality/queer sexuality. See, for example, David V. Ruffolo, Post-Queer Politics, Surrey and London: Ashgate, 2009.

    [11] Yang and Bao, 'Queerly intimate.'

    [12] Audrey Yue and Haiqing Yu, 'China's super girl: mobile youth cultures and new sexualities,' in Youth Media in the Asia Pacific Region, ed. Belinda Smaill and Usha Rodrigues, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholar Press, 2008, pp. 117–34, p. 118.

    [13] '"Super Girls" sparks controversy over "vulgarity",' People's Daily Online, online:, n.p., site accessed 7 September 2012.

    [14] Yang and Bao, 'Queerly intimate,' p. 1.

    [15] Yang and Bao, 'Queerly intimate,' p. 4.

    [16] Ling Yang in an email, part of a correspondence with the author, 5 September 2012.

    [17] All quotes from Lucetta Kam are from a 17 July 2013 email to the author in response to specific questions about readership, translation, and academic career

    [18] Kam email to Lavin, 17 July 2013.

    [19] Kam email to Lavin, 17 July 2013.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
© Copyright
Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer
Last modified: 19 December 2013 1104