Wang Xiaobo: Sex as Power

Last week I had a conversation on Danish radio about Wang Xiaobo’s 王小波 ‘The Golden Age’ 黄金时代 and ‘Gentle like Water’ 似水柔情 recently translated into Danish by Sidse Laugesen for Korridor publishers.

We discussed sex as an arena for power struggles as well as a last expression of individual freedom under repressive conditions and forced collectivisation.

In particular, I read Wang’s focus on illicit sexualities that deviate from the perceived norm -such as non-monogamous or homosexual relationships- as cynical but in some sense hopeful explorations of bodily freedom in situations of extreme control, in this case prison (in ‘Gentle like Water’) and rural work camps for ‘educated youth’ 知青 (in ‘The Golden Age’).

Daoist Gaming Fantasy and Danmei Romances with Zhange Ni

In this episode, Zhange Ni introduces us to some of the myriad fantasy genres proliferating on Chinese internet platforms and beyond. She describes and contextualises recent subgenres such as qihuan 奇幻 and xuanhuan 玄幻 (and their relationship with wuxia 武俠 wandering warrior/martial arts fiction) before zooming in on xiuzhen 修真 (immortality cultivation) tales that effortlessly mingle contrasting realms of (the idea of) ancient Daoism and contemporary computer games. Finally, we discuss the danmei 耽美 (tanbi) boys’ love romances predominantly produced and consumed by women readers as well as these transmedial genres’ implications for our understanding of what literature is.

Magical Guest: Zhange Ni(倪湛舸)is an associate professor of religion and literature at Virginia Tech currently posted as a research fellow at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study (France). She received her Ph.D. in religion and literature from the University of Chicago Divinity School, did postdoctoral work at the “Women’s Studies in Religion Program” at Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled The Cult of Fiction in the Age of the Internet: Chinese Religions, Digital Capitalism, and the Fantasy Boom in Contemporary China.  

Host under Cultivation: Astrid Møller-Olsen is the author of Sensing the Sinophone: Urban Memoryscapes in Contemporary Fiction (Cambria Press, 2022). She is currently international research fellow with the Universities of Lund, Stavanger, and Oxford, funded by the Swedish Research Council working on a cross-generic study of plant-human relationships in contemporary Sinophone literature from science fiction to surrealism. She hosts the xiaoshuo.blog and has published on arboreal temporalities, fictional dictionaries, oneiric soundscapes, digital chronotopes, and sensory urban spacetime.

Resistance is Versatile with Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker

In this episode of the Sinophone Unrealities podcast, we discuss three types of resistance found in post-80s Chinese SF: resistance to social inequalities, to political repression/censorship, and to gender stereotypes. Frederike gives examples from her research into works by Hao Jingfang, Ma Boyong, Zhang Ran, Chi Hui, Gu Shi, and Chen Qiufan and comments on the innovations and limitations of science fictional narratives when it comes to engaging with the sociopolitical issues of contemporary society. 

Rebellious guest: Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker (she/her) is an assistant professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University. She received her PhD in Chinese Studies from the Free University of Berlin in June 2021 with a thesis on socio-political discourses in contemporary Chinese science fiction literature. She has participated in numerous international conferences and co-hosted events and talks with Chinese SF writers in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Heidelberg. Apart from Chinese science fiction, she is also interested in Chinese queer culture. When not sitting in front of her computer or behind her books, she explores nature by hiking or horse riding. 

Agitated host agitator: Astrid Møller-Olsen is international research fellow with the Universities of Lund, Stavanger, and Oxford, funded by the Swedish Research Council. She has published on fictional dictionaries, oneiric soundscapes, digital chronotopes in SF, ecocritical temporalities, and sensory urban spacetime. Her first monograph Sensing the Sinophone will be out in early 2022 by Cambria Press. Her current research is a cross-generic study of plant-human relationships in contemporary Sinophone literature from science fiction to surrealism: https://xiaoshuo.blog/ 

This podcast is produced by NettOp/University of Stavanger.

Artwork by Joanne Taylor/NettOp/UiS.

Queer Taiwanese Literature

Queer Taiwanese Literature: A Reader by Howard Chiang, Cambria Press: 2021.

Despite spending a lot of my working hours with literary texts, my readings are not always as immersive as I would like. With the seven stories that make up the translated anthology Queer Taiwanese Literature, I couldn’t help myself. Each one sucked me into its wormhole rabbit hole and when I came out again, everything seemed subtly different.

Spanning the last 50 years, these seven short stories featuring Taiwanese queer experiences have been expertly selected by queer historian Howard Chiang and brilliantly translated. Under the banner of tongzhi literature (同志文学), they include sexual and social identities that are or have been perceived as deviant including asexuality, transgender, transsexuality, homosexuality, and other queer (non)categories.

The term tongzhi originally meant “comrade” in Sun Yat-sen’s usage and continues to do so in both Taiwanese and Mainland China formal political discourse. Wah-shan Chou traces the term back to the 3000-year-old Yijing (易經 Book of Changes) and writes that it was appropriated by activists for the first Hong Kong lesbian and gay film festival in 1989. He explains that “’homosexual’ was dropped as it was a medical term denoting sickness and pathology. Even positive categories such as ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ and ‘queer’ are Anglo-Saxon constructs with specific histories that fail to capture the indigenous features of Chinese same-sex relations” (Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies 2). He highlights that the term is not only about sexual preference but also about acknowledging non-hetero forms of kinship and family. Indeed, most of the stories in this anthology are not about sexual experiences, but about love and pain, about rejection and acceptance, about forging identities and making flexible (social) space.

I love (this anthology is wonderful, I can’t help starting each paragraph like this) how menstruation blood runs a track of living, red sameness that simultaneously disgusts and draws the sexually ambivalent protagonist towards her friend Ann in Li Ang’s “Late Spring” (1975, translated by Yichun Liu).

I love how the cityscapes of San Francisco and Taipei blend in Chi Ta-wei’s meandering, Ginsberg-inspired “Howl” (1998 translated by Yahia Zhengtang Ma) — a story of the terminally ill but irrepressible man Amoeba who prefers a stranger’s reluctant hospitality to his family home as he roams the streets on his final, lonely journey. The name Amoeba is apt as it denotes a single-cell organism with no fixed body shape that reproduces asexually and can be parasitic as this one seems to the narrator to be. It also recalls Chi’s earlier novella “The Membranes” from 1995.

I love the smoke-hoarsened and casually open-minded talk of the tribal mothers in Dadelavan Ibau’s “Muakai” (2001, translated by Kyle Shernuk) and its haunting of ancient myths from the present through queer reinterpretation.

I love the time-fuck of the eternal, futuristic stone age evoked in Hsu Yu-hsuan’s “Violet” (2008, translated by Howard Chiang and Shengchi Hsu) and the protagonist’s lifestyle cocktail of illegal drugs and fitness health foods needed to survive his white-collar working life.

I love the brutal naivete of Lin Yu-hsuan’s “A Daughter” (2014, translated by Shengchi Hsu) and the image of the young boy finally transforming into the young woman he always was. Through her own body work, she provides a space for both her dad and the text to transform into something unexpectedly complicated and gorgeous as well: “The gown’s zip is stuck halfway on Dad’s back, faintly revealing her blossoming age spots through the layers of lace.”

I love the conclusion to Chen Xue‘s jumble of queer and futuristic reproduction strategies, excess of ovaries, and phantom wombs in “A Nonexistent Thing” (2020, translated by Wen-chi Li and Colin Bramwell) that “what is important is that you can write. Write her out.” A fitting and hopeful end to an anthology of struggle, hurt, and haunting beauty.

Above all, I love all the poetic disillusionment coupled with the uncompromising individuality and bloody-mindedness of the main characters in Tsao Li-chuan’s novella “On Her Gray Hair Etcetera” (1996, translated by Jamie Tse). Just read it.

I would have liked to see the original titles for each work displayed alongside the English translation but appreciate that the date of publication and short context of each story is available in Howard Chiang’s introduction so that one can chose to read it before, after, or not at all. The many translators, the editor, and the editorial assistant are all duly credited and introduced at the end of the book.

If you expect to have an overview of Taiwan’s tongzhi literature after reading the anthology, you are mistaken. The term may unite against heteronormativity, but it also embraces heterogeneity. What you do get is a body dive into an ocean of multitudinous voices, of individual pains and perspectives, a promise that here is something here to explore in text, body, and social world, quite possibly for the rest of your life.

Introduction by Howard Chiang

1: Late Spring by Li Ang (translated by Yichun Liu)

2: On Her Gray Hair Etcetera by Tsao Li-chuan (translated by Jamie Tse)

3: Howl by Ta-wei Chi (translated by Yahia Zhengtang Ma)

4: Muakai by Dadelavan Ibau (translated by Kyle Shernuk)

5: Violet by Hsu Yu-chen (translated by Howard Chiang and Shengchi Hsu)

6: A Daughter by Lin Yu-hsuan (translated by Shengchi Hsu)

7: A Nonexistent Thing by Chen Xue (translated by Wen-chi Li and Colin Bramwell)

About the Editor

About the Translators