When Tongzhi Marry: Experiments of Cooperative Marriage between Lalas and Gay Men in Urban China

Feminist Studies 45 (1):13-35 (2019)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Feminist Studies 45, no. 1. © 2019 by Feminist Studies, Inc. 13 Stephanie Yingyi Wang When Tongzhi Marry: Experiments of Cooperative Marriage between Lalas and Gay Men in Urban China Ang Lee’s film The Wedding Banquet could be classic introductory material for tongzhi studies and, particularly, for research on cooperative marriage.1 In the film, Wai-Tung, a Taiwanese landlord who lives happily with his American boyfriend Simon in New York, is troubled by his parents’ constant efforts to try and find him a bride. His partner Simon suggests he could arrange a marriage of convenience with WaiTung ’s tenant Wei Wei who is from mainland China and is also in need of a green card to stay in the United States. However, their plan backfires when Wai-Tung’s enthusiastic parents arrive in the United States and plan a big wedding banquet. As the film critic and scholar Chris 1. Tongzhi, literally “same purpose,” is the Chinese term for “comrade.” Since the 1990s, it has been appropriated to replace the more formal tóngxìnglìan (same-sex love) to refer to gay men and lalas (same-sex desiring women) in the Chinese-speaking world. The translation of xinghun as “cooperative marriage” is debatable, as xinghun literally means “pro-forma marriage.” In other works, “contract marriage,” “fake marriage,” or “pro-forma marriage” are used to refer to gay-lala marriage. Informed by Lucetta Kam’s work, I use “cooperative marriage ” to highlight that such marriage is not merely functional without sustenance, but is contingent on the cooperation and negotiation between multiple parties in the relationship, as my findings suggest. See Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013), 85. winner of the 2018 Feminist Studies Graduate Student award 14 Stephanie Yingyi Wang Berry points out, analysis of the film rests not on any individual, but on the Confucian family as “it negotiates the interface with globally hegemonic American culture,” suggesting that there exists an understanding of gayness in the context of the family that is distinct in Chinese culture.2 Berry continues to argue that the moral ambivalence produced by the film is structured by different sets of values: the gay person is not merely concerned about individual identity fulfillment, but he also adjusts his actions to satisfy the family expectation; the parents, especially the father figure, is not merely a patriarch with strict moral provisions and standards, but someone who can allow for implicit negotiation to keep the surface harmony as long as he gets a grandson; the woman is not merely an independent agent freed from social constraints, but a bride who is also attached to emotional comfort and conjugal ideals. Just as The Wedding Banquet tactfully reveals one type of cooperative marriage with its mutual benefits and examines the multilayered complexity of each individual player in the marriage game, this research takes as its subject cooperative marriage between gay men and lalas as an exciting departure to understand queer subjectivities and queer kinship intersected with gender, sexuality, class, and tongzhi politics in urban China.3 Though seemingly monolithic, marriage and family have become contested terrains for tongzhi to negotiate their gender performance, queer desires, and aspirations for better lives. The transnational makings of gayness and rights-based identity politics have contributed to the increasing awareness of a cosmopolitan gay identity and the desiring of alternative life choices of Chinese tongzhi, which lays the very foundation of their motivation to seek ways to cope with the heteronormative family model. Coming out and gay marriage are upheld as primary tropes of identity politics, facilitated by the self-identified tongzhi grassroots groups that emerged during the initiation of AIDS work in 1994 for gay men and at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, which gathered hundreds of lesbians from around the world in Beijing.4 How2. Chris Berry, “Wedding Banquet: A Family (Melodrama) Affair,” in his Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes (London: British Film Institute, 2003), 183. 3. Lala is a slang term in China for same-sex desiring women and includes lesbian, bisexual, and trans women. 4. Katie King, “‘There Are No...



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