Querying queer theory: Debating male-male prostitution in the Chinese media

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Critical Asian Studies, 2007, 39 (1), pp. 151 - 175
Issue Date:
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This article examines media publicity surrounding the case of Li Ning - a 34-year-old native of Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, who made legal history in the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 17 October 2004 when he was sentenced to eight years jail and fined 60,000 yuan for organizing male-male prostitution services in a recreational business enterprise. Reportedly the first conviction of its kind, the case proved to be controversial for three reasons. First, it prompted legal debate over the nature of China's recent shift to a "rule of law" and associated conceptions of due legal process and individual and sexual rights. Second, it intimated that homosocial prostitution-male-male prostitution in which neither participant may self-identify as homosexual - is an integral but frequently neglected component of China's burgeoning, albeit banned, sex industry. Finally, it raised questions regarding the perceived appropriate parameters of same-sex sexual conduct in a country facing rapidly increasing rates of HIV/AIDS infection. An examination of media coverage of these concerns suggests that accusations of official homophobia in the PRC are overstated: they elide the specificity of debates on homosexuality in present-day China due to their overarching concern with Western understandings of sexuality as constitutive of selfhood and (rightful) sociopolitical identity.
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