AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 663

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Session 663: Hong Kong as Heterotopia

Organizer: Jeroen De Kloet, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hong Kong can be read as a perpetually in-between city, a city that is neither fully Chinese-local nor Western-global. It can also be read as a city that appears at a time of disappearance. In this panel, we wish to read Hong Kong differently, that is, as heterotopia. We aim to scrutinize the places in Hong Kong in which its cultural tensions are most powerfully being negotiated. We draw on the concept of heterotopia from Michel Foucault, which is, according to him, “a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” These places can be real or virtual, they can be online of offline, just as they can be material as well as mediated. What they share is that they seem to operate outside of the official ideologies of the state, employing, or looking for, an alternative set of ethics. This panel focuses on the heterotopic places of Hong Kong that involve the body and its desires and sense of agency. They are: first, the Hong Kong book fair; second, the gay spaces of the past, as narrated by gay men aged 60 years and older; third, the mediated space of viral media that proved constitutive for the Edison Chen sex scandal; fourth, the hidden queer spaces through which the city can be cruised, and lastly, the Chinese familial space that profoundly shapes youth’s (contested) sense of agency and freedom.

Modelling a New Heterotopia
Yiu Fai Chow, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

In recent years, a new Cantonese term emerged in Hong Kong: lang mo. Roughly translated as ‘youngish models’, the term has been gaining increasing currency, attesting to the increasing popularity of this group of girlie but sexy girls who would not qualify for conventional fashion modelling and yet appear almost omnipresciently in commercials, television programs, and entertainment pages. If supermodels, for their extraordinary height and lightness, were at one point global cultural icons, their more banal, more down-to-earth, and more vulgar – some would say more human – colleagues are configuring a local phenomenon and new cultural politics in Hong Kong. This paper zooms in the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, where the lang mo’s sexy photo-albums, calendars, cushions made according to their body shapes, and ultimately their high-profile presence, have been causing public debates and moral panic. In 2010, the authorities even made an attempt to forbid their participation, claiming their image-driven products were inappropriate for an event where words ought to prevail. They failed. Drawing on materials published during the media battle surrounding the 2010 Book Fair, I aim to show how the lang mo’s engage and transform this particular cultural space, and, more generally, how a space and its working is not only constitutive of but also transformed by identities. More than maintaining a sanctioned space of high culture and elite taste, lang mo’s transform it into a heterotopian space, in which social and political tensions that characterize today’s Hong Kong are being negotiated and contested.

Made In Hong Kong SAR: New Angles, Other Spaces
Helen Hok-Sze Leung, Simon Fraser University, Canada

The prolific output of a generation of younger filmmakers (which include Mak Yan Yan, Heiward Mak, Kenneth Bi, Scud, Pang Ho-Cheung, Barbara Wong, and Kwok Chi-kin among others) in Hong Kong was recently a subject of discussion amongst local film critics, who pondered whether their films merit the moniker of “SAR New Wave” [tequ xin langchao]. Regardless of the usefulness of such a label, the debate itself points to the emergence of a new cinematic sensibility amongst filmmakers whose career came of age after 1997, when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. These films inhabit a complex and often contradictory economic and cultural climate. On the one hand, they partake in the struggle for integration into the national imaginary of the PRC and for a share of its economic power. On the other hand, they are also influenced by the so-called “post-80s” sensibility, which is characterized by a preservationist ethics, a concern for social justice and spiritual values, as well as a penchant for sexual and political playfulness. My paper explores this young cinema, particularly its non-nostalgic, queer, or spiritual evocation of Hong Kong’s local spaces. Through these filmmaker’s new visions of the city, I consider the possibility of approaching Hong Kong as some place besides a SAR of the PRC, but rather as a nation’s “other” space.

A Fast-Fading Queer Heterotopia: A Oral History Project on Hong Kong Gay Male Elders
Travis Kong, , Hong Kong

Modern homosexualities have emerged in Hong Kong since the late 1970s as the result of the development of the hybridized queer identities of ‘gay’, ‘memba’, ‘tongzhi’, ‘TB’, ‘TBG’, ‘pure’, etc., as well as of various substantial queer communities and scenes. Existing literature has focused overwhelming on the post-war baby generations of gay men and lesbians and it is generally believed that queers who were born before the war were isolated from one another, invisible to the straight world and hidden from urban space. Through documenting fifteen Hong Kong gay male elders (born between 1920-1940s) using a oral history approach, this paper challenges this myth by revealing how these elder gay men when they were younger had found same-sex partners through various private and public spaces, appropriated urban space for sexual liaison and social networking and even formed fleeting, ephemeral and scattered queer counterpublics for sexual identification and cultural resistance. In this ‘pre-gay’ Hong Kong era, they had created a different queer heterotopia, a vanishing heritage that has already run out of its own prosperity.

Edison Chen: Morality, Materiality, and Heterotopia
Jeroen De Kloet, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

This paper starts off with an observation filled with a certain amount of disappointment, namely, how comes that Hong Kong, with all its cosmopolitan flair and lively entertainment industry, has not evolved into becoming the New York of East Asia? In early 2008, singer-actor celebrity Edison Chen’s private pictures with a range of female stars became public after he brought his computer to a repair shop. This privacy infringement case soon turned into a high-profile process of public lynching, forcing all those involved into hiding from a proliferation of moral judgement. Media reports are characterized by a discourse of the extreme moral, focusing on fidelity, privacy and moderate ways of living. At the same time, I also detect an intriguing juxtaposition of the extreme moral with the extreme material, as exemplified by detailed reporting on the gadgets the stars are wearing. Both the moral as well as the material emerged in particular on the Internet and in magazines, constituting, as I like to argue, a mediatized heterotopian space in which the stars and their bodies are turned into spectacular sites onto which capitalist dreams in conjunction with a Victorian – or Confucian – morality are mapped. Heterotopia are thus not necessarily places of freedom or subversion, they can as well be contradictory spaces through which moral and material desires are articulated.