The Xianchang Aesthetic: Strengthening the Power of Chinese Queer Politics and Independent Cinema
Bi-College (Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges). Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Place of Publication
Table of Contents
Bi-College users only
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the ways in which the Chinese independent film industry, specifically the xianchang aesthetic within documentaries, has provided an artistic medium for the country’s LGBTQ social justice movement to flourish despite government oppression. In addition to utilizing a comprehensive set of sources and interviews from scholars and activists, a framework composed of Arendtian visibility politics as well as theories surrounding the camera as a politically subversive device were used to evaluate the political efficacy of xianchang aesthetic in three documentaries: Queer China; Comrade China (Cui Zi’en, 2011), Bye Bye Surabaya (Xiaogang Wei, 2010), and Magic (Liu Yan, 2015). The xianchang aesthetic contains a unique history within the genre of Chinese documentary as a style that places much significance on capturing the “here and now” of everyday experiences. After contextualizing this aesthetic within the intertwined histories of Chinese independent film and the LGBTQ movement, different uses of live footage within the three documentaries were analyzed and evaluated based on their capacity to mobilize the viewer and create productive spaces for Chinese queer visibility. This analytical approach to these three documentaries resulted in findings that supported the correlation between the intimate documentation/camera lens of the xianchang aesthetic and radical forms of visibility/solidarity for the LGBTQ community in China. Despite the fact that these results inevitably reflect arbitrarily constructed and hegemonic discourse within art and sexuality/gender orientation, the content and style of these three documentaries nonetheless spoke to radical alternatives for modes of documentary filmmaking. This thesis concludes that despite its complicated history and inability to represent totalized truth, the growth of the xianchang aesthetic within the field of Chinese independent documentary have allowed this art form to foster revolutionary action and vision within the Chinese LGBTQ social justice movement.