Mediating Transnational East Asian Masculinities

Mediating Transnational East Asian Masculinities

One-day Symposium funded by the British Academy
Convenors: Derek Hird (University of Westminster) and Geng Song (University of Hong Kong)
Hosts: China Media Centre and Contemporary China Centre (University of Westminster)
Date: Thursday 7 May 2015
Location: The Boardroom, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2HW, UK

All welcome. Attendees please register in advance with Helena Scott at

0930-0940       Welcome. Dr Gerda Wielander. Head of Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Westminster

0940-1030       Keynote address. Geng Song

Confrontation and Convergence: Transnationalism and East Asian Masculinities

1030-1045       Tea and coffee

1045-1215       Panel 1. Transnational East Asian masculinities in film

Jun Zubillaga-Pow: Sons and Lovers: Mediating Masculinities in Siniticate Cinema

Valerie Soe: Reinscribing Representation: Lee Byung-hun, Hollywood, and the Korean Wave

Gabriel Tsang: Analysis of the Performance of Chinese Masculinity Embedded in Hong Kong Crime Films under Globalising Cultural Logic

Discussant: Professor Chris Berry, Film Studies, King’s College London.

1215-1330       Lunch

1330-1500       Panel 2. Representing Japanese masculinities across continents and forms

Jonathan Mackintosh: The Deafening Silence of Men: History and the Representation of Men ‘of Japanese Descent’ in Postwar Canada

Tim Cross: Yamakasa: the politics and economics of sacramental masculinity

Discussant: Dr Raj Pandey, Politics, Goldsmiths, University of London.

1500-1515       Tea and coffee

1515-1645       Panel 3. Imagining Chinese men transnationally in fiction and non-fiction

Flair Donglai Shi: Colonialism and Emasculation in Yu Dafu’s Short Stories

Pi Chenying: From Dashu (Charming Uncle) to Xiao Xianrou (Little Fresh Flesh): The Masculine Ideals and Women’s Desires in Contemporary China

Pamela Hunt: Global and local phallic creativity: Intertextuality in Feng Tang’s construction of masculinity

Discussant: Dr Anup Grewal, Comparative Literature, King’s College London.

1645-17:00      Concluding remarks 



Confrontation and Convergence: Transnationalism and East Asian Masculinities

Dr Geng Song, Associate Professor, School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong

The paper discusses the dynamic interactions between East Asian cultures in the construction of masculinities in recent years. It has become a global trend to study men and masculinities in a cross-cultural and transnational context. In East Asia, phenomena such as “Pan-East Asian soft masculinity” have attracted increasing scholarly attention. The sweeping “Korean Wave” and images and discourses originated from Japanese ACG culture such as Otaku and moe have great impacts on expressions of masculinity in Chinese cyberspace and popular culture. On the other hand, however, masculinity is associated with nationalist sentiments and is defined by exclusion of and even confrontation with national Others in the Self/Other dichotomy. A salient example is heroic masculinity in anti-Japanese TV drama, a government-sanctioned and market-oriented genre of TV entertainment in contemporary China. By critical readings of the male images in recent TV dramas, in particular, Red (Hongse), a serial drama featuring a lone hero in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the Anti-Japanese War, the paper explores how ideal manhood is constructed in contrast to the masculinity of the Japanese enemies and at the same time paradoxically demonstrates obvious influence of the cult of moe images and male images in Korean TV dramas. It thus posits Chinese masculinity at the juncture of nationalism, consumerism and transnationalism.

Sons and Lovers: Mediating Masculinities in Siniticate Cinema
Dr Jun Zubillaga-Pow, Music, King’s College London

Relying on the cultural analysis of two bilingual films, this paper examines the diffraction of material in terms of filming gender and gendering film. Paraphrasing Song Hwee Lim (2007), can the trans in transnational influence the trans in transgender? The fundamental conflict with an ethnocentric positioning, such as the cases of Euro-centricism and Sino-centricism, lies in the strategic essentialism of cultural and political taxonomy. Gender is one such category that is caught within the bind. While theorists from either sides of the Pacific – Butler, Halberstam, and Kam Louie – have stipulated gender to fixed or fluid, gender roles have remained fairly standardized in almost all national cinemas. This paper thwarts the genre stereotype of British social realism and Chinese wu xia fantasy as feminine and masculine respectively.

The film Ilo Ilo (2013) by Singaporean director Antony Chen exposes the tussle over what I called trans-mothering responsibilities, whereas the film Lilting (2014) by British-Cambodian Hong Khaou complicates the performative binary between gender and gesture. Otherwise, the uncanny similarity shared by the two award-winning artworks at the Cannes and Sundance is how translation, or rather the lack thereof, acts as a significant mise en scène. To the extent that bilingual audiences subsumes the a priori cultural friction inhered within the highly gendered narratives, the mostly monolingual characters are often themselves ‘acting out’ their resistances, in both the psychoanalytic and cinematic senses of the phrase. This paper concludes that the Siniticate consciousness continues to propagate an institutionalized patriarchal effervescence on women.

Reinscribing Representation: Lee Byung-hun, Hollywood, and the Korean Wave
Dr Valerie Soe, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University

The past few years have seen the modest rise in Hollywood of Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun, who to date has appeared in three U.S. films. This paper explores how Lee Byung-hun’s Hollywood career demonstrates the ways in which portrayals of Asian males continue to evolve in U.S. cinema and how hallyu, or the Korean Wave, influences these portrayals.

Korean Studies scholar Youngmin Choe notes, “Hallyu’s impact extends beyond South Korea’s shores and beyond the world of pop culture as well. It’s a vital part of the South Korean economy, bringing in $5.1 billion in export sales in 2013 — up 11 percent from 2012.” In addition, Hollywood has recently sought to expand into the Asian market. As

Korea JoongAng Daily observes, “GI Joe’s studio, Paramount, is increasingly looking to overseas markets, and it appears to be very interested in upping Lee’s role in the new GI Joe film.” As exemplified by Lee Byung-Hun’s incipient career in the West, how have hallyu and the increased influence of Asian culture in the west affected representations of Asian males in Hollywood?

As Storm Shadow in GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, and its sequel, GI Joe: Retaliation Lee portrays a superninja who is predictably good at martial arts. In Red 2 Lee’s character further enacts a series of male Asian action movie tropes popularized in the West. His next Hollywood role is in Terminator: Genisys, as the villainous T-1000 robot assassin.

Do Lee Byung-hun’s Hollywood roles reinscribe common Western stereotypes of the Asian male or are they a step forward for Asian male representation in the U.S,? Will Hollywood’s interest in increasing its share in the Asian market further propel Lee Byung-hun’s career in the West? How does Lee Byung-Hun’s burgeoning success in Hollywood reflect the Korean Wave in the U.S. and beyond?

Analysis of the Performance of Chinese Masculinity Embedded in Hong Kong Crime Films under Globalising Cultural Logic
Gabriel F. Y. Tsang, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, King’s College London

Masculinity, in Lacan’s sense, is an imagination. To specifically theorise Chinese masculinity, Kam Louie examined the elements of wen (cultural attainment) and wu (martial valour) rendered through historical or artistic images, and Song Geng and Derek Hird guide the discussions about Chinese manhood represented in everyday life. With a Marxist perspective, Lo Kwai Cheung illustrated the dissolvability of Chinese masculinity under international capitalism. With reference to Aristotle, it is supposed that Chinese masculinity, similar to ‘tragicity’ in nature, can be represented through imitation of actions and hence be perceived. Based on Aristotle’s understanding, we can regard actions as ‘iterable’ media (like Derrida’s understanding of written texts) which engender performances according to the genealogy of quantitative mimesis.

Integrating theoretical discussions with a chronological approach, my full paper will go through following points: (1) Hong Kong crime film inherited the martial side of masculinity from action films and became a popular genre since A Better Tomorrow was well received in the mid-1980s. (2) Many directors diversified the interpretation of crime in the late 1980s and the 1990s, but still remained a focus on the strength, nimbleness and boldness of men. (3) After the decline of Hong Kong film industry for several years, Infernal Affairs’s success renewed the representation of manhood. (4) From the 2000s to now, male characters in crime films are preferably intelligent and wisely-romantic, like the fragile scholar in ancient China. (5) While globalisation seems to be eliminating the Chineseness of Chinese masculinity, I argue that geographical specificity and different speed of cultural development lead to the impossibility of synchronic masculine similarity. (6) Through a brief discussion on Hollywood’s adaptation of Hong Kong films, I argue that local masculinity is not transformable.

The Deafening Silence of Men: History and the Representation of Men ‘of Japanese Descent’ in Postwar Canada
Dr Jonathan D. Mackintosh, Lecturer in World History (Japan), Plymouth University

For most Canadians of Japanese descent, the Second World War came to an end on 1 April 1949. On this April Fool’s Day, these citizens saw their civil liberties restored following an eight-year mass incarceration and their systematic material dispossession. Although discursive production of this history started to emerge early on, it was in the late 1970s and 1980s that its popular consumption was sparked through increased representation in the media. The effects were powerful: a movement for Redress emerged which saw the Canadian Government issue an official apology to those it had victimised. Importantly, if inadvertently, the historical representation of the ‘Evacuation’, as incarceration was euphemistically known, invoked essentialising strategies to generate a historiography premised on a gendered – and as argued here, feminine – construction of race.

This paper will explore the representation of the ‘Evacuation’ narrative in three different media forms – literature, television, oral history – across the latter part of the twentieth century. It considers the extent to which the ‘feminisation’ of this history drew upon global postwar understandings of the Oriental as ‘other’: the amplification of the muted Japanese-Canadian voice was a post-colonial project through which the cultural industries privileged the voices of women and nurturing harmonies of the feminine. Not that some men as political agents were absent in the shaping of their communities and nation. But as social and cultural beings, their voices have often remained under/un-heard, all the more deafening depending on social class, geographical location, and generation. Can we consider a kind of ‘double-silencing’ by the white masculinist national mainstream and by postwar Oriental matrilineal privilege.

Finally, through the introduction of results from an oral history pilot project, alternative ways are considered of how gender and race are creatively negotiated in the definition of ‘to be of Japanese descent’ and male.

Yamakasa: the politics and economics of sacramental masculinity
Professor Tim Cross, Cultural Studies, Fukuoka University

Discourses of local identity as tradition and national identity as sacrament, along with notions of masculinity as a performance of able-bodied-ness framed by vertical command structures, all converge in the Japanese summer festival of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa.

Recent representations of Yamakasa masculinity as the preferred form of gendered authenticity spans a number of genres: film (including the 1944 film Riku-gun [Army]), manga, tele-drama broadcast nationally by the tax-payer funded NHK, photography, newly written noh, and cut paper kiri-e images. A limited survey of relevant texts points to the formation of a Hakata industry. The circulation of these images unifies an imaginary community as these consumed icons are then internalized as the dominant form of local manhood. This reflexive consumption of images by Yamakasa insiders is further complicated by the presentation of self in accounts that qualify what is most immediately apparent in those texts. What most of these images cannot express is the extent to which this local inflection of hegemonic manhood as a dynamic performance is mediated by complex codes of action and restraint.

Yamakasa, like the ritual serving of tea by the Nambo Ryu school to the spirits of Kushida Shrine in Hakata, is a convenient visual shorthand for the otherworldliness of Japanese culture. While such cultural practices are comprehensible in terms of discourses of purity associated with Shinto beliefs and practices in the case of Yamakasa, and the sacred tea text called Nambo Roku in the case of the Nambo Ryu school, they also function as an internal other for citizens of the modern Japanese state. As remnants of pre-modern rationalities, these performances of sacramental manhood and their subsequent dispersal in a variety of media are accompanied by various levels of commodification.

Colonialism and Emasculation in Yu Dafu’s Short Stories
Flair Donglai Shi, MA Candidate, Comparative Literature, University College London

Yu Dafu (1896-1945) is one of the most significant writers from China’s May Fourth period (1915-1921), which is an semi-colonial era marked by China’s identity crisis in its struggles between indigenous traditions and Western forms of modernity. Chinese literary productions of this period are heavily influenced by this sense of collective shame as a backward nation in its encounters with “superior” others, including a most ambivalent one, Japan. This paper attempts to analyze the intricate politico-historical and psychological mechanisms behind this decadent “national shame” through detailed readings of three of Yu Dafu’s short stories: Hollowness (Kongxu) (1922), Moving South (Nanqian) (1921) and Sinking (Chenlun) (1921). It will explore the ways in which Yu Dafu produce different dialectics of national shame and nationalism, including his usage of Japanese female characters in the stories. Importantly, it will be argued that the intertwinement of the emotional forces of shame and revenge contributes greatly to the decline of the individual psyche in the stories. It will be argued that there are intricate interconnections between sexuality and nationalism, as manifested in the interactions between the protagonists and the Japanese women in the stories, and argues that such connections, which push the protagonists’ obsession with China to a self-victimizing/self-destructive extreme, are auto-colonial in nature. It will adopt the Freudian theories on Melancholia to argue that the lack of revenge as a post-colonial catharsis constitutes a central theme of Yu Dafu’s stories.

From Dashu (Charming Uncle) to Xiao Xianrou (Little Fresh Flesh): The Masculine Ideals and Women’s Desires in Contemporary China
Pi Chenying, PhD Candidate, Visual and Media Anthropology, Heidelberg University

In 2014, an influential magazine in China New Weekly presented a cover story titled “Ugly Chinese Men,” epitomizing ongoing discussions in recent years that denounce a wide range of attributes—from taste of clothing to value system— that Chinese men tend to possess. A prominent argument is that while Chinese women, especially professional women in big cities like Shanghai, are on par with global trends and have modern lifestyles, their male peers are lagging far behind. A most recent target is the philosopher Zhou Guoping because his current and past writings have preached that the ideal woman should be a supportive and caring wife according to his critics. What is intriguing about those men-bashing discourses is that they are predominately a feminine (feminist?) and at the same time urban and middle class construction. It reveals that masculinity, imagined as the Other, is an important site for women to craft their desires and negotiate identities.

Alongside the ugly Chinese men are other celebrated male images like dashu (charming uncle), nuannan (ordinary but caring men), xiao xianrou (little fresh flesh), and gaymi (gay best friend). With young urban women’s purchasing power expanding at least as perceived by the culture industry, masculinities increasingly become important commodities carefully crafted for female consumers. Dramatic reconfigurations of masculinities, like the emergence of the above-mentioned four types, are taking place in Chinese popular culture nowadays. This paper will therefore analyze and decode hit male images and stars that Chinese women are enamored of, excavating what markers of desirable masculinities are foregrounded but also contested; examining how different markers, like the male body, wealth, social status, personality, sexuality, and etc. interact in different types of desirable men; and interrogating how women’s desires and actually what desires are projected onto and entangled with those masculinities.

Global and local phallic creativity: Intertextuality in Feng Tang’s construction of masculinity
Pamela Hunt, PhD Candidate, Chinese, SOAS, University of London

Feng Tang (冯唐, born 1971) is a self-proclaimed ‘audacious’ writer, known for his frank exploration of sexuality, youth, and the dynamics of power and rebellion. In his fiction and nonfiction, Feng also regularly explores the process of writing itself. Within these themes, he works to construct an ideal of masculinity that is predicated on what I call ‘phallic creativity’: Feng draws a clear connection between literary production and a performance of masculinity that is heterosexually virile, sexually attractive, and subversive.

In keeping with his (carefully cultivated) image as a cosmopolitan man, Feng draws inspiration from outside of China in his discussion of both writing and masculinity. In this paper I discuss Feng’s habitual references to Western literature, and his great admiration of two authors in particular: DH Lawrence and Henry Miller. In a process of translingual practice, Feng interprets Lawrence and Miller as ‘free’ men who, by writing about sex and sexuality, dared to ‘swim against the tide’. The works and lifestyles of these so-called literary rebels form a crucial part of Feng’s celebration of a masculinity that is based on phallic creativity. Yet Feng is by no means simply setting a liberated West against a repressed China. This paper also considers his frequent references to pre-modern literature and literary practices in China. In particular, Feng employs the image of the caizi to further strengthen the tie between writing, sexuality and masculinity. As such, Feng’s masculine ideal is an amalgamation of the global and the local, presenting him as a long-standing feature of China’s cultural heritage which, Feng asserts, also has its place in the globalized present.

I conclude with a consideration of how this transnational phallic creativity affects women in Feng’s work, arguing that his construction of a rebellious, virile writing male effectively renders female characters – and female authors – silent.

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