Drag in contemporary China

New Publication
Source: Contemporary Theatre Review 33.1-2 (2023)
Fanchuan and Bianzhuang: Ways of Doing Drag in Contemporary China
By Hongwei Bao

With popular reality TV shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, the term ‘drag’ has come into the public attention in recent years. However, as Mark Edward and Stephen Farrier, editors of Contemporary Drag Practices and Performers, pointed out, drag as a global form of performance culture has long histories, rich heritages and multiple genealogies.1 It is therefore important to look at the local, indigenous, regional and hybrid forms of drag culture alongside its global forms to appreciate its diversity and richness. This also helps to identify the discourses and power relations that construct a dominant form of drag culture.


This short essay examines the multiple genealogies and diverse forms of drag culture in contemporary China. I will draw examples from queer Chinese cinema, performance and activism. These examples and the forms they represent are by no means exhaustive, but they can offer an insight into the diversity of drag cultures in the contemporary Chinese context. In doing so, this essay hopes to contribute to a more open and capacious understanding global drag culture.

The diversity of the drag culture in China is manifested by the different terms used to translate drag. Fanchuan (反串)and bianzhuang (变装)are two of the most common terms used to describe drag in Mandarin Chinese. Fachuan – meaning crossdressing – is usually seen as a sophisticated art form of gender reversal performance deeply rooted in traditional Chinese theatre and Southeast Asia performance. Bianzhuang – usually translated as drag – refers primarily to contemporary drag performance in popular entertainment venues such as bars and clubs and its aesthetics is more akin to the American drag culture portrayed in Jennie Livingstone’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning…. [READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE]

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