Workshop on Sexology and Sexuality in China

This inter-disciplinary workshop was held on 4th May 2018 at the University of Exeter. Dr Leon Rocha (University of Liverpool) presented on “Sexology in the Tabloids: The Case of Zhou Yueran (1885-1962)” and Dr Ting Guo (University of Exeter) discussed “Translation and queer feminism in China: Jihua Network and Carol (2015)”. You can find the abstracts below.

This seminar was hosted by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History and the  Rethinking Sexology project, and was part of the Medical History and Humanities seminar series (details of which can be found here)


Dr Leon Rocha (Liverpool):

“Sexology in the Tabloids: The Case of Zhou Yueran (1885-1962)”

Previous scholarship on the history of sexology, eugenics and reproduction in early twentieth-century China has often prioritised Chinese translations and appropriations of European-American medical-scientific “classics” (Havelock Ellis, Marie Stopes, Francis Galton etc.), analysing the way that intellectuals in China attempted to modernise Chinese mentalities by promoting modern thinking about hygiene, population, sexuality and the self. Many of the political and intellectual dynamics of these Chinese projects have been well-explored. For example, Chinese thinkers staked themselves as “enlighteners” of the masses, popularising and disseminating scientific knowledge on human sexuality in a rational, respectful and austere fashion. They often shunned discussions on eroticism, “deviant” sexuality or “perversions” altogether, in order to avoid being attacked for “peddling pornography” or “corrupting youth”. One Chinese intellectual, however, consciously flaunted these norms by writing about sexology in an erudite but entertaining, almost flippant manner. The famous bibliophile and translator Zhou Yueran (1885-1962) had, in the 1930s, a regular short column in “Jingbao” (The Crystal), the most widely read tabloid in Republican Shanghai. I explore some of the diverse range of sources that Zhou draws from, as well as his extremely creative and humorous translations of sexological terminology. In tandem I introduce Zhou’s life and work. This paper is part of a larger project in thinking about how sex and sexology, as well as being serious business (modernity, nation, science, identity…) in China, was a source of satire, laughter and mischief.


Dr Ting Guo, University of Exeter:

“Translation and queer feminism in China: Jihua Network and Carol (2015)”

Despite a solid body of legislation defending women’s rights and interests, inequalities between genders remain a significant problem in various areas of Chinese society from education and employment to health. While there is growing literature on the connection between Chinese feminist movement and international gender politics (e.g. Liu et al. 2013, Wesoky 2013, Yu 2015), little attention has been paid to the LGBT+ related issues and how knowledge of gender and sexuality has been disseminated through translation to support queer feminism in China.

Drawing from research on transnational feminism (e.g. Grewal & Kaplan 2001, Swarr & Nagar 2012) and queer media activism (e.g. Engebretsen et al. 2015), this paper examines the negotiation and circulation of international queer feminist knowledge in the Chinese context through translation of films. With a case study of Jihua Network, one of the most influential lesbian subtitling groups in China, this paper explores how the Chinese translation of Anglophone lesbian films has been intertwined with global gender politics and participated in the emergent queer feminism in China. It will investigate the development of Jihua in the past decade, its collaborative translation model, and its connections with other LGBT+ subtitling groups in China. Through analysing its translation of the film, Carol (Haynes 2015) and related reviews and interviews about the film, this paper will highlight the initiatives taken by Chinese lesbian feminists to connect with the international community and position themselves within Chinese culture, and how the socio-political inequalities accumulated in the process of globalization can be challenged or reinforced through translation of queer feminist films.