Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture, Media Industries, Representation

Researching Media, Gender, and Sexuality in East Asia

Dr Eva Cheuk-Yin Li

Broadly speaking, my academic and teaching interests focus on two inter-related areas. Firstly, East Asian media and culture. Secondly, gender and sexuality through the lens of the multi-directional flows of transnational and regional popular culture, audience participation (or non-participation), and everyday practices. I am interested in understanding the interplay between media texts, creative industries, and the process of consumption and appropriation. My research aims to investigate the ways in which power operates in everyday social interactions and through structural inequality by examining both on-screen representations and lived experiences. In spite of the increasingly diverse gender and sexual representations in East Asia, I am keen to study the ways in which these visual representations have (or have not) influenced or transformed gender and sexual practices at the individual and institutional levels. My methods are qualitative, ethnographic, and empirical.

The first strand of my research concerns fandom, participatory culture, and identities. For example, in a paper that I co-authored with Alistair Fraser (University of Glasgow), we explored the mediated cultural memories of Kowloon Walled City in colonial Hong Kong, often known as one of history’s greatest anomalies (Fraser and Li, 2017). In addition to examining a range of materials, such as government documents, media texts, interviews, video games, and Internet forum discussions, we interviewed fans who cosplayed characters in a local manga, which was a fictional story inspired by the history of the walled city. In this way, we traced the multi-directional cultural flows within Asia (such as Hong Kong and Japan) and beyond (such as the Anglophone cyberspace/gaming culture) and its relationship with the formation of local identity among Hong Kong young people who grew up in the postcolonial era. We concluded that the transmedia circulation and remediation of Kowloon Walled City has given rise to a second life for this historical site in which bodies, memories, meanings, objects, and identities are constantly dis-embedded and re-embedded.

BigLove Alliance’s ‘ALL4LOVE’ poster featuring Hong Kong Singer-songwriter Denise Ho aka HOCC (Left) and mainland Chinese actress Zhou Xun (right). Photo by Wing Shya. Courtesy of Wing Shya.

The second strand of my research, which is often intertwined with the first, focuses on gender and sexuality and engages with the growing scholarship of queer Asian studies through an empirical lens of media and culture. For example, in order to understand the tantalising interplay between popular culture and gender and sexual cultures in Hong Kong, between 2009 and 2014, I conducted participant observation and 33 interviews with the fans of Denise Ho (a.k.a. HOCC), the first publicly out lesbian singer in the Chinese-speaking entertainment industry (Li, 2017). My analysis explores the shifting notion of ‘normal’ among her fans as they negotiated HOCC’s stardom before and after her coming out, as well as their own gender and identities, by drawing parallels with the illiberal political system, the resurgence of evangelical fundamentalism, and the development of the local tongzhi (literally ‘common will’ or ‘comrade’, shorthand for LGBTQ+ in the Sinophone world) movement.

Over the last year, I have greatly benefited from inspiring conversations with both students and faculty members at the department while further developing my academic and pedagogic interests. The vibrant, supportive, and interdisciplinary research environment is vital to the ongoing academic and social debates on the role that transnational/transcultural media and culture play in shaping identities and fostering social equality.

Currently, I am working on several papers on the inter-Asia circulation of queer media and social movements, the representation of queer families, and the affective construction of authenticity in androgynous Chinese celebrity bodies, in addition to completing a monograph on the everyday practice of ‘middle gender/neutral gender’ (zhongxing) among women in Hong Kong and urban China (see also Li and Halstead, 2018).