Book review by Gemma Commane in Porn Studies (dec 2016)
Radio Interview with Louise Bak for Sex City Toronto (march 2016)
Book Review and Interview in Flamingo Shanghai of The Afterglow of Women’s Porn In Post-Digital China by Sam Gaskin (July 2015)
Cited in a story in the Economist about Chinese Online erotic literature and slash fictions.
Chinese artists, activists, and netizens are pioneering a new order of pornographic representation that is in critical dialogue with global entertainment media. The book examines the role of sex-positive feminisms as well as queer communities and aesthetics in various types of sexually explicit media in both mainland China and Hong Kong to investigate pornography’s “afterglow” (a state of crisis and decay within digital culture) by focusing on a new generation of artists and scholars who have made statements about gender and body politics.
Chapter 1. Women’s Drifting Eyeballs and Porn Tastes
For this chapter, Hong Kong women’s erotic/pornographic tastes and media landscapes were examined by means of workshops, during which several video clips of culturally diverse hard-core pornography and feminist/queer pornography were screened and commented on. The chapter analyzes their reactions as a type of “drifting gaze” or a post-cinematic immersion that makes room for novel sensations of arousal and sexual orientation. Women can easily select, share and re-activate miscellaneous movies produced within different cultures and media industries, either for personal enjoyment or to reprocess them in the public spaces of art and education. But despite the ease of access to global pornographies, they also embrace eroticism as local languages of lust and obscenity within an overarching democracy movement.
Chapter 2. Wandering Scholars and the Teachings of Ghosts
This chapter analyzes the tradition of Chinese ancient literature and contemporary erotic ghost figures in arthouse and soft erotic cinema. Building on Judith Zeitlin’s feminist scholarship about ghosts in Ming Dynasty literature, the chapter looks at sexual performances and sex scenes in Hong Kong movies such as Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Stanley Kwan’s Rouge ( 1988) and Chor Yuen’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972). These performances will be analyzed as examples of “phantom feminism,” not in the negative sense as illusory or non-existing presences, but as roaming forces that trigger emotive responses and a melancholic reflection on patriarchal-technological progress. Phantom feminism builds on Jack Halberstam’s notion of failure and shadow feminism as a force that stays in the background yet exerts power by means of unusual expressions and sensations.
Chapter 3. Message on the Body in the Chinese Netsphere
This chapter examines how sex-positive feminists in Mainland China use writing on the naked body and online self-display as strategies to confront violence and censorship, as well as conversely address sexual hedonism and pleasure. For example, in 2014 the pioneering scholar and filmmaker Ai Xiaoming uploaded a photo of her naked torso with text written on it in defense of the sex worker activist Ye Haiyan. During the same year a young queer activist Xiao Meini had posted an image of her naked torso with many nipples photoshopped onto it. Art historian Tong Yujie shows that female performance artists are equally “writing the sexual body” in order to act out memories of masochism and eroticism. The chapter will contextualize these sites of bodily writing alongside debates concerning feminism and its conflicting positions on sexual pleasure and trauma.
Chapter 4. The Art of Failure as seen in Chinese Women’s Boys’ Love Fantasies
This chapter looks at feminine pornographies within online micro-fictions and d.i.y comics based on the Japanese animation genre of Boys’ love (in Chinese called danmei or simply “BL”). This genre refers to female-authored narratives about homosexual love affairs that involve emotional hardship and hard-core sex. The stories are comprised of many different genres but all depict heightened love affairs and sex scenes between a male “dominant” (seme) character and a male “bottom”（uke). The female penchant for “emotive pornography” will be further related to Halberstam’s notion of “queer art of failure” as artistic expressivity and an unwillingness to pursue normative standards of beauty, success and pleasure within corporatized cultures and mainstream education.
Chapter 5. The Master Class of Left-Over Women
The last chapter analyzes female bodies in visual culture and collects testimonies from the “master class” of left-over women in China and Hong Kong regarding their experiences with maturing femininity, sexual pleasure and sexual artforms. Women’s attitudes are influenced by a mainland Chinese incentive that suggests that unmarried women aged twenty-five and above become “left-over women” or social outcasts who would fail to attract partners (Hong-Fincher 2014). If social media platforms should aim at opening up networks for women with alternative life-styles, Chinese agencies fall back on a defense of stringent morality and materialism that leaves little room for seduction, pleasure or romance. The chapters shows that despite this neo-conservative mindset, there is a large “masterclass” of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese women who resist the patriotic call for female submission and pristine motherhood.