Brave ‘Neo’ World: The Discourses of the Post-90s Generation of Lesbians in Contemporary China


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date4 Sep 2019


Sexuality is a site of cultural practices where global queerness meets with local cultural ideologies, especially in non-Western locations. However, the relation between local imperatives and global ideologies is often complicated. This study, situating itself in the field of queer linguistic studies in China, aims to investigate how Chinese lesbian identity construction in language indexes both local sociocultural beliefs and global ideologies.Particularly, it aims to look into how members of the post-90s generation of Chinese lesbians incorporate contemporary neoliberal discourses in China to constitute an individualistic yet capitalized self. It discusses specifically how members of the post-90s generation of Chinese lesbians use language to make sense of their relationships, the conflict between their relationships and heteronormative structures and their position as queer Chinese citizens. Finally, this study presents a contemporary Chinese lesbian subjectivity constituted at the intersection of traditional heteronormative structures,contemporary neoliberal discourses and global queer ideologies. Previous research has been conducted on lesbian identities and practices in China, but this study looks at a much younger generation of Chinese lesbians: the post-90s generation, i.e. the generation born in the 1990s. Post-90s is a particular generation marker in Chinese public discourses in that this generation has been brought up in a highly urbanized and ever-globalized China with its neoliberal projects in both the public and private sphere. In public discourses in China,and also according to previous work on the post-90s Chinese, this generation is often considered to be significantly more individualistic, bolder and more “westernized” than, for example, the post-70s or 80s generations. In other words, the conflict and fusion between Chinese cultural imperatives and global queer ideologies are the most evident among the post-90s generation.

The data for this study mainly consist of transcribed interview extracts recorded between the researcher and participants: ten post-90s Chinese lesbians. The research design and execution is shaped by a poststructuralist perspective, viewing identities as constructed rather than essential, and with linguistic practices playing an important part in identity construction. From a micro perspective, this study takes as its focus of analysis the language used by participants in enacting their sexual identities and practices. It looks into how participants take up different stances, i.e. communicative positions, in the speech event. From a macro perspective, it intends to answer what subject positions are thus occupied by their stance-taking and how these subject positions are related to broader sociocultural discourses. The combination of micro stance-taking and macro discursive positioning makes it possible for the researcher to examine the linguistic and discursive strategies deployed by participants to construct their desired identities, at the site of interviews. At the same time, an ethnographic approach, combined with the researcher’s own insider perspective as a member of the social group under investigation also enables the researcher to better identify the cultural discourses and ideologies that are available and further deployed by the participants.Finally, this investigation of lesbian identity construction in contemporary China aims to achieve two goals: first, it helps to illuminate further the relation between identity,especially sexual identity, and language; second, it provides a deeper understanding of the desires, frustrations and aspirations of lesbians as marginalized subjects in a highly urbanized China.