Backward Glances

Contemporary Chinese Cultures and the Female Homoerotic Imaginary

Backward Glances

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 57 illustrations Published: April 2010

Asian Studies > East Asia, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Media Studies > Film

Backward Glances reveals that the passionate love one woman feels for another occupies a position of unsuspected centrality in contemporary Chinese mass cultures. By examining representations of erotic and romantic love between women in popular films, elite and pulp fiction, and television dramas, Fran Martin shows how youthful same-sex love is often framed as a universal, even ennobling, feminine experience. She argues that a temporal logic dominates depictions of female homoeroticism, and she traces that logic across texts produced and consumed in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan during the twentieth century and the early twenty-first. Attentive to both transnational cultural flows and local particularities, Martin shows how loving relations between women in mass culture are usually represented as past experiences. Adult protagonists revel in the repeated, mournful narration of their memories. Yet these portrayals do not simply or finally consign the same-sex loving woman to the past—they also cause her to reappear ceaselessly in the present.

As Martin explains, memorial schoolgirl love stories are popular throughout contemporary Chinese cultures. The same-sex attracted young woman appears in both openly homophobic and proudly queer-affirmative narratives, as well as in stories whose ideological valence is less immediately clear. Martin demonstrates that the stories, television programs, and films she analyzes are not idiosyncratic depictions of marginal figures, but manifestations of a broader, mainstream cultural preoccupation. Her investigation of representations of same-sex love between women sheds new light on contemporary Chinese understandings of sex, love, gender, marriage, and the cultural ordering of human life.


Backward Glances . . . would prove invaluable to any student of queer, Chinese or literary studies.” — Danielle Mulholland, M/C Reviews

Backward Glances is a lucidly written and coherently argued book providing sophisticated analyses on how the love and desire between women are represented in various examples from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. . . . This thoughtful work will be of interest to scholars and students in the field of Chinese (literary and film) studies and gender studies, as well as laymen curious about the representation of (female) homosexuality in contemporary Chinese cultures.” — Pei-Yin Lin, The China Quarterly

Backward Glances is historically informed, theoretically sophisticated, cogently argued, and beautifully written. The book is a timely and important addition to gender and sexuality studies in the China field, and it certainly will enrich our knowledge in Chinese, feminist, and queer studies.” — Wenqing Kang, Journal of Asian Studies

“Fran Martin provides us with a fascinating account of the representation of female homoeroticism, breaking up Western-Asian binaries and crossing borders between various Chinese regions.” — Jens Damm, China Review International

“In Backward Glances, Fran Martin presents a careful and intriguing analysis of the representation of female same-sex love in printed and visual materials in the three Chinese societies of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong primarily from the 1970s onward. . . . Backward Glances is a well-written scholarly book that is accessible to the general reader and deserves to be read beyond its field.” — Diana Khor, Journal of Lesbian Studies

“Supported by exceptionally lucid close readings of novels and films and by admirably clear invocations of contemporary theoretical material, Martin’s persuasive work is an exemplary piece of interdisciplinary scholarship. . . . Without doubt useful for scholars of 20th-century Chinese history and literature, this is also an imperative read for those interested in negative affects, melancholia, queer temporality, and feminist film and literary theory. Essential.” — K. L. Brintnall, Choice

“Though academic in style, Backward Glances is quite approachable. Written as a scholarly text, it can also be of interest to and easily enjoyed by anyone interested in the topics of queer representation, media, and Chinese culture. The book covers a wide range of material, but never feels overwhelming or dense. . . . Backward Glances is a well-written, critical exploration of a newly emerging field of study.” — Carrie Polansky, Feminist Review

Backward Glances is a substantial contribution to the emerging scholarship on female same-sex desire in contemporary Chinese contexts. Through close readings of literary and visual texts, Fran Martin develops a convincing, sophisticated theory of ‘memorial discourse’ to explain the prevailing conceptualizations and representations of female same-sex relations in the cultural imaginaries of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. She is very thoughtful in negotiating the cultural differences as well as the links among the regions, and in dealing with Western theory in relation to Chinese contexts.” — Siu Leung Li, author of Cross-Dressing in Chinese Opera

Backward Glances is an astute, exhilarating work about transnational Chinese media representations of the (im)possibility of female homoerotic love. This tightly argued, deeply thoughtful book provides a genealogy of literary and cinematic love between women that frames these relationships as contested terrain in the temporal, melancholic, forced march toward heterosexual marriage. Fran Martin’s perceptive interwoven analyses of the overlapping geopolitical dialogues, both scholarly and popular, between Western and Chinese cultural critiques make Backward Glances a must read no matter where people locate their concerns about marginalized sexualities.” — Lisa Rofel, author of Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture

“This fascinating book skillfully delineates the unique characteristics of Chinese same-sex narratives in stories, television, and film. Fran Martin argues convincingly for the centrality of the ‘memorial mode of female homoerotic representation’ in which women are repeatedly haunted by an idealized lost love. She offers an important corrective to those who consider homosexuality to be a Western invention. In this very readable study, Martin engages current theories of lesbian sexuality, while insisting on the unique characteristics and importance of Chinese traditions of same-sex love. This impressive work should be read by anyone interested in the history of sexuality.” — Martha Vicinus, University of Michigan


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Fran Martin is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Situating Sexualities: Queer Representation in Taiwanese Fiction, Film, and Public Culture and a co-editor of AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities; Embodied Modernities: Corporeality, Representation, and Chinese Cultures; and Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Note on Translations and Transliterations xi

Introduction: Love and Remembrance 1

1. Tragic Romance: The Chinese Going-In Story 29

2. Voluble Ellipsis: Second-Wave Schoolgirl Romance in Taiwan and Hong Kong 49

3. Postsocialist Melancholia: "Blue Sky Green Sky" 75

4. No Future: Tomboy Melodrama 93

5. Television as Public Mourning: Taiwan's Sad Young Women 118

6. Critical Presentism: New Chinese Lesbian Cinema 147

Epilogue 180

Appendix: Interview with Shi Tou 187

Character List 199

Notes 205

Filmography 255

Selected Bibliography 259

Index 281
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Finalist, 2011 Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT Studies)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4680-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4668-5
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