Desiring China

Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture

Desiring China

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: Published: May 2007

Author: Lisa Rofel

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies

Through window displays, newspapers, soap operas, gay bars, and other public culture venues, Chinese citizens are negotiating what it means to be cosmopolitan citizens of the world, with appropriate needs, aspirations, and longings. Lisa Rofel argues that the creation of such “desiring subjects” is at the core of China’s contingent, piece-by-piece reconfiguration of its relationship to a post-socialist world. In a study at once ethnographic, historical, and theoretical, she contends that neoliberal subjectivities are created through the production of various desires—material, sexual, and affective—and that it is largely through their engagements with public culture that people in China are imagining and practicing appropriate desires for the post-Mao era.

Drawing on her research over the past two decades among urban residents and rural migrants in Hangzhou and Beijing, Rofel analyzes the meanings that individuals attach to various public cultural phenomena and what their interpretations say about their understandings of post-socialist China and their roles within it. She locates the first broad-based public debate about post-Mao social changes in the passionate dialogues about the popular 1991 television soap opera Yearnings. She describes how the emergence of gay identities and practices in China reveals connections to a transnational network of lesbians and gay men at the same time that it brings urban/rural and class divisions to the fore. The 1999–2001 negotiations over China’s entry into the World Trade Organization; a controversial women’s museum; the ways that young single women portray their longings in relation to the privations they imagine their mothers experienced; adjudications of the limits of self-interest in court cases related to homoerotic desire, intellectual property, and consumer fraud—Rofel reveals all of these as sites where desiring subjects come into being.


Desiring China is an exciting and important new work that pushes the boundaries of ethnography and offers new critical frameworks for discussions of neoliberalism and culture.” — Patti Duncan, NWSA Journal

Desiring China will surely take its place as an indispensable work that scholars in queer studies, cultural studies, and Chinese studies have been ‘desiring’ for a long time.” — Alvin Ka Hin Wong, GLQ

“As the title Desiring China makes clear, desire is at the heart of Lisa Rofel’s provocative, impressionistic account of the implementation of neoliberal policies and the iteration of new subjectivities in postsocialist China. Americanist readers should not be deterred by the focus on China here; Rofel’s inquiry draws upon, and challenges, work with which scholars of transnational American studies, queer studies, cultural anthropology, sociology, and women’s studies will be familiar.” — Cotton Seiler, American Quarterly

“Lisa Rofel’s collection of essays entitled Desiring China is the latest offering to a world eager to make sense of this 'inscrutable' nation. . . . Rofel’s book broadens the context for understanding the emergence of gay identities in China by seeing it as symptomatic of China’s greater engagement with the world and the shift to a consumer economy.” — Niladri Chatterjee, Gay & Lesbian Review

“Lisa Rofel’s volume is distinguished by its explicit engagement with U. S. politics through an extensive examination of China-in-transformation. Rofel’s analysis centers on public cultural spheres and foregrounds the thesis that globalization is no longer external to China but internal to its economic and cultural productions of commodities, public spheres, subjectivities, and desire.” — Yan Hairong, Journal of Asian Studies

“This book is among the first anthropological studies attempting to unite in a common framework the segmented and mulifaceted experiences that China has undergone during the last fifteen years. . . . Desiring China is undoubtedly a desirable contribution to the anthropological study of China.” — Liang Yongjia, Asian Anthropology

“This book is theoretically expansive and ethnographically rich, weaving discussions of the production of post-socialist subjectivities with critiques of the literature on ‘neoliberalism.’ It should be welcomed by a wide range of scholars who have an interest in cultural studies, China and Asian studies, queer and feminist theory, and contemporary theory.” — Tiantian Zheng, The China Quarterly

“With Desiring China, Rofel demonstrates how meticulous ethnography can contribute to contemporary debates on national belonging, neoliberalism, feminism, queer theory, and popular culture. Consequently, it should appeal to a broad anthropological audience. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in these areas of inquiry.” — Mary Ann O’Donnell, American Ethnologist

“Brilliant and wide-ranging, Desiring China deftly interweaves analysis of the production of post-socialist citizen-subjects in China with a transformative critique of the literature on ‘neoliberalism.’ This tour de force is theoretically expansive, ethnographically rich, and a compelling read. It deserves a broad audience in cultural studies, anthropology, queer and feminist theory, Asian studies, and contemporary theory.” — Dorinne Kondo, University of Southern California

“This is a brilliant ethnography of how emotions unleashed by neoliberalism are configuring post-Tiananmen culture. With wit and sparkle, Lisa Rofel introduces us to young Chinese who live for the moment, experimenting with sex, love, and cosmopolitanism, without (ever) forgetting their love of culture and of nation. Desiring China is an exciting work of cultural interpretation, and it is an innovative guide for studying the cultural practices and political possibilities in globalizing China.” — Aihwa Ong, author of Neoliberalism as Exception and coeditor of Privatizing China


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lisa Rofel is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Other Modernities: Gendered Yearnings in China After Socialism and a coeditor of Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1. Yearnings: Televisual Love and Melodramatic Politics 31
2.  Museum as Women’s Space: Displays of Gender 65
3.  Qualities of Desire: Imagining Gay Identities 85
4.  From Sacrifice to Desire: Cosmopolitanism with Chinese Characteristics 111
5.  Legislating Desire: Homosexuality, Intellectual Property Rights, and Consumer Fraud 135
6.  Desiring China: China’s Entry into the WTO 157
Coda 197
Notes 205
Works Cited 229
Index 247
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3947-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3935-9
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