Studies in East Asia
Vera Mackie and Mark McLelland
Over the last two or three decades, sexuality studies has come to be seen as a distinctive field of academic inquiry. What is sometimes referred to as the ‘new sexuality studies’ is distinguished from earlier paradigms which looked at human sexuality through the prisms of biology, medical science, psychoanalysis, psychology and what was known as ‘sexology’ (Weeks 2003). By contrast, in current ways of looking at sexuality, the cultural meanings, imaginaries and identities associated with sex and sexuality are seen to be just as important as behaviours and practices. In the introduction to the first issue of the journal Sexualities in 1998, Ken Plummer put forward this view of sexuality studies.
From many different perspectives, more and more analysts of sexuality have recognized that sexuality for humans never just is: it has no reality sui generis, and a concern with it always brings wider social issues in its wake. Human sexualities have to be socially produced, socially organized, socially maintained and socially transformed. And, as cultures change, so do sexualities. Sexuality for humans is profoundly not like that of other animals. Everywhere it is prone to shifting symbols, contingent contexts and political processes. (Plummer 1998: 5)
In a similar vein, Dinshaw and Halperin emphasise the meanings attached to sexuality in their introduction to the first issue of GLQ, explaining that they understand sex, ‘not simply as a physical or psychological event but also as a mode of transacting cultural business’. They embarked on a project to ‘illuminate the complex interplay among sexual and social meanings, individual and collective practices, private fantasies and public institutions, erotics and politics’ (Dinshaw and Halperin 1993: iii). Seidman, Fischer and Meeks set out their view of this field in their introduction to the Routledge Handbook of the New Sexuality Studies:
The new sexuality studies perspective does not deny the biological aspects of sexuality. There would be no sexuality without bodies. However, it is social forces which determine which organs and orifices become ‘sexual’, how such organs and orifices may be used or expressed, their social and moral meaning, which desires and acts become the basis of identities, and what social norms regulate behavior and intimacies. It is this deep view of sex as social that we hope to convey in this volume. (Seidman, Fischer and Meeks 2006: xii)
From our own experiences in researching sexualities in the East Asian region, the editors and contributors to this handbook share such an understanding that sexuality can only be understood through its embeddedness in particular local cultural and social formations. Current research on sexualities in East Asia is scattered across a range of gender and sexuality studies, cultural studies and area studies journals and book series, with no one journal dedicated to the field (but see the journal Intersections, which has a focus on ‘gender and sexuality in Asia and the Pacific’ and the Queer Asia book series from Hong Kong University Press). Hence one contribution of this volume is to bring together in one place a range of studies that look at how aspects of sexuality are variously constructed in specific contexts across the East Asian region.
In drawing together in this volume some of the leading scholarship on sexualities in East Asia, we have benefited from the advice of our international Editorial Board. These specialists — from East Asia, Australia and North America — offered advice on topics of particular importance, suggested authors to invite, commented on drafts and offered other advice on the shaping of the collection. We have been able to bring together a group of authors based in East Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, including diasporic scholars from the Asian region who work in diverse locations.
All of our authors have a deep engagement with the languages, cultures and societies of the East Asian region, and the essays combine the insights of their own empirical research with a thorough familiarity with the scholarly literature in the languages of the region. In some cases, we are making the fruits of original research available in English for the first time. Although no single collection can ever be comprehensive, we have endeavoured to gather together chapters focusing on key topics written by international experts, drawing as far as possible on scholarship from the region. Our authors come from a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds. They are historians, ethnographers, medical anthropologists, sociologists, specialists in law, film, literature and new media, drawing on cultural studies, media studies, gender and sexuality studies, gay, lesbian and transgender studies, as well as queer theory.
Discussing the range of sexual concepts and practices that occur in the countries of East Asia is in many ways not a new enterprise. Where sexuality in the region is concerned, there has been a long tradition of objectifying supposedly ‘traditional’ practices that have seemed exotic to Euro-American observers. Michel Foucault characterised Japan and China as supporting an ‘ars erotica’ (erotic art), as opposed to Europe’s ‘scientia sexualis’ (sexual science) (Foucault 1978: 57—8; and see Rocha 2011: 330). More recently, there have been panics in the Anglophone press and an increasing number of court cases concerning ‘obscenity’ in Japanese animation and manga (McLelland 2013). The stories of Pierre Loti and Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera ‘Madama Butterfly’ have provided a template for the depiction of relationships between Asian women and non-Asian men (Loti 1985[1920, 1888]; Mackie 2000). Their influence is still seen in such texts as Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s long-running musical Miss Saigon, set in the time of the Vietnam War. The ‘Butterfly’ myth, however, has been deconstructed to some extent in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, which depicts the relationship between a French diplomat and a Chinese transgendered performer (Hwang 1988).
In these ways, the sexual cultures of the societies of East Asia have often been seen as distinct and fundamentally different from those of ‘the West’. This ‘orientalising’ perspective is on the wane, however, in academia at least (for a much-criticised journalistic work which continues these Orientalist themes, though, see Bernstein 2010). There is now a large volume of recent work on the interface between local sexual practices and regional and global forms of sexual knowledge from scholars based in the region as well as those working from North American, European and Australian institutions (see for instance, Martin et al. 2008). In this volume, our contributors study sex and sexualities in their local contexts, embedded in specific cultural and social formations. Rather than looking at sexualities in East Asia as something exotic, we recognise the specificity of each local context, a project which can result in ‘provincialising’ Euro-American orthodoxies (cf. Chakrabarty 2000: 3—16). That is, sexualities in Europe, North America or Australia are just as contingent and locally specific as they are in Japan, South Korea or China.
When framing the collection, we were keen to reflect on the difficulties of discussing sexuality in reference to a specific region in an era that has been characterised as one of ‘global sex’ (Altman 2001). We particularly wanted to avoid an approach that posited the societies of East Asia as merely passive recipients of Western sexual knowledge, originally through the impact of nineteenth century imperialism and more recently through the power of Euro-American media, human rights discourse and aid programs. To an extent, the societies that are covered in this volume: the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Japan, Mongolia and Vietnam were always already globalised. With the exception of Vietnam, Hong Kong, and for a very brief period in the seventeenth century, Taiwan, these societies were not formally colonised by Western powers. These countries were, though, subject to unequal treaties, the creation of treaty ports, and the establishment of international settlements in major trading ports. Many of the most enduring influences in the region, rather, have been those of China and Japan. For centuries the East Asian region was impacted by Chinese language, culture and traditions. We were keen to highlight the role played by Chinese culture in the region by including chapters on China’s southernmost and northernmost neighbours, Vietnam and Mongolia, whose contemporary sexual mores cannot be understood without reference to centuries of interaction with their more powerful neighbour. Confucianism and neo-Confucianism have been major influences in the region, although inflected in distinctive ways in each local context. Buddhism, too, is a feature of all of the societies and cultures in the region, as well as more local animist traditions: Shinto – in Japan, Daoism in China and other local Korean, Vietnamese and Mongolian religions, customs and practices. More recently, these traditions have been overlaid with Christianity, due to the missionary influence, particularly from the late nineteenth century. Each country in the region, however, responded differently to the Christian influence. From the mid-twentieth century in the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and North Korea, these influences have been overlaid with locally-specific understandings of socialism.
Japan’s role as an imperial power and then an economic and cultural hub in the region cannot be overestimated. For over half a century from the end of the nineteenth century until its defeat in the Second World War, Japan was a colonising power in the region. Japan also became an important conduit of Euro-American knowledge, including knowledge of sexuality, both as a colonial power and as a destination for students from Korea, Taiwan and China. As we shall see below, social-scientific concepts, including those of sexology, were often translated into Japanese first, with these translations then finding their way into the Chinese and Korean languages (on sexology in Japan, see Driscoll 2005: 191—225; Fruhstuck 2003). The common use of Chinese ideographs facilitated such translations, in much the same way as many European languages use Latin and Greek roots in creating new terminologies. In the postwar period Japan’s economic power reached its peak in the 1980s. More recently Japan’s economic influence has been overtaken by what has been labelled as ‘cool Japan’ (McGray 2002). Products such as fashion, music, manga, animation and games have been taken up by young people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and more recently mainland China. In the early 2000s a ‘Korean wave’ of popular culture also swept the region, contributing to a syncretic style of music and fashion which flows across the East Asian region but is quite distinct from forms of popular culture derived from European or North American influences. Hence, there are complex historical and cultural connections criss-crossing the region, now being augmented by new flows of cultural influence enabled by the Internet and other communications technologies (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008).
Changes in technology constantly provide new ways of disseminating knowledges about sexuality. Up to the late nineteenth century, woodblock prints provided a means of visual depiction of erotic acts. These were known as ‘shunga’ (pictures of spring) or ‘ukiyo-e’ (pictures of the floating world) in the Japanese context. Woodblock prints were then gradually supplanted by print, photography and cinema. In the latter half of the twentieth century, cable television and the machinery for video recording and playback allowed people to view (or even to produce) sexually explicit materials in their own homes. These have now been supplanted by digital technologies, smart phones and new social media. Wong and Yau’s chapter in this volume discusses the impact of these technologies on transforming sexual cultures in the region.
Cultural flows have, of course, intensified since the popular take-up of the Internet and digital technologies since the late 1990s. South Korea, in particular, has been an innovator in rolling out broadband technologies to its population, quickly followed by Japan and China. Today East Asia contains some of the most ‘wired’ populations on the planet (Goggin and McLelland 2007: 9—10). In East Asia, many access the Internet through convergent portable devices such as cell phones and tablets which allow instant access to cultural content from neighbouring countries and around the world. The information flows enabled by new media technologies further complicate any simply national or regional approach to sexuality studies, given the almost borderless flow of sexual images and information available online.
The East Asian region has also been the site for massive migrations of people, particularly as a result of Japan’s imperialism from the late nineteenth century. At the height of Japan’s so-called ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’ in the early 1940s, as many as six million Japanese, including soldiers, settlers, teachers, bureaucrats, merchants and entertainers were on the move across a territory that reached from Manchuria in the north to Indonesia in the south. Large numbers of male and female Korean and Taiwanese workers were conscripted and moved to factories and mines across the empire. Women from the colonies and occupied territories (and some Japanese women) were enslaved in military brothels as so-called ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese forces, often transported to the battlefronts as the troops advanced or retreated (Yoshimi 2002; Soh 2008). The collapse ofJapan’s war effort in 1945 (followed soon after by the Korean War of 1950 to 1953) led to further displacements of people. The rise to power of the Communist Party in mainland China in 1949 caused many to flee across the borders into Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The East Asian region is one of the most militarised regions of the world. China, North Korea and South Korea each have huge standing armies. Japan and South Korea host US military bases. These military bases also attract entertainment industries, including bars, cabarets and brothels. As soldiers move around the region to these military bases, workers also move to provide entertainment and sexual services. During the Korean War in the 1950s, Japan was the destination for US soldiers on so-called ‘rest and recreation leave’ (R and R). During the Vietnam War, Bangkok, Manila and Sydney became favoured destinations for ‘R and R’ (Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 1993; Hohn and Moon 2010). Even when troops stopped going to these places, the sexual service industries remained, with tourists rather than soldiers forming the major clientele (Bishop and Robinson 1998: 89). Sex workers now move from places such as Manila to Seoul and Okinawa in search of clients (Lee 2010: 185—231; Mackie and Tanji in this volume).
Another by-product of the movement of troops in the region is international marriages, as soldiers make personal relationships with locals wherever they are stationed, sometimes resulting in marriages or de facto relationships. Other forms of international marriage reflect economic disparities in the region. It is often men from richer countries who seek marital partners from poorer countries, while the women from these poorer countries might see international marriage as a form of economic upward mobility, perhaps allowing them to send remittances to their relatives in their home country. In other cases, those who have travelled from one country in the region to another as labour migrants might end up in international partnerships, de facto marriages or international marriages (Nakamatsu in this volume).
Another key issue when framing a volume on sexuality studies is the consideration of the parameters of the term ‘sexuality’. As scholars working on the history of sexuality have pointed out, there have been considerable variations between the categories of sexuality at work in one culture or time period and those of another. Indeed, the idea that there is a separate sphere of human life which can be called ‘sexuality’ may be quite a modern one (Foucault 1978: 152—3). The field of sexuality studies is contiguous with, but not identical to, the field of gender studies. Scholars of gender studies are particularly interested in the cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity, the structured relationships between women and men in society (that is, gender relations), and the use of gendered metaphors for other power relationships (Scott 1988: 42). Sexuality studies scholars focus on the meanings ascribed to sex and sexuality in modern societies. Scholars of sexuality are interested in tracing the historical construction of categories like ‘heterosexual’, ‘homosexual’ and ‘bisexual’ in specific local contexts. Once the focus shifts to local contexts outside the Anglophone sphere, we discover that each local culture and society has its own ways of categorising sexual acts, sexual behaviours and the people who carry out these acts (cf. Jackson 1997: 166—90). Queer theory has also contributed to the project of deconstructing and denaturalising apparently ‘common sense’ ways of thinking about sexuality. Several chapters in this volume consider specific ways of thinking about sexuality studies, some of which appear to have been local precursors of queer theory. In other cases, scholars in local contexts have engaged with international discussions of queer theory, in ways which resonate with their own specific local context (Suganuma in this volume).
There has also been criticism that the term ‘sexuality’ itself is a colonial construct that was invented in the nineteenth century as a key mechanism for the surveillance and control of subject populations by Western elites (Massad 2013), and that as such it is inapplicable to societies outside Europe, at least in a historical context. Such a binaristic view, however, overlooks how Japan adapted European sexological knowledge as part of its own modernisation process and the role Japan played in disseminating this knowledge across the region as part of its own colonial endeavour (Driscoll 2010: 149; Fruhstuck 2003: 23).
It is not the purpose of this collection to present a complete historical overview of the development and deployment of local terminologies and practices relating to sexuality (although some chapters do offer a broader historical context). Excellent work in this field, particularly regarding non-heterosexual forms of relationships, already exists in relation to China (Kang 2009; Sang 2003), Taiwan (Huang 2011), Hong Kong (Kong 2011), Japan (Pflugfelder 1999; Fruhstuck 2003; McLelland 2005; Driscoll 2010), Korea (Cho 2009) and Vietnam (Newton 2012) and reference to some of these studies is made in the ‘further reading’ sections. This collection focuses largely on the current situation in societies across the region as negotiations between local, regional and globalising forces continue to produce new debates and issues surrounding sexual practices, ideologies and identities.
While each location discussed in this volume has its own particular set of concepts, terminology and vocabulary for talking about sexuality, we can also see the flow of concepts and vocabularies across national borders. Many of the countries of the region inherited Chinese – derived concepts for talking about sexuality. For example, the Chinese morpheme ‘chun’ (^, meaning ‘spring’) is used to denote sex in such concepts as ‘maichun’ (selling sex = prostitution). Similar phrases are found in Korean (maech’un) and Japanese (baishun). Likewise, there has also
been resistance to this emphasis on the seller rather than the buyer of sex, and new compounds have been developed in Japanese baibaishun, ‘buying and selling sex’) and Korean
(songmaemae ‘sex buying and selling’) to capture this shift in emphasis from sellers to buyers. Others have created compounds equivalent to ‘sex work’ (for example, sei rodо in Japanese).
Historically, Japanese was the first language in the region to translate European sexological concepts into Sinic compounds. Richard Freiherr Krafft-Ebing’s (1840—1902) terms for ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ from Psychopathia Sexualis (Krafft-Ebing 1886, 1892) were translated into Japanese as ‘doseiai’ (literally same-sex-love) and ‘iseiai’ (opposite-sex-love). Although there was an early translation of some of Krafft-Ebing’s work in the late nineteenth century, it was banned by the Japanese government, and the terms did not come into general currency in Japanese until the early 1920s (Pflugfelder 1999: 201; McLelland 2005: 20-1). These compounds were adapted (with some slight variations) into Chinese, Korean (see Choi in this volume) and into Vietnamese via Chinese (see Newton in this volume). More recently, variations on the word ‘gay’ appear in several languages, and variations on the word ‘tomboy’ (for lesbian) appear in several languages (see Tang in this volume). The Sinophone sphere has adapted the term for a ‘comrade’ (tongzhi) to denote gay and lesbian solidarity (Martin in this volume). Acronyms from the Roman alphabet, like GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) and SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity), also appear in some contexts, particularly through contacts with international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) or aid agencies (Newton in this volume).
The chapters in the volume are organised according to the following themes: sexualities in a transnational frame, love, sex and marriage, sexual politics, sexual subcultures and communities, sex work, sexual health, and pornography and censorship.