Book Excerpt: “Queer Taiwanese Literature” by Howard Chiang

As the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia and host the first annual gay pride in the Sinophone Pacific, Taiwan is a historic center of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture. Taiwan also enjoys a wide interest in its stories about queer Taiwanese people, and “Queer Taiwanese Literature “provides a deeper understanding of queer literary history in Taiwan. Below, read Howard Chiang, the editor of this anthology, on Taiwan’s queer activism and literature:

In the years leading up to 2000, Taiwan’s tongzhi movement blossomed with an extraordinary momentum. The first lesbian and gay religious groups, the Tong-Kwang Light House Presbyterian Church and the Buddhist Youth Abode, were established in 1996. Founded in December of the same year, the Tongzhi Citizen Action Front, or the “Second Front,” was a reincarnation of the earlier Spatial Action Front. The police raid of a house party on Changde Street in Taipei in July 1997, also known as the Changde Street Incident, prompted the Tongzhi Citizen Action Front to document and disseminate the unjust treatment of gay men arrested by police. The Front unleashed a resistance force to interrogate the legitimacy of such discriminatory practice in social governance. This in turn set the stage for the formation of the first tongzhi consultation group, the Tongzhi Assistance Association in November 1997. Another organization, Queer’n Class, which later changed its name to Gender/Sexuality Rights Association for Taiwan, soon followed in 1998. By the time that various lesbian and gay groups came together to cofound the landmark Tongzhi Hotline Association, the first tongzhi corporation officially registered with the Ministry of the Interior in June 2008, many activists fostered a growing alertness to the way subcultural communities—including the transgender, bisexual, and BDSM communities—had been marginally positioned in relation to the mainstream gay and lesbian movement.

In addition to social activism, the 1990s also witnessed the flowering of queer cultural production. In 1994, students at National Taiwan University formed Taiwan’s first-ever lesbian society—the Lambda society. Academic queer theory suddenly became a hot topic of study across university campuses. The first edition of the earliest queer magazines, G&L and Together, were released in 1996 and 1998 respectively. A thriving queerthemed academic and publishing culture came to characterize much of the decade. The surfacing of a series of queer-focused special issues of scholarly journals, including Chung-wai Literary Monthly, Unitas, Eslite Book Review, and Isle Margin, shaped a self-conscious tongzhi reading public. Increasingly, a generation of tongzhi authors—Qiu Miaojin, Tsao Li-chuan, Chu T’ien-hsin, Chu T’ien-wen, Wu Jiwen, Lin Yuyi, Lin Chung Ying, Hong Ling, Chi Ta-wei, Hsu Yoshen, Chen Xue, Dong Qizhang, Ping Lu, Lai Hsiang-yin, Li Ang, among others—wrote popular novels and short fictions, which consolidated a subgenre of Taiwanese literature that came to be known as tongzhi wenxue 同志文學 (“tongzhi literature”).

This book is part of the Cambria Literature from Taiwan Series, in collaboration with the National Museum of Taiwan Literature and National Taiwan Normal University.

Howard Chiang is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Davis. He has written two monographs on China, forming a duology of queer Asian Pacific history through the lens of knowledge production. After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China analyzes the history of sex change in China from the demise of castration in the late Qing era to the emergence of transsexuality in Cold War Taiwan. It received the 2019 International Convention of Asia Scholars Humanities Book Prize and the 2020 Bonnie and Vern L. Bullough Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Transtopia in the Sinophone Pacific proposes a new paradigm for doing transgender history in which geopolitics assumes central importance. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, which was awarded the 2020 Dartmouth Medal by the American Library Association.

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