Report: Participating in "The Possibilities of Queer Studies in East Asia"

Kazuyoshi KAWASAKA
Graduate School Student

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

On February 22nd, 2010, a public symposium entitled "The Possibilities for Queer Studies in East Asia" was held at Tokyo University. At this symposium, Professor Wei Cheng Chu spoke about the reception and expansion of Queer Studies in Taiwan, and Professor Denise Tse Shang Tang spoke about the past and present of Queer Activism in Hong Kong. Due to space constraints, this report will focus on aspects of the former lecture that I found particularly thought-provoking and inspiring.

Until recent times, the relationship between Queer Studies and globalization has tended to be discussed in dichotomous terms as "Europe and the United States" and "Elsewhere." Further, in Japan, Queer Studies has often been criticized as a "U.S. import" that does not sufficiently reflect Japanese history and culture. In contrast, others have argued that tendency of Queer Studies to criticize and dismantle the monolithic identity is in fact close to the nature of traditional sexuality in Japan. They argue that Japan differs from Europe and the United States because throughout its history, it never conceived the kind of strong identity that is criticized by Queer Studies. Whether we position Queer Studies as being far from or close to Japan, it can be argued that we have become accustomed to conceiving of its "originality" in Japan on the foundation of an Anglo-American centered Europe and the U.S.
In my opinion, therefore, we seem to have been reproducing the nationalistic model of a "Japan" that is different from Europe and the U.S. However, looking at the reception of Anglo-American Queer Studies that occurred at around the same time in other parts
of East Asia enables us to see the distinctiveness and possibilities, as well as the common problems, of each of our cultures which could not be seen in the comparison with Europe and the U.S.
Professor Chu's lecture discussed how Queer Studies, which was developed in the urban areas of English-speaking countries, has come to be recognized in Taiwan while negotiating with a uniquely Taiwanese historical context and culture. Although Taiwan is similar to Japan in that scholars of English and American literature played an instrumental role played in the introduction of Queer Studies, Professor Chu noted that Taiwan's unique historical context - the National Party's one-party rule that continued
until the 1980s - affected the later activism of sexual minorities and the spread of Queer Studies. The abolition of martial law in Taiwan in 1987 galvanized activity by people who had until then been marginalized. Furthermore, coordination between minority activism and mainstream society was achieved because the majority, who had been living under repressive rule themselves, sympathized with the activists. Professor Chu asserts that this established a strong foundation to facilitate the acceptance of Queer Studies in mainstream society. If we historicize Queer Studies in Japan in a similar light, we may
be able to shed light on aspects that were not visible when comparing Japan with Europe
and the United States. Moreover, the case of Taiwan can offer us many insights concerning the future possibilities in the expansion of Queer Studies in Japan.
There is the Queer Studies born in the urban areas of English-speaking countries and the "original" Queer Studies received and developed differently in each Asian country. Bringing the two into contact and communication will surely open up new possibilities for knowledge. In order to accomplish this, however, we must try to untangle, rather than reconstruct, such dualistic relationships as Europe and the U.S. and "Japan," or "Japan" and "Asia," which have heretofore created the identity of Japan. This is a possibility for Queer Studies and it is a challenge for all of us who live and think in East Asia.