The Politicization of Ku’er

My limited account of BJQFF here has also demonstrated the interesting dynamics of transnational cultural flows. Queer film festivals as a format, and as public culture, did not start in China; the development of BJQFF has also been closely tied to transnational capital and neoliberal ideology.41 However, this does not mean that queer film festivals in China are copying their Western counterparts. BJQFF draws on a number of cultures in its organizing style, including socialist and revolutionary battle strategies and traditions of mass mobilization. The fact that queer subjectivities in China were (ironically) formed by a collaboration between the state and transnational capitalism has not stopped film festival organizers from speaking out against government censorship of the media and sexuality, as well as the commercialization of, and US hegemony over, LGBT issues in China.

In her preface to the fifth BJQFF catalog, Yang Yang reflected upon the significance of BJQFF:

Although this is a cultural event that originated within the sexual minority community, it is hard to overlook the political connotations of the queer film festival. The festival’s home is in Beijing, the political and cultural centre of China—it explores freedom and plurality in human relations and lifestyles amidst a “red” climate drenched in communist ideology. Over the past decade, government at all levels has interfered with and forced the festival to move from west Beijing to east Beijing, and from the city centre to the countryside. This year we have finally returned to the city centre. I once hoped to organize the festival under normal conditions and to take a break from the guerrilla organizing style that has characterized all of our past four editions. Yet, when one of our screening venues recently made a sudden decision to stop collaborating with the film festival for political reasons, I had a realization. We always demonized the police and the government, making them our token enemy, but our biggest enemy is the small number of authoritative organizations that are using the powerful national propaganda machine to subtly construct mainstream ideology. And our greatest value, our ultimate goal as a queer film festival, lies in challenging and opposing this mainstream ideology.42

This was the first time in BJQFF’s history that the festival had been explicitly politicized. Yang’s discovery was not so much about ideological state apparatuses per se; it was more about the BJQFF organizers’ realization that it is impossible to be apolitical. If BJQFF had previously used other rhetoric to legitimize its existence—“respecting and advocating diversity,”

“contributing to social development,” “disseminating knowledge and dispelling ignorance”—now the festival targeted the Chinese government and mainstream ideology. At this point, BJQFF became a politicized event. It refused to distance itself from ideologically loaded terms such as “democracy” and “human rights,” as in the past, and it formed alliances with human rights NGOs such as Dongjen Centre for Human Rights Education. Ku’er had tried to reconcile with established institutions and the mainstream; it was now angry and antagonistic; it had no fear of speaking out against a repressive regime.

There are, however, disparate voices within the BJQFF organizing committee. Yang’s angry and antagonistic attitude was not shared by all. Many other members of the organizing committee, born and educated in China, seemed to be more sympathetic to the situation there; for them, changes needed to be made but things could take time. They kept coming up with new strategies and tactics to keep BJQFF going. One of those strategies included trying to involve as many international guests, especially Western journalists and diplomats, as possible in the festival, in the belief that the Chinese government would hesitate to close an international event for fear of negative international publicity. The past two editions of BJQFF saw the Dutch and American embassies both host events as part of the festival program. The festival therefore went beyond the realm of a community, cultural event and escalated into an international diplomatic event.

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