Sentiments like Water:Unsettling Pathologies of Homosexual and Sadomasochistic Desire

Hird, Derek (2019) Sentiments like Water:Unsettling Pathologies of Homosexual and Sadomasochistic Desire. In: Film and the Chinese Medical Humanities. Routledge Advances in Asia-Pacific Studies . Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, pp. 66-80. ISBN 9781138580299

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East Palace West Palace (Donggong Xigong 东宫西宫; dir. Zhang Yuan, 1996), was the first explicitly gay film produced in the People’s Republic of China. The film speaks to key concerns of the medical humanities, including gender and sexual identities, patient narratives, power dynamics between authority figures and ordinary people, and cultural histories of medical discourse. Uncertainty, ambiguity, and ambivalence suffuse its fluid depictions of subjectivities and social hierarchies. East Palace West Palace thus illuminates the potential of queer identities and practices to undermine taken-for-granted gender and sexual norms and the power relations through which they are constructed. From a masculinities perspective, the film shows the intertwining of historical and contemporary notions of male sexuality. Its feminisation of the younger male within a same-sex erotic relationship reveals the channelling of homosexual desire through an embedded framework of nannü 男女 (literally ‘man woman’) relations, one of the foundational mechanisms through which power relations have been constructed in China, regardless of the ‘sex’ of the bodies involved. Through the prisms of masculinity, modernity and cultural production, this chapter explores the film’s vision of how modern Chinese manhood is contested, negotiated, and reshaped in a dynamic dance of power between the Chinese state and people.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Film and the Chinese Medical Humanities on 20/11/2019 available online:
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25 Nov 2019 13:55
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 02:57