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The "Making" of an Online Celebrity – A Case Study of Chinese Rural Gay Couple An Wei and Wu Yebin



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According to the 2016 China Internet Network Information Centre’s
Internet development report (CNNIC, 2016), the total Chinese internet
user population reached 688 million at the end of 2015. The rural in-
ternet population also experienced impressive growth over this period,
surging from 19.31 million to nearly 195 million and today constituting
28.4 percent of the total internet population (Table 4.1). The internet
has been appropriated for more diverse uses as it reaches more rural
population, from information seeking, to much more diverse social and
entertainment uses. Although there exists a divide between rural and
urban internet usage patterns and habits in China, the usage of online
communication software and web pages such as instant messaging and
blogs is more universal than other uses, as Table 4.2 shows.
It is within such a context of Chinese internet development that this
chapter presents a unique case of internet and social media use by a
rural gay couple from Hebei province in Northern China – An Wei and
Wu Yebin. An and Wu are both from rural villages in China and shot
to fame in 2014 due to a photo gallery on entitled the ‘Rural
gay couple’ (乡村同志). In one of the most widely circulated photographs
4 The ‘Making’ of an Online
A Case Study of Chinese
Rural Gay Couple An Wei
and Wu Yebin
Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
Table 4.1 Rural Internet Population in China, 2005–2015
Year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Rural internet
user (in
19.31 23.11 52.62 84.6 106.8 124.8 135.8 155.7 176 .6 178 .5 195
% of total
17.4 16.9 25.1 28.4 27.8 27.3 26.5 27.6 28.6 27.5 28.4
Penetration rate N/A N/A 7.4 11.6 14.8 17.5 20.2 23.7 27. 5 28.8 N/A
Source: Author’s compilation of CNNIC annual report.
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 43
taken in a corneld near where they live, Wu is closing his eyes and
leaning against An with a contented smile on his face. The original
post on attracted more than 100,000 participants and their
story was picked up and reported by CNN and the Global Times, the
English- language Chinese news outlet under the People’s Daily, making
this couple one of the most iconic symbols for the gay rights movement
in China. Moreover, by harnessing new media technologies like online
messaging software QQ and the microblog Sina Weibo (the Chinese
counterpart of Twitter), An and Wu’s Weibo account has attracted more
than 7,000 followers (as of May 2016). Their story has made them on-
line celebrities, and has revealed the life and struggle of homosexuals in
rural China. As Inglis (2010, p. 10) argues, “celebrity… is the product
of culture and technology”, because media such as lm and radio offer
or restore sense of immediacy and intimacy. The same can be said about
prevalent uses of social media. Using a narrative account of An and Wu’s
story, this chapter critically investigates the role of the internet and so-
cial media in empowering An and Wu, their online fame, and the social
implications for LGBT rights in China.
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital pro-
vides a theoretical framework in our understanding of An and Wu’s
Table 4.2 Rural and Urban Internet Usage Comparison, 2013
Purposes Categories % of Rural
% of Urban
Info seeking Search 70.5 82.8 12.2
Entertainment Online music 66.9 77.3 10.4
Online video 55 74.4 19.4
Online games 46.7 58.4 -11.7
37.5 47.6 10.2
Commerce Online
31.1 55.2 24.1
25.7 47.9 22.2
Banking 25.4 45.8 20.4
Booking 22.1 31.8 9.6
Group buying 15.2 25.4 10.3
1.1 6.9 5.8
Communication Instant
86 86.3 0.3
Blog 70.5 70.9 0.4
Weib o 35.2 49.1 13. 8
Email 23 48.6 25.6
BBS 14.4 21.3 6.8
Source: Author’s compilation of CNNIC annual report.
44 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
case. Bourdieu’s theory acknowledges individual agency while also
taking into consideration the social and political structures in analys-
ing social changes. As An and Wu’s case demonstrates, the internet as
a liberator provides key resources for them, as individuals, to garner
support from the online gay male community. Born and raised in the
countryside, where traditional family values hold strong and societal
tolerance is low for homosexuality, An Wei and Wu Yebin’s love story
carries much signicance and inspires many. This chapter argues that
social media use did in part transcend the barriers to participation
and empower An and Wu with more symbolic capital. However, the
internet, as with other forms of media that have emerged and devel-
oped in Chinese society, also carries the limitations of the deep-rooted
structural, social, political factors that entrench Chinese society, not to
mention gay politics, in the country. Therefore, this chapter counters
the rosy claims of technological determinism and argues that we must
take into consideration the idiosyncratic characteristics of Chinese
non-for-prot organisations, the non-oppositional, family-centric ori-
entation of the gay rights movements in China and traditional fam-
ily values in assessing the role that social media has played in social
Through employing an in-depth interview with An Wei and Wu Yebin
and mapping the key social forces at play in their experiences of coming
out, being together and gaining publicity, this study parses out the role of
the internet and social media in empowering these two individuals from
a marginalised social group (rural gay male communities) in China, es-
pecially in helping them to obtain symbolic and cultural capitals, while
also arguing that although social media use played an important role,
they are nevertheless embedded in and shaped by the power relations of
contemporary Chinese society and the distinct characters of Chinese gay
Bourdieu’s Social Theory and Online Media
Bourdieu’s social theory has informed a wide range of research in me-
dia studies. Bourdieu (1993) argues that social life must be understood
in terms that do justice to both the objective material, the social and
cultural structures and the constituting practices and experiences of in-
dividual and groups (p. 3). His theory aims to overcome objectivism,
which centres the role of social structures and economic conditions in
determining social actions and subjectivism, and which sees the individ-
ual as the agent of social change. Social life, to Bourdieu, is a mutually
constituting interaction of structures, dispositions and actions whereby
social structures and the embodied knowledge of those structures pro-
duce enduring orientation which, in turn, are constitutive of social
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 45
In other words, the advantage of Bourdieu’s theory is that it does not
over-empower the individual yet also acknowledges the agency of the
individual in social changes. As such, Bourdieu pays special attention
to the social–historical context of cultural production and the interplay
between the symbolic aspect of social life and the material, structural
conditions, without one being reducible to the other. With this focus on
historical and social context, Bourdieu endorses a reexive science of so-
ciety and aims to reveal the way that taken-for-granted social practices
ultimately tend to serve the interest of the dominant class (Hesmond-
halgh, 2006, p. 216). As Johnson (1993) writes:
Bourdieu’s theory of the cultural eld might be characterised as a
‘radical contextualization’: it takes into consideration not only works
themselves, seen relationally within the space of available possibili-
ties and within the historical development of such possibilities, but
also producers of works in term of their strategies and trajectories,
based on their individual and class habitus, as well as their objective
position within the eld.
(p. 9)
However, it should also be noted that the reaction to Bourdieu’s theory
of culture by media scholars has been sometimes ambivalent – scholars
point out in criticism its lack of attention paid to media, such as mod-
ern electronic media (Garnham, 1990), the increasingly commercialised
cultural industry (Couldry, 2003) and the role that advertising plays in
cultural production (Hesmondhalgh, 2006).
In this chapter the key concept that we employ is Bourdieu’s symbolic
capital. Symbolic capital refers to the degree of accumulated prestige,
celebrity, consecration or honour and is founded on a dialectic of knowl-
edge and recognition (Johnson, 1993, p. 7). Bourdieu’s theory expands
on the Marxian concept of capital, which denotes, rst and foremost, a
monetary sense, to the notion of capital that captures symbolic, social
and cultural capital. The convertibility between economic and cultural
capital is key for Bourdieu because through time, education and cultural
consumption, the more powerful economic class appropriate the sym-
bolic and cultural sphere to reinforce, reproduce and legitimise class di-
visions (Garnham, 1990). In this case, the dynamic conception of power
offers powerful explanatory capability in terms of understanding why An
and Wu, a couple from rural China and from a relatively disadvantaged
economic position, possess symbolic capital in the eld of gay politics.
The Internet and the Chinese Gay Male Community
The popularisation of the internet in China seems to offer new oppor-
tunities to Chinese gay men who have previously been marginalised and
46 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
underreported by Chinese mainstream media (e.g. Jiang, 2005; van de
Werff, 2010; Wei, 2012; Zhou, forthcoming). Surng the internet has
become a new form of entertainment and a fashionable way of gaining
information for all Chinese young people since the late 1990s, and a stag-
gering number of emails, BBSs, chat rooms and websites have emerged
about homosexuality in particular. The rst gay-oriented websites such
as (广同) and Yangguang didai (阳光地带) emerged in mainland
China in 1998 (Jiang, 2005). These new websites, online forums and
chat rooms became increasingly popular and seemed to open up a new
world for the Chinese gay male community. Users feel less marginalised
and repressed online, at least compared with cruising ofine in parks
and public toilets at the risk of being arrested by the police. Cyberspace
therefore soon became a supreme headquarters to resist media ignorance
and spread accurate information, report related news and counter ho-
mophobia in the media.
There has also been a remarkable growth in the number of online
gay communities due to the great demand for mutual emotional sup-
port. Chou (2000, p. 134) highlights the technological enhancement of
the tongzhi space since mid-1997 as a pioneering force in building in-
digenous tongzhi discourses in the Chinese context, arguing that the
popularisation of the internet has made a signicant contribution to
the emergence of “a small but rapidly growing tongzhi community”.
Tongzhi is the Chinese translation of the word ‘comrade’ which literally
means ‘people with the same intent’. It was rst used at the rst Lesbian
and Gay Film Festival in Hong Kong in 1989 and since the mid-1990s
online ‘tongzhi-literature’ (同志) has become increasing popular,
describing the experiences of Chinese gay men and contributing to the
self-awareness of many gay men (Chou, 2000). By the end of May 2004,
there were approximately 360 tongzhi websites in China. In addition,
as Zhou (forthcoming) points out, more importantly, since 2010, the
emergence of both global (Jack’d) and local gay social networking sites
( has generated unprecedented space for the Chinese gay
male community. Jack’d is an international gay social networking mo-
bile application run by Lucid Dreams LLC that has been in service since
2010. By using GPS technologies, it allows users to locate other gay men
in the vicinity. is a Chinese gay oriented social networking
website that was launched in February 2010. It was the rst one to intro-
duce the concept of the ‘tongzhi non-sexual interaction’ and it had more
than 200,000 registered members as of 2012. It launched a Chinese gay
mobile application, Zank, in May 2013.
In the global context, the lives of gay men have been appreciably
transformed in the internet era (e.g. Mowlabocus, 2010; O’Riordan,
2007; Wakeford, 2002). Nevertheless, when consideration is given to
specic local contexts, the overstatement of technological empowerment
in transforming lives on a global scale fails to grasp the complicated
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 47
and assorted processes of cross-cultural appropriation in cyberspace. As
Berry and Martin (2003) argue, it is worth considering how local iden-
tities are transformed by these processes, and how globalising processes
are indigenised within local conditions.
Within the Chinese context, Ho (2010) highlights the complex and
inconstant processes of “state surveillance, commercialisation, and iden-
tity reinvention” in Chinese cyberspace, which “ensure the misrepresen-
tation of same-sex identity, but also produce as much homogeneity as
diversity” (p. 99). This cultural homogenisation of gay culture in Chinese
cyberspace is prevalent and cyberqueer techno-practices have become an
integral part of gay men’s everyday lives in contemporary China. For-
eign news about the gay pride parades and same-sex marriage can be
seen everywhere on Chinese gay websites (Ho, 2010) as homogenous
ideas and symbols implanted from Western media coverage and culture
to mark gay identity. Yet this cultural globalisation results in the produc-
tion of stereotypes and misrepresentations that worship the Western gay
scene and reduce the diversity of same-sex identities; Western society is
also consecrated as a gay haven. However, rather than being “a simple
mimicry of patterns”, the cyberqueer techno-practices between global
and local identities generate and promote a “melange of cultural cate-
gories”, through which gay netizens and activists strategically appropri-
ate the ideas of identity and gay rights activism from Western sources
(Ho, 2010, p. 106). For example, leading Chinese e-commerce company
Alibaba, in conjunction with, sent seven gay couples from
its online contest We Do” to “tie the knot” in Los Angeles (Morris,
2015, June 10), in part to promote Alibaba’s brand and corporate im-
age. is the biggest LGBT news website in China and was
launched in 2000. It developed a gay dating application, Blued, in 2012,
which is the most popular gay mobile application in China with respect
to its user numbers. As of November 2014, Blued had 15 million users,
was valued at $300 million and had raised $30 million in investments
(Agomuoh, 2014, November 6). It is these types of alliances in this
example between Alibaba, and Chinese LGBT NGOs, par-
ticularly, PFLAG China (同性恋亲友会) – which indicate the interplay of
the appropriation of a Western identity-based gay rights activism strat-
egy and the commercialisation of same-sex marriage.
Overall, the internet does bring positive changes to gay and lesbian
communities in China, especially in terms of social visibility. However,
as Hung (2011, p. 379) argues, new media is, on the one hand, “trans-
forming into one of the most potent catalytic agents of sexual liberation,
revolution and rights protection for LGBTQ in China”, yet on the other
hand, it also suffers from the malaise of commercialisation, featuring
eye-catching posts on sexual encounters as a spectacle to attract eyeballs
and clicks. Likewise, in his analysis of the representation of Chinese gay
men in two online reality shows developed by local gay social networking
48 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
mobile application Zank, Luo (2016) argues that leading Chinese gay new
media groups are promoting a young, urbane, middle-class Chinese gay
male image in a desexualised private domain comprising consumption,
love and intimacy, as well as family relationships – which subscribes to
a ‘homonormative’ ideology perhaps more acceptable to society at large.
In this vein, gay Chinese couples’ weddings in Los Angeles, as a crys-
tallisation of the alliances between Chinese LGBT NGOs and Chinese
internet companies, greatly contributes to gay rights promotion within a
larger Chinese society, whereas it also reveals a rise of gay consumerism
in the internet era, linking identity and consumption. As Charlie Gu, the
spokesperson of the co-organiser of the wedding, Chinese Luxury Advi-
sors, a global consultancy that counsels luxury brands and retailers on
their China consumer strategy, said, ‘for a company like Alibaba there is
also a strong business interest in this … When you look at companies like
Google and Apple all stepping up their game to embrace marriage equal-
ity and support this cause, Alibaba as a publicly traded company in the
United States certainly wanted to elevate their status and their participat-
ing in the global business community and be part of it – do the right thing’
(Morris, 2015, June 10). Clearly, Chinese internet giant Alibaba is trying
to squeeze into the gay-friendly ‘global business community’ with the help
of Chinese new media groups and LGBT NGOs, co-contributing to a new
Chinese gay and lesbian world of marriage, love and consumerism. More
studies are needed at this point for a better understanding of ‘who’ is in
and ‘who’ is out within the collaborations between business and civil so-
ciety in improving social visibility of Chinese sexual minority. We need to
be careful with the tendency of gayness to become a consumerist identity.
Case Study: An and Wu
It can therefore be argued that in terms of the commercialisation of Chi-
nese gay male culture, with its regulatory restrictions and self-censor-
ship, the spread of An and Wu’s love story remains a unique case. Other
than the photo album posted on, there was little coverage on
mainstream Chinese language media. The story was only perfunctorily
tossed around by ofcial news organisations as a token of social progress
in China to broadcast to the Western world; the Global Times featured
the story in English as a conjunct to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook’s public
announcement of his gay identity. However, although An and Wu’s story
was not widely reported on new media, their photo album posted on resulted in a surge of public attention through tweets and re-
tweets on social media. On Sina Weibo, An and Wu’s social media pres-
ence gained popularity almost overnight. Figure 4.1 shows the sudden
surge in the discussion of An and Wu’s pictorial coverage, using the key-
word research ‘rural gay couple’ as generated through the Sina Weibo
data; to date their Sina Weibo account has attracted 7,000 followers.
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 49
Nevertheless, An and Wu’s story is not one that follows the rosy script
envisioned by technological determinism. Focusing on the process that
led to An and Wu’s online publicity, we look at the non-incidental socio
cultural forces at work in the ‘making’ of An and Wu as a cultural sym-
bol for gay rights in contemporary Chinese identity politics. Given that
harmony is a traditional and highly respected value in Chinese fami-
lies, same-sex attracted Chinese tend to reconcile their sexual identity
with the cultural and familial structure of the community (Hu & Wang,
2013). Kong (2011) points out that gay men from rural areas of China
face more difculties than those from urban areas regarding the issue of
coming-out due to the deeply-entrenched and strong-held family pres-
sure to get married. An and Wu’s case, therefore, remains signicant in
enriching the understanding of Chinese gay male culture along the lines
of the rural–urban divide.
It is apparent that social media alone does not liberate the lives of the
under-represented and suppressed lives at the margin. We must take
into consideration the distinct social, political and economic contexts,
especially the development of ‘working class ICT’, traditional family
values, neoliberal development of non-prot organisations and poli-
tics in China. Technological determinism has given us much false hope
without consideration of the social context. In this case, we turn to
Bourdieu’s social theory because it provides an important inroad to
conceptualising the underlying social conditions and power relations in
the ‘making’ of An and Wu as public gures for the Chinese gay rights
After conducting two sessions of semi-structured in-depth interviews
with An and Wu, complemented by their postings on Sina Weibo, an
assemblage of three important factors emerged as the trigger to their
online visibility and fame An and Wu’s new media literacy, the con-
tacts they established, and issues they faced, with PFLAG China and the
traditional family values as inculcated and widely articulated in main-
stream Chinese culture.
2014-09-30 2014-10-04 2014-10-08 2014-10-12 2014-10-16 2014-10-20 2014-10-24 2014-10-28 2014-11-01
Figure 4.1 Frequency of discussion of the key word “Rural Gay Couple” Over
50 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
Media Literacy
As Zhou (forthcoming) argued, ICTs provide “a freer platform where
Chinese gay men can gain support and see that they are not alone”. In-
deed, social media did play an instrumental role in seeking information
and emotional support throughout An and Wu’s personal struggles. Be-
fore meeting each other, An and Wu had both engaged in heterosexual
relationships; the internet became a space where they met people who
had experienced similar struggles for identity when they both lived in
rural parts of China, where there was barely anyone to turn to for help
and understanding. In this sense, the internet offered An and Wu a sense
of community. Moreover, An met Wu through the most popular online
messaging programme, QQ, owned by Tencent, one of the biggest inter-
net businesses in China. Wu stated in the interview:
When An Wei came out as gay, he was under a lot of pressure from
his family to get married. So he turned to the internet for help. And
someone suggested him to contact PFLAG China’s regional conve-
ner in Hebei, Langman Mama (浪漫妈妈), and then we got in touch
with the organisation.
After An and Wu got in touch with PFLAG China, the organisation
quickly offered help and asked them to lm their daily life together and
post those short videos on the internet as promotional materials to sup-
port people who are undergoing similar struggles. It was their postings
on the video streaming site that attracted journalists from,
who shot the widely-circulated photo album entitled the Rural gay cou-
ple later in 2013. “The internet”, according to Wu, “helps me to get to
know more gay men and navigate my life as a gay man”.
The internet not only assisted An and Wu in seeking emotional sup-
port, but was also the means through which the couple obtained their
main source of family income. Initially, An and Wu ran a small grocery
store near a highway but after the highway was re-routed in 2013 they had
to close their business. PFLAG Ch ina’s associated staff Ouyi (藕姨) sug-
gested that An and Wu run an e-commerce shop online. Through building
on the circle of friends and supporters that they had accumulated through
years of online exposure, particularly though PFLAG China, they created
their main customer base, and the revenue from the e-shop is now the
main source of their family income. Their daily routine, according to the
couple, includes attending to the e-shop, interacting with customers and
assembling the packages ordered online. In this sense, the internet consti-
tutes an important means to convert the symbolic capital that An and Wu
have accumulated through media exposure to economic capital.
Currently living in a village near Shijiazhuang, Hebei, with limited eco-
nomic resources and a busy schedule attending their small e-commerce
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 51
shop, An and Wu said that they only travel to other parts of the country
once or twice every year. Yet the internet also provides them with much
entertainment aside from work. They stated: “when we are free, we
sometimes do some farm work and when there is not much work left to
do, we will watch some movies and listen to music on the internet”. An
and Wu are also avid users of social media and are active on Sina Weibo
as they often post and re-tweet news about marriage equality and gay
rights, interact with customers from their e-shop or just share pictures
of their everyday life.
Coming from a lower strata of the social class, An and Wu are very
open and conscious about their socio–economic status, as they said in a
post on Sina Weibo on 2 October 2015:
What you don’t know when people are sending wishes for us and
envying us, we really do not have anything comparable to others.
We look up to you (their Weibo followers): you have a nice job, a
good education, skills, good brain, communication skills… you are
good at everything, we don’t have any of this. The only resource we
have is our dearest friends.
Even though they are from the lower strata of the society, An and Wu
are avid social media and ICT users – this is illustrative of the social and
technological transformation on a macro scale that is going on with the
introduction and popularisation of the internet in China. As Qiu (2009)
contends, “the most pivotal change in urban and urbanising areas of
China has been the rise of the working-class network society” (p. 3). One
of the fundamental changes is that ICT is becoming less expensive, more
widespread and more closely integrated with the life of working-class
people. A new social category of ‘information have-less’ is emerging,
which is constituted by low-end ICT users who possess limited income
and limited inuence in policy processes compared to the upper class.
Even though social media did play an instrumental, or, to a certain
extent, indispensable role in transcending An and Wu’s life, it is still
hard to argue that the internet has changed their life completely. In an
honest personal disclosure, Wu stated that the online shop they maintain
only brings them 2,000 yuan per month (approximately 315 USD) and
that “the business was not looking good”. This is due to the fact that the
symbolic capital they have accumulated through media exposure is only
limited or, at best, temporary, and, more importantly, that the celebrity
status that An and Wu have gained almost overnight has been orches-
trated by and built on the symbolic capital of PFLAG China. PFLAG
China, its capacity and limitations and how the construction of An and
Wu as a symbol for gay rights constitutes and is constituted by the over-
all dispositions and political orientation of the organisation is therefore
now considered.
52 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
The Role of PFLAG China
Clifford Bob (2005) states in the Marketing of rebellion that it is never
easy or automatic for a non-for-prot organisation to gain popularity
and publicity in the “global morality market”. They ght through erce
competition with each other to obtain resources, mobilise the media to
raise awareness and lobby potential patrons. Furthermore, they magnify
their appeal by framing parochial demands and particularistic identi-
ties and portraying their conicts as righteous struggles to match the
interests and agendas of their audience. Harbouring such a conception,
NGOs in China have to deal with a peculiar context, where the tolerant
and supportive attitude towards civil associations is by no means un-
conditional and the government is carefully guiding and managing how
much public initiative should be allowed. Therefore, as Wang (2004)
poignantly points out, all NGOs in China, whether they are registered
or not, assume a “semi-autonomous” position in relation to the state and
maintain a decent and sometimes cordial relationship with the state in
order to remain in the game.
As former Ford Foundation Beijing chief Anthony Saich states, for
NGOs to exert the impact they want to achieve and to gain a louder voice
in policy-making discussions, as a strategic measure, they voluntarily
subordinate to the existing state structure in order to manipulate the of-
cial and semi-ofcial institutions for their own advantage (Saich, cited in
Wang, 2004, p. 139). This power relation between NGOs and the state
therefore precongures the non-conictual characteristic of Chinese
NGOs (Lu, 2009). Chinese grassroots NGOs understand this anti- binary
thinking intuitively because undertaking consciousness-raising and trig-
gering small change, which often means nothing more than bringing re-
lief to the disadvantaged in the communities they serve, is what they can
do and what they do best. Using social media to engage in oppositional
politics is not on their agenda (Wang, 2004, p. 28). Rather, the majority
of Chinese NGOs serve as informal social services or welfare relief or-
ganisations that are compelled to work within the system.
Hong (2010) argues that in China the development of NGOs and
charity organisations are subscribing to the neoliberal characteristics
and that rather than confronting institutional causes of injustice, these
organisations mobilise individual efforts and participation in order to
ease social tension. PFLAG China is a telling example of this neoliberal
trend of NGO development. It was established in 2008, and was origi-
nally staffed by four full-time workers, one part-time worker and 200
volunteers. After eight years, PFLAG China has become a hierarchically
structured organisation that is somehow bureaucratic. It has more than
1,200 volunteers, 13 regional branches and eight local working groups
(a subordinate unit below a local branch) that cover not only major me-
tropolises but also small cities in China. Its programmes, such as the
leadership camp for PFLAG China supporters, the PFLAG China annual
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 53
conference and the PFLAG China regional sharing sessions, earn high
recognition domestically.
It is worth noting that although the name PFLAG China automatically
reminds us of the largest family and ally organisation PFLAG (Parents,
Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in the United States, PFLAG
China does not have a formal afliation with PFLAG and its focus is also dif-
ferent from that of PFLAG. While PFLAG “comm its to advancing equality
and full societal afrmation for LGBTQ people through its threefold mis-
sion of support, education, and advocacy”, PFLAG China aims to “improve
the living conditions of LGBT with the joint efforts of families and friends”.
Another difference between PFLAG China and PFLAG is that in con-
trast to the supportive and logistical role of parents involved in PFLAG
in the United States, the Chinese parents associated with PFLAG China
have become “stars” and play a leading role in the Chinese gay right
movement (Wei, 2015). PFLAG China’s parent-led and family-centric
strategy guarantees its existence as a legitimate NGO in China and also
precongures the non-oppositional characteristics of its politics; these
issues are discussed further below.
Traditional Family Values
An and Wu’s story can also be considered in its approach to traditional
Chinese family values, values seen as a vital part of everyday, accepted,
life. Lending legitimacy from traditional values of family and kinship
discourse, the struggle for legitimatisation for gay rights and same-sex
marriage is being fought from the standpoint of family, both seeing
family as the supreme imperative of gay love, and in treating parental
approval as the key reason for whether one can come out and claim
their gay identity or not. In this regard, the success of PFLAG China
in the competition with other Chinese gay rights NGOs is not haphaz-
ard. It is the result of many factors, with the most important one being
its non-confrontational, parent-led and family-centric approach. Rather
than adopting the Western confrontational act of “coming out”, Chou
(2000) proposed an indigenous alternative for Chinese queers, namely,
“coming home”, emphasising the uniqueness of “family” in the negotia-
tion of an individual’s sexuality in the Chinese context. As Chou (2000,
p. 259) argued, “coming home can be proposed as an indigenous lexi-
con of tongzhi self-conrmation” as jia (home/family) is a culturally
unique category that does not have an equivalent parallel in Western
languages”. PFLAG China’s parent-led movement strategy accords with
the idea of “coming home” which addresses the historical and ideolog-
ical importance of family in the Chinese society. Various promotional
documentaries and short videos such as Mama rainbow (彩虹伴我心)
and Coming home (回家) of PFLAG China have attracted the attention
of the Chinese mainstream media, which has greatly increased gay men
and lesbians’ public visibility.
54 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
However, the essentialists’ construction of Chineseness as a ‘normal
Chinese family has been subjected to much criticism (e.g. Huang, 2011;
Kong, 2011; Lee, 2016; Liu and Ding, 2005; Martin, 2014). Lee (2016, p.
985) argues that “cultural relativists assume the moral infallibility of
culture – the impossibility of moral learning or social adaptation except
within a specic culture, which often confuses what people have been
forced to tolerate with what it values”. Liu and Ding (2005, p. 39) ques-
tioned the construction of “an allegedly healthy, liberated, diverse and
non-homophobic, traditional Chinese utopian space and time”, arguing
that the idealisation of “coming home” reinforces “the suggestion that
the imagined tolerance extends from the past into the present”; more-
over, it reduces the complexities of queer experiences and settles the con-
ict between “queerness” and familyat the cost of the subjection of
queer individuals to the hegemony of the familial system. In a similar
way, Huang (2011) points out that the power of Chinese family val-
ues has dened the “normative” and “non-normative” sexualities in the
Taiwa nes e queer community. Picking up on queer critiques on family
and the marriage institution and combining them with his own observa-
tions within PFLAG China, Wei (2015) points out that although some
Chinese gay men have “come out” to their parents, their parents are
still doing a “matchmaker” job, which limits the individual space for
Chinese gays and lesbians and, as a result, places new pressure on them.
With this approach in mind, PFLAG China has harnessed An and
Wu’s image and constructed the couple as loving, committed, faithful
and parents approved and supported. This image not only serves as the
ideal image of a long-term, stable, gay monogamous relationship but
also inscribes the discipline of how to ‘behave’ as a gay couple in China.
As Bourdieu (1993) argues, power is diffused and often concealed in
broadly accepted, and often unquestioned, ways of seeing and describ-
ing the world. The system of domination, in this sense, the imperative
of family, marriage and the expected family obligations, is reproduced
and reafrmed.
Family is identied by An and Wu as the most important value they
uphold. First of all, An and Wu think that family support and approval
has been the most important factor in supporting them to come out and
start a life together. An Wei stated in the interview: “[among all other
factors] family support is the most important. I do not really care
about other people’s support. It is the support from my family that gave
me the condence to live and enjoy life as a gay man”. On Sina Weibo,
An and Wu do not shy away from their longing for long-term, stable, gay
monogamous relationships. For example, they have re-tweeted posts and
news stories related to same-sex marriage and commented:
Too many gay people judge others by the look. They only realise the
mismatch between personalities and temperaments after engaging in
The ‘Making’ of an Online Celebrity 55
sexual relations two or three times. This is probably why many gay
people complain that they cannot nd the ‘right one’.
An and Wu’s image further ts with the dominant political discourse
of ‘stability maintenance’ promoted by the Communist Party of China.
The ideal of a committed relationship, family life and the longing for the
idyllic, peaceful life in rural China where people only care about their
personal life presents no challenge to the dominant social institution of
heterosexual marriage. As long as they set their eyes on their own life,
they can and are still allowed to dream the dream of same-sex mar-
riage. However, at the same time, it is noteworthy that there are also
gay men who are under- represented by PFLAG China’s parent-led and
family-centric movement strategy.
The penetration of the internet and the blooming use of social media
platforms present a favourable context under which An and Wu’s
story was able to be circulated and heard by many. As Inglis (2010)
celebrity is also one of the adhesives which, at a time when the
realms of public politics, civil society, and private domestic life are
increasingly fractured and enclosed in separate enclaves, serves to
pull those separate entities together and to do its bit towards main-
taining social cohesion and common values.
(p. 4)
This is exactly why An and Wu’s story matters – they are a case where
gay politics and domestic life are tightly knitted together under the aegis
of technology.
Through investigating a host of social forces in the process of how
a gay couple in rural China gained online fame, this chapter reveals
that the rise of working-class ICT, social media use and skills played
an instrumental role in empowering and overcoming limited mobility
for An and Wu, who are from a relatively disadvantaged class in the so-
ciety. Social media provided the means and connectivity for the couple
to stay in touch with the online and ofine gay community and solicit
emotional support when there was a vacuum of social services and sup-
port in remote rural areas of China. Furthermore, the internet can also
be seen as a platform upon which An and Wu accumulated social and
symbolic capital and later converted such social recognition and support
into economic capital.
Social media is an enabler. Yet social media does not exist in a vacuum.
Rather, it is always embedded in the larger socio–political imprints of the
56 Lianrui Jia and Tianyang Zhou
society and in class relations. In Bourdieu’s (1993) words, social life is a
mutually constituting interaction of structures, dispositions and actions
whereby social structures and the embodied knowledge of those structures
produce enduring orientation, which, in turn, are constitutive of social
structures. In this sense, An and Wu becoming online celebrities is in no
way incidental. Although social media use and skills did play an indispens-
able role, the ofine institutional support offered by PFLAG China was
equally important. As an institution, PFLAG China carries its own agenda
and has its own organisational goals and limitations. To this end, PFLAG
China eventually built a mutually benecial relationship with An and Wu
by harnessing their commitment to each other and to the imperative of
family – PFLAG China helped to magnif y An and Wu’s celebrity and sym-
bolic capital, with its convertibility to economic capital, which allowed the
couple an alternative when their business was forced to shut down. Yet, the
limitation of PFLAG China and its exclusionary gay r ights movement strat-
egy cannot be attributed to the organisation itself but to the political envi-
ronment of contemporary China and the regulation of NGOs by the state.
Considering these elements, the social practices of PFLAG China and
An and Wu in particular, ultimately tend to serve the interests of main-
stream culture which promotes social harmony centred around the in-
stitution of family and its reproduction. The so-called liberating social
media ingrained with dominant ideology, and the overall characteristics
of Chinese gay politics, will therefore eventually reproduce these exist-
ing social orders, underpinned by the institution of family and marriage
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Mapping Media in China is the first book-length study that goes below the 'national' scale to focus on the rich diversity of media in China from local, provincial and regional angles. China's media has played a crucial role in shaping and directing the country's social and cultural changes, and whilst these shifts have often been discussed as a single and coherent phenomenon, this ignores the vast array of local and regional variations within the country's borders. This book explores media as both a reflection of the diversity within China and as an active agent behind these growing differences. It examines the role of media in shaping regional, provincial and local identities through the prism of media economics and technology, media practices, audiences, as well as media discourses. The book covers a wide range of themes, including civil society, political resistance, state power and the production and consumption of place-specific memory and imagination. With contributions from around the world, including original ethnographic material from scholars based in China, Mapping Media in China is an original book which spans a broad range of disciplines. It will be invaluable to both students and scholars of Chinese and Asian studies, media and communication studies, geography, anthropology and cultural studies. © 2012 Wanning Sun and Jenny Chio.
This book analyses the critical reception of Pai Hsien-yung's Crystal Boys, one of Taiwan's first recognized gay novels, and one which has played an important role in redefining sexual modernity and linking this to ongoing cultural dialogues on state building. It examines the deployment of sexuality over the past five decades in Taiwan by paying particular attention to male homosexuality and prostitution. In addition to literary and film material, the study engages a number of relevant legal cases and media reports. Through Hans Huang's primary research and historical investigations, the book not only illuminates the construction of gendered sexual identities in Taiwanese culture but also, in a reflexive fashion, critiques the culture that produces them.