Academic journal article Ethnologies

Performing Gender: Nostalgic Wedding Photography in Contemporary China

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Performing Gender: Nostalgic Wedding Photography in Contemporary China

Article excerpt

En examinant des scenarios sexues et des performances dans le cadre des studios de photographie nostalgique en Chine, cet article explore les ressources historiques et culturelles disponibles pour un projet particulier de rapport entre les sexes dans la Chine contemporaine. Il suggere une resonance entre le projet post-maoiste portant sur le genre, le projet moderniste de la Chine et la construction de l'identite culturelle chinoise, en soutenant que le projet post-maoiste contemporain de rapport entre les sexes reste hante par l'ideologie maoiste des rapports de genre et qu'il s'exerce a travers des negociations interculturelles avec le regard occidental.

By examining gender scripts and performances in Chinese nostalgic studio wedding photography, this article explores the historical and cultural resources available for a particular gender project in contemporary China. It suggests a resonance between the post-Mao gender project and China's modernity project and Chinese cultural identity construction, and argues that the post-Mao gender project is carried out under the haunting shadow of the Maoist gender ideology, and through cross-cultural negotiations with the Western gaze.

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Since the late 1990s, it has been very fashionable for newlywed Chinese couples in big cities to have wedding photos taken in professional photography studios. The studios provide wedding photography packages offering a choice of scenes and costumes representative of different Chinese historical periods and gender roles. In popular studios in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, a middle range price package (RMB 5000 or CAD 700 and more) includes rive to eight sets of costumes and corresponding studio settings. Apart from the "must have" Western white dress and black tuxedo, newlywed couples often choose other sets of costumes ranging from ancient Han (2) Chinese traditional wedding clothes to Western-style formal evening wear and pre-revolution Han Chinese everyday costumes.

By examining gender scripts and performances in studio wedding photography, this article explores some of the historical and cultural resources available for an urban upper-middle-class gender project in contemporary China. To illustrate, I present a set of wedding photographs taken of a Chinese couple in Beijing in 2005. An examination of various images, as represented in the studio settings, costumes, poses and interactions of the couple in these photos, reveals ways in which gender repertoire is constructed, negotiated, challenged, and subverted. Further investigation exposes the historical, geographical, social, and cultural resources invoked in this repertoire's construction and subversion, and suggests a resonance between the gender project and other social projects such as China's modernity project, and the cultural project of Chinese identity construction.

Contexts

Ever since Simone de Beauvoir claimed that "one is not bore, but, rather, becomes a woman" (1989: xix), feminists (poststructuralist feminists in particular) have viewed gender as a socially shared and historically constituted act. Gender is understood as a cultural sign of a historical situation. Judith Butler (1990, 2003) argues that a woman does not exist in a pre-social or prediscursive state; gender is a performative accomplishment. By repetitively enacting symbolic social signs, individuals "do," dramatize, and reproduce gender. People do gender in mundane ways and their performances take various forms. Fenstermaker and West (2002), West and Zimmerman (1987), and West and Fenstermaker (1993, 1995) have developed a sociological understanding of gender as a situated doing and an accomplishment though social interactions. While Butler, West, Fenstermaker, and Zimmerman all conceptualize gender as not an attribute but a doing, they approach this doing in different ways. Drawing on psychoanalysis and poststructuralist language theories, Butler emphasizes that gender is discursively constituted and is performed through discourse, broadly defined. …

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