Spotlight on the Prodigy: Narrating Peripheral Taiwan through Queerness and Criminality

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 11:10 AM
Conference Room B (Sheraton New York)
Howard Chiang, University of Warwick
This paper extends debates on the place of Taiwan on our scholarly canvas by highlighting the region’s unique status at the intersections of various margins—geopolitical, socio-cultural, and historiographical. Using press reports of renyao (a category of transgenderism for which the best English translation is “human prodigy”) in the post-WWII period as the foci of analysis, this paper supersedes existing readings that tend to emphasize the lifting of Martial Law in 1987 as the watershed turning point that enabled the flourishing of queer cultures and politics in late capitalist Taiwan. Rather, the essay asserts that criminalization enabled Zeng Qiuhuang, arguably the most famous renyao in the 1950s, to command public spotlight on multiple occasions. The media attention showered on Zeng, due in part to his illegal status, reveals and captures a reciprocal chimera-effect whereby the margins of sexuality and the periphery of “China” and “Chineseness” converge into the mimetic recalcitrant traces of the past. This paper examines how the prodigy of the criminalized yet exceptional human—renyao—configures the basis of archival imagination on which the contested legality through which another prodigy of historical na(rra)tion—Taiwan—emerges.
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