Much of the discussion surrounding Chinese Internet culture has centered on the rise of online human rights activism, but the emergence of an online erotic culture that openly describes individuals' personal sexual activities has also been evident in
Associate Professor Katrien Jacobs' research at The Chinese University of Hong Kong on People's Pornography has investigated the culture of Do It Yourself amateur porn on the Chinese Internet, as well as the interplay
between pornography producers and consumers within the state's censorship mechanism.
Below is a transcript of an interview conducted by Ronald Yick and Oiwan Lam about the upcoming publication of Professor Jacobs' new book, People's
Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet.
Global Voices (GV): Can you explain what you mean by People's Pornography in your book?
Jacobs (KJ): First of all, the term People's Pornography covers the meaning of DIY pornography, which reclaims pornography by amateurs. But it also refers to pornography made in China. It sounds satirical because officially there is no Chinese
pornography, it is officially banned, even though everybody knows that there are many porn sites, including amateur porn, in China.
GV: Since you are an expert in the research of DIY pornography in
western societies, can you compare the culture in China and in the West?
KJ: In the developed western society, alternative culture is strong and you can see artists or members of weird communities
making websites to promote their own kinds of pornography in different ways. Sites like Beautiful agony, which only depicts orgasm as seen from people's faces, is a kind of critique of commercial pornography, which is too much focused on genitals. That's
the background I came out of. I've met people who are interested in or actually making those sites. Of course this culture has very soon been commercialized. So you also have a DIY porn movement that is not really for people, by people, it's just
promoting girl next-door look, a kind of amateur look. So in the West, there are two competing movements, i.e. the real amateurs and the commercial forces.
In China and in Hong Kong, you do have people who upload their
own videos and photographs. Sometimes on designated sites like the Pornotube, which is the Youtube for pornography. These sites are open to all people in the world. Of course, people from mainland China cannot get access to these sites and it is still
much more uncommon for people to participate in DIY porn movement. But we've noticed that younger people have started makig their sex videos in secret places or hidden places, like empty classrooms, medical rooms, elevators, or just corridors. This kind
of porn is definitely being made in China right now and being uploaded, because I found lots of videos compiled or archived on various websites. For sure the movement is very scattered and people say it's quite juvenile. But I think it is a sign of
GV: You've used the term erotic liberation in your book - what do you mean by that?
KJ: First of all, I see liberation in the
fact that people can have access to pornography and the second point is that, people can express their cultural and sexual identities through pornography. So in these young people's videos, it's powerful for them to have sex somewhere and film it and
upload it and share it, despite the fact that this is totally forbidden and officially banned in China. But nevertheless it's happening. We shouldn't think it so seriously, in terms of political liberation because after all these people are just having
fun. But they are breaking law by being naughty in two different ways, by doing sexually what they want, and by uploading it. Their excitement comes from that double kind of breaking the rule.
GV: Are they aware of being subversive in spreading their pornography?
KJ: The interviews I did in mainland were netizens, but not necessarily those netizens that are uploading. I did also interview netizens in universities. It's really interesting, they are completely
aware of the Chinese war of pornography, that the Chinese government bans pornography, controls pornography, or uses pornography towards controlling the Internet. However they can find what they're looking for by jumping over the Great Firewall and share
their secret websites with each other.
But sexual minorities are more vulnerable as they are still having a hard time being recognized in China. And for them to launch a porn movement would be probably out of the
GV: In recent years, more and more amateur porn has been uploaded online. Chinese netizens like to uncover the identity of those performing in sex videos, in particular when they involve
corrupt government officials. What's your view on that? Do you think it is related to gender and power relations in China?
KJ: Yes, of course. If they can catch the corrupt government official, they
may have indeed challenged the power relations and exhibited their own power. But it is problematic, because in terms of sexuality, so often they will also try to just go for people's hidden sex lives. I really don't think that we can do that because
even if this person is a party official, with too much power, I still think we cannot judge his or her sex life. I would prefer people complain more about the lack of sexuality.
I think Han Han's comment about
propaganda of impotence is very interesting. What has been promoted in the mainstream society it that we should not have pornography, maybe we can have sex, but we cannot have pornography. We should not document our joy, our orgasm. His idea challenges
China's history of asexuality. To attack the officials for having illicit sex affairs can hardly change the corrupted system.
GV: What is the relationship between the anti-censorship battle and sex
activism in China?
KJ: In China, netizens seem to be aware of the pornography war, the fights of pornography, the fights of filtering software. In fact, the Grass Mud Horse, a symbol for fighting
against the filtering software in 2009, is a sex related expression. The rapid spread of Grass Mud Horse was a powerful moment in the netizens' fight for civil liberty, or freedom of expression. In China, more than in other countries, the fight of
sexually explicit media is at the heart of netizens' struggle.
Of course, for people who are very into political dialogue, they do not want to deal with pornography questions, or even with sexuality questions. So to
some extent, I think the discourses are marginalized, but if you look at it closely, you can find it's actually in the middle of whole debate and the female bloggers are at the heart of it. For example, bloggers like Muzi Mei and Liumangyan (sex workers
activist) are two very good examples of what females and feminist bloggers who are doing around sexuality and they wouldn't try to separate political activism from sex activism.
I think there is male tradition of
political activism that separates the sexual questions from the political questions and there is the tradition of female bloggers, more exhibitionistic and more down-to-earth, and so I think they are from different angles. When I was writing my chapter
on bloggers, I just noticed this kind of gap between the male tradition and female tradition, and I couldn't really deny that it was there.
...Read the full