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 recent years.
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?
Katrien 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 change.
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 question.
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.
The Chinese government has started a two-month long tirade against pornography.
Despite previous crackdowns, pornography, especially that on compact discs, are showing a tendency to rebound as many sellers hawk porn videos right outside computer shopping malls, an official statement said.
According to the National Office against Pornographic and Illegal Publication, the repressive campaign will run from September 5 to November 5 and will focus on enterprises, stores, websites and merchants that are involved in the sale of porn
disks in large cities.
During the campaign, local anti-porn offices have been asked to cooperate with press and publication bureaus, police and local government departments to close down major operators.