Keynote: Katrien Jacobs – sex research in China

Katrien Jacobs, scholar, curator and artist in the field of new media and sexuality

Looking at sex work opened up a dialogue for Katrien around the nature of academic work in this area. It is difficult for the researcher to (pretend to) be disconnected from the subject matter under review.
Officially, there is no porn in China. In practice, it exists. However, there is next to no independent research being published about China, as all research about China is monitored by the gorernment, which creates a sense of paranoia in researchers. The closer one lives to China, the more one is likely to self-censor.

However, on consideration, writing about sewx in China is far less sensitive than writing about other more political topics. Response when Katrien’s book came out was interesting: some degree of distancing, use of “foreign images” to stigmatise. However, the reaction was not all negative and the publication of Katrien’s work appears to have opened a door on this as a research subject.

China is awash with control mechanisms. One of the most effective is the “50 cents army” which consists of ordinary citizens, paid by the state to infiltrate and participate in transgressive internet activities in order to monitor. There is also a great deal of threat promulgated through statistics as to numbers of people jailed for internet transgression – but it is likely that this is more state-inspired myth than real.

Content of Chinese porn

A large part of Chinese porn is dubbed Japanese videos. Much of this content is violent, includes much rape play and is demeaning to women: it is not very liberated or liberating – although the existence of such content inspired many Chinese to join Faceook (as opposed to political motivation).

This has now been updated by homegrown porn which is organised online by region – a statement about sexualising “all of” China. Sexual porn in China appears to be very much about “resexualising China”. There is not much obvious DIY porn in China, but the fact it exists at all is significant.

In addition, porn has support from net activism focussed on the fight against censorship. Porn is supported by activists such as Ai Wei Wei: this in turn has complicated matters, as the Chinese authorities have accused him of spreading pornography – and net supporters have hit back with online direct action around the concept of “nudism is not pornography”.

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