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Jens Damm - The Symbiosis of Homophobia

and AIDS-phobia during Taiwan’s Societal Transformation in the Early 1980s

The lifting of the Martial Law in 1987 is seen as a watershed in Taiwanese modern history, leading to the democratization, liberalization, pluralization and globalization of the island. It would make more sense, however, to regard the entire period from the end of the 1970s (including the 1979 Formosa Incident) until the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, with all its consequences, as a transitional period characterized by societal and political upheavals as well as individual and collective feelings of uncertainty. Although authoritarian political structures prevailed, opportunities also emerged, in the public arena, for the expression of more diverse opinions, and international and transnational discourses were frequently employed to emphasize and justify individual points of view - a strategy that was often used successfully to avoid the harsh punishment still handed down to those who challenged the official KMT Party-line.

For the first time, public discussions on a wide range of topics concerning same-sex desire and relations as well as non-mainstream gender started to take place in the popular media, in popular literature and also in a variety of academic journals which paved the way for a late-comer of the social movements. Even shortly before the lifting of martial law, the discourse of homosexuality was still overshadowed by the discourse on AIDS. Relatively quickly, these two discourses developed a symbiotic relationship in the yellow press and the ethnologist, Wang Ruixiang concluded, “What the people really fear is not AIDS, it’s homosexuality - both male and female.”

While the history of the tongzhi movement today, usually disregards the authoritarian period, it is worth to look deeper into the broader changes which paved the way for Taiwan to become a probably the most “queer and gender” friendly state in Asia.

JENS DAMM is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung Christian University, Tainan. He is also a board member of the European Association of Taiwan Studies and a Research Associate with the ERCCT, the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan, University of Tübingen. His research is mainly focused on discourses on gender and ethnicity-related issues in Taiwan, Greater China including the People’s Republic of China, and on the impact of new communication technologies. His most recent publications are Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century (co-edited with Gunter Schubert), “Whither Taiwanization?” (Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 2011, co-edited with Yoshihisa Amae) and European Perspectives on Taiwan (VS Springer 2012, co-edited with Paul Lim).

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Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies

Department of East Asian Studies
University of Vienna
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Lastupdate: 21.03.2015 - 00:36