Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0399-4181

Year of Publication

2022

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department/School/Program

Gender and Women's Studies

First Advisor

Dr. M. Cristina Alcalde

Second Advisor

Dr. Srimati Basu

Abstract

In contemporary China, demographers estimate that 30 million men are single because there are simply not enough women in the Chinese population, and the 2020 Chinese census shows that there are 34.9 million more men than women. These men are called guanggun, which can be directly translated to “bare sticks/branches,” a slur that indicates a lack of marriage and sex. In this project, I demonstrate that guanggun’s singlehood marks them as the marginalized at the intersection of heteronormativity, patriarchy, globalizing capitalism, and pronatalist governmentality. In a highly heteronormative and patrilineal culture, guanggun are branded as abnormal/incomplete. However, because most guanggun are poor men from rural China—the bottom of hierarchical masculinities in contemporary China, they can hardly find a wife with the severe female shortage and growing social inequalities. Meanwhile, the Chinese government also reinforces the existing heteronormative culture with increasingly pronatalist and pro-marriage policies. Under this pressure, many guanggun and their parents resort to desperate, sometimes even illegal, measures to acquire a wife, such as trafficking women domestically and internationally, which reproduces the vicious cycle of gender-based violence. Building on the feminist and queer critiques of heteronormativity, I argue that guanggun’s struggles in life are not from their singlehood but from complicated, debilitating social structures that hinder guanggun from forming non-heteronormative, alternative relationality.

By listening to guanggun’s lived experiences, I believe we can learn crucial lessons about heteronormativity and how to form alternative, meaningful connections. Far from the stereotypical representation of guanggun in mainstream Culture, my fieldwork shows the ambiguous—distressful yet resilient—lifeworld of guanggun. On the one hand, many guanggun reinforce patriarchal heteronormativity by clinging onto binary, rigid gender ideologies, which further push them into social isolation. On the other hand, some guanggun manage to resist heteronormativity and social injustice by forming rich, atypical relationships with humans, non-human beings, and objects outside of heteronormative marriage. Their queer, abundant desires and connections generate revolutionary potential to challenge existing gender norms, biopolitics, capitalist exploitation, and most importantly, heteronormativity at both micro and macro levels.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2022.291

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