The Shifting Gender Norms in Contemporary China: A Case Study of Gay Fun Arts in Ne Zha

Miss Xiaofei Yang1, Ms Zhuying Li

1Rmit University, City Campus, 澳大利亚

The animation film Ne Zha was a hit in the summer of 2019 in Chinese cyberspace. The film generated a lot discussion and user generated content from online fans. This is due largely to the film’s nuanced depiction of the relationship between its protagonist Ne Zha and his friend/enemy, Ao Bing. The homosocial/homoerotic undertone in their interactions had provoked the production and distribution of various forms of gay-themed fan art (drawings, remixed short videos, photo-shopped pictures, etc.) regarding the two characters across the internet. This phenomenon is all the more thought-provoking when situated in China’s particular cultural environment, where depictions of non-heterosexualities or behaviors online are officially prohibited, inviting thorough scholarly scrutiny. Taking a post-modernist feminist perspective, this study examines fan-produced drawings and pictures of the film Ne Zha on, one of the top rating websites in China. By interpreting selected fan works through semiotics, the study aims to explore representations of the two characters in these works, the extent to which they comply with and/or diverge from China’s existing gender norms, and their role in negotiating with China’s shifting and contesting cyberspace and gender ideology at large.


Xiaofei Yang is a research student at RMIT University, School of Media and Communication. Her research interests are Chinese new media, cultural studies, gender studies, post-modernist feminism and queer theory. She got her master’s degree in Global Media Communication at the University of Melbourne in 2017.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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