As an important representative of cross-dressing performance in Chinese popular culture, Li Yugang (李玉刚) is highly acclaimed both in and outside China for his impersonation of well-known beauties in Chinese history and literature. By interweaving Peking Opera with elements of popular culture, Li Yugang has won the recognition of both market and mainstream cultures, successfully adding a modern edge to the traditional art. Like reality television shows in the West, Li Yugang’s cross-dressing performances tend to use sensationalism to attract viewers and to increase advertising revenue, benefitting from mass media like television and the Internet, and vice versa. While a capitalist logic is at work in Li Yugang’s rise as a national and international star and icon of Chinese popular culture, his popularity may also be read positively as a symbol of liminality for progress and liberalization in present Chinese society. The cross-dressing performance transgresses the boundaries between man and woman, traditional and modern, local and global, marginal and mainstream. The crisis of categories that this trespassing entails has proven significant for cultural reform and renewal. Li Yugang’s story of transformation from grass roots to mainstream demonstrates the possibilities of success for talented and aspiring individuals. Furthermore, he should be applauded for his contribution to the internationalization of Chinese culture. Having made many successful tours in a number of countries, he has played an important role in promoting cross-cultural exchanges and understandings. From the perspective of gender theory, Li Yugang and Chinese cross-dressing performance both support and challenge the concept of gender performativity, both decontextualize and localize Western theories of transvestism.
Chengzhou He; Trespassing, Crisis, and Renewal: Li Yugang and Cross-Dressing Performance. differences 1 September 2013; 24 (2): 150–171. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2335094
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