This essay examines the contemporary emergence of gay and lesbian life in the People's Republic of China through an analysis of Stanley Kwan's 2001 film Lan Yu and in relation to liberal distinctions between public space and private desires. Following anthropologist Lisa Rofel's recent scholarship on expressive desire, I investigate the ways certain self-identified Chinese gays and lesbians are positioning themselves as individuals who are uniquely capable of embracing their private desires and thus at the vanguard of a new modernity in China. Lan Yu complicates this developmental narrative by presenting us with a queer space and time dissonant to conventional protocols of Western visual and political representation. The film explores what happens when neoliberal ideals and global gayness “fail” to translate. Ultimately, Kwan's discrepant modernity comes to function as a critical tool for organizing and evaluating not just the contemporary emergence of nonnormative sexualities and desires in (post)socialist China but also, and more urgently, historical continuities and ruptures among China's (semi)colonial past, its revolutionary aspirations for a socialist modernity, and its contemporary investments in a neoliberal capitalist world order. From this perspective, this essay interrogates (homo)sexuality as a discourse of development on the global stage, while examining the conditions of possibility and limits of globalizing queer studies.

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