Documenting China’s Queer Voices
Ashley Jiang shoots interviews with queer Chinese people for her online oral history project OutChina. CINEMQ took a look through the eye of her camera to find out how it’s helping give a voice to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Many Chinese people of my generation are indifferent to politics.” It can be a challenge for LGBTQ+ people in China to find their community, but Los Angeles-based activist Ashley Jiang believes that we are stronger together. “When you fight alone, you will surely become afraid,” she explains, “but when you have comrades, you will become stronger and more optimistic.” With the help of filmmaker Vivian He, she founded OutChina, an online platform collecting the stories of Chinese queers through video and audio interviews. “Everyone is born equal. We invite people to look of these stories and people, and tell us why they deserve less than any other human being.”
Growing up in Shanghai, Jiang says that she believed that she and her girlfriend “were the only lesbians in the city.” She explains, “homosexuality was an alien concept to me since there is almost no sex education in China.” She kept her sexuality a secret until 2014, when she studied abroad in France and witnessed a march against same sex marriage. “I was stupefied and terrified as I stood among all these people whose sole objective is to oppress people like us. I decided to step out of my little world and really do something.”
Jiang began giving her time to the community as a volunteer with ShanghaiPRIDE and Los Angeles LGBT Centre, where she first started hearing other queer people’s stories. “I immensely admired them.” She was inspired to start “documenting the untold stories of Chinese LGBT activists and volunteers.” She founded OutChina, and in summer 2016 returned to China to gather interviews.
She had aimed to shoot a symbolic 2017 interviews by the end of the year, but fell short with a still impressive 473 films currently on her website. Grassroots projects, she notes, can be limited by resources. “I have a lot of amazing friends helping me,” Jiang explains, “but I feel overwhelmed from time to time.” Eventually, she hopes OutChina can become a registered non-profit organization, making it easier to recruit the talent she needs.
As well as targeting a local audience, Jiang also has an eye on the international community. “I want to give them access to the direct and real voices from Chinese LGBTQ+ community.” Her subjects are drawn from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Many are community activists, but their experiences are achingly relatable. “The internet wasn’t accessible, so I had no way to find out if this was normal,” says Xiao Xuan, from Yunnan, in one interview. Jiang explains that online resources like hers ultimately “provide people who are daunted by uncertainty with access to hope, which is essential.”
“I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling in creating social change. All different art forms interpret our experiences in different ways, and queer art is a potent and effective device for people to find each other."
OutChina is on wechat under the name ‘Self Evident Truths,’ and online at www.chinalgbt.org
Ashley Jiang and friends
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.