Yifeng Cai

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Brown U.

Grant number

Gr. 9803

Approve Date

April 30, 2019

Project Title

Cai, Yifeng (Brown U.) "Mediated Moralities of Exchange: Apps, Intimacy, and Money among Gay Men in Urban China"

YIFENG CAI, then a graduate student at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, was awarded a grant in April 2019 to aid research on “Mediated Moralities of Exchange: Apps, Intimacy, and Money among Gay Men in Urban China,” supervised by Dr. Katherine Mason. Urban Chinese gay men who never met offline could become the closest of ‘queer kin;’ purely digital acts and encounters could be more impactful for these men’s personal and social life than physical ones; ‘fake’ social media profiles these gay men painstakingly produced and maintained led to tangible material and symbolic gains. These Chinese gay men’s lived experience suggested that, in between ‘real’ and ‘unreal,’ there existed blurry, transitional ‘liminal realities.’ Some urban Chinese gay men used digital technology to construct particular kinds of liminal realities in pursuit of their multifarious, sometimes conflicting, desires. Four kinds of liminal realities were presented in this ethnography: queer urban sociality structured by ‘gay circles;’ systems of classification that were at once queer and normative; transactional sex that needed to be engaged with symbolically, but not actualized; and transient but intense queer collectivity and intimacy achieved through psychoactive substances. While these urban Chinese gay men used liminal realities to fulfill their desires, these attempts oftentimes produced unanticipated consequences in contemporary China’s socio-technological contexts.