Phenomenology and Affect: Qiu Jiongjiong’s Madame

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This article explores Chinese filmmaker Qiu Jiongjiong’s documentary Madame (2010) and seeks to shed light on how the film portrays queer bodies in the peripheries of various sociocultural norms and structures in contemporary China. Qiu gives us a ‘Madame’ who works as a tailor, Fan Qihui, by day, and a cross-dressing performer, Bilang de Linphél. Whilst the film is assembled by eight scenes (echoing a theatre performance), three pivotal themes of Fan’s personal experiences in the margins are evoked in various parts of the documentary: first, beauty and sex, second, economic disenfranchisement and third, happiness. This article approaches these intersecting themes by focusing on how they mobilise processes of affective embodiment. As such, this article reveals how the film bridges an almost biographical portrayal of Fan’s past with the ways in which the body is affected by the lived experiences through the performance of Bilang on stage. By providing a reading of the film, alongside interviews with and articles about tailor Fan Qihui published online before and after their suicide in 2010, I aim to demonstrate how phenomenological accounts of bodily affect afford a valuable lens through which queer discourses on China can be probed. Analysis of bodily affect can be approached by looking at the bodily movement as well as the body’s tendency towards certain objects and objectives. Fan indeed orient themselves toward certain objects that assume queer meanings and objectives such as finding happiness through the various means afforded by one’s material conditions and bodily realities. In turn, these bodily tendencies call attention to how the body of Bilang and Fan can be seen not only as commentary on external forces and power, but also as a vessel of pivotal information on the very systemic and structural forces that affectively condition the body. Moreover, this essay sheds some light on how the body (of characters) in a film often bears valuable information for social and cultural analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-104
Number of pages16
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Affect theory
  • queer theory
  • Chinese studies
  • film studies
  • Phenomenology
  • Cinema


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