AN ANTHROPOLOGIST and a China scholar, Lisa Rofel has written several ethnographies on contemporary Chinese culture and politics. Her most recent book, Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality and Public Culture, published last year by Duke University Press (reviewed in the Nov.-Dec. 07 issue of this magazine), explores the cultural implications of the economic boom that began after Tiananmen Square in 1989 and continues to transform the country today. Rofel sees China moving toward a cosmopolitan consumer culture that mixes various cultural elements both East and West. But along with the desire for goods, other desires begin to find expression in public spaces, including sexual ones. Thus there has been a general loosening of attitudes on sexual activity in general and homosexuality in particular. Rofel devotes a substantial portion of her book to exploring the rise of a visible GLBT presence in the context of China’s growing consumer culture.
Dr. Rofel is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This interview was conducted by phone in January 2008.