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social sciences

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In the late 1990s, however, a sharp split occurred between the organized feminist movement and lesbian political activism when two of the tongzhi movement's key activists were dismissed from their jobs at the feminist Awakening Foundation and moved on to form a new, exclusively tongzhi-based organization, the Hotline project.

During the early-to-mid 1990s, lesbian and gay student associations mushroomed on university campuses all over Taiwan, and some lesbian and gay studies courses began to be taught in the major universities, especially National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Central University, where the Centre for the Study of Sexualities was established in the mid-1990s. Out of this emergent lesbian and gay academic culture came the localized translation of the 1990s English reclamation of "queer" in "queer theory" and "queer literature," with the phonetic Mandarin transliteration ku'er.

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The organization of campus-based tongzhi groups was greatly facilitated by the rise of Internet technology: from the mid-1990s, the Internet, and Bulletin Board System (BBS) forums in particular, became vital tools for the solidification of locally based tongzhi student communities. The easy accessibility, relative anonymity, and affordability of the Internet (with most of the new tongzhi BBS forums located on free university servers) led to the formation of a vast island wide network of student tongzhi net users, who are able to share information, engage in debate, and consolidate sexual identities and communities with unprecedented ease thanks to this new communication technology.

Tongzhi movement activists have mobilized effectively and publicly across a range of local social issues since the early-to-mid 1990s. They have protested, for example, over police harassment of gay cruising; the slated redevelopment of Taipei's iconic gay cruising site, New Park; the Taipei City Government's summary revocation of the licenses of the municipality's licensed female sex workers; and a mid-1990s rash of sensationalist, television specials on male and female tongzhi subcultures.

At the same time, queer commercial cultures flourished, particularly middle-class gay male cultures of consumption. These are epitomized in the bar and dance-club scene in the major cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung, which expanded markedly during the 1990s and began regularly to include elements of spectacular performance such as drag and costume shows.

The rise of cultural consumption as a means of expressing gay identity can also be seen in the launch of two glossy gay life style magazines, G&L and Together, in 1996 and 1998 respectively, both aimed at a Taiwan/Hong Kong/Chinese diaspora readership. At the peak of its popularity, G&L reached a readership of some 40,000; however, both of these magazines folded after a few years' publication because of financial difficulties.

The existing female T bar scene, too, diversified as a result of the rise of public, politicized tongzhi cultures. In the early-to-mid-1990s, debates began to occur in lesbian-feminist circles over the gender politics of T/po roles, with many rejecting such roles as inappropriate to the new tongzhi culture. They argued that such roles merely reproduced patriarchal power structures.

Alongside the T bars there now began to appear new-style lesbian bars, which were generally more public, lacking hostesses, not organized around T/po roles, and overall more similar to American style lesbian bars than to Japanese style hostess/karaoke bars. Debates between lesbian-feminism and defenders of T/po culture are ongoing within Taiwan's queer academic circles, with American transgender studies and autobiographies currently undergoing local translation and dissemination and providing the basis for more nuanced and less dismissive understandings of local T/po cultures.

The 1990s "queer boom" has also brought new forms of tongzhi cultural production. Over the past decade there has been a marked leap in the number and prominence of literary works dealing with same-sex desire, queer politics, and transgender identity. These include stories and novels by well-known authors such as Chu T'ien-wen, with her 1994 novel Notes of a Desolate Man, as well as those of the younger "queer" (ku'er) authors such as Qiu Miaojin, Chen Xue, Hong Ling, and Chi Ta-wei.

A number of popular and art-house films have been made on similar subjects, such as Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, most of the films of Tsai Ming-liang, Jo-fei Chen's lesbian feature Incidental Journey, and many recent student films. Since 2000, there has even been a small spate of locally produced, free-to-air, lesbian and gay-themed television dramas. At the same time, a strand of contemporary graphic art dealing with the topic of homosexuality and queer desire has emerged, for example in the works of artists such as Tung-lu Hung, Mei-hua Lai, and Chun-ming Hou. There have also been some small-scale queer theater productions, and there is a small, lesbian live music scene.

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