Marital Acts: Gender, Sexuality, and Identity among the Chinese Thai Diaspora
248pp. November 2004
Marital Acts: Gender, Sexuality, and Identity among the Chinese Thai Diaspora
Author: Bao, Jiemin;
Succeeding waves of migration, from China to Thailand and from Thailand to the United States, have helped shape the identities of three generations of diasporic Chinese Thai. In this exciting new study, Jiemin Bao focuses on how cultural identities--as seen through the lens of marriage--play a central role in the formation of cultural citizenship. By challenging models of cultural identity that separate gender, sexuality, and class into discrete domains of analysis, Bao examines the competing roles of sex/gender, class, and race/ethnicity in shaping the ongoing construction of Chinese Thai identities in contemporary Bangkok and the San Francisco Bay area.

Marriage has long been treated as a mechanism of assimilation in the anthropological literature on diasporic Chinese: the Chinese "minority" is absorbed into the dominant "majority" through intermarriage. Bao approaches marriage differently, viewing it not only as an institution that fosters and reproduces fundamental ideas of masculinity and femininity, but also as a site where the various categories of ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality--the stuff of identity--intersect. Through a fine-grained analysis of the lives of men and women and the language that three generations use to talk about their experiences in different locales, Bao powerfully demonstrates how masculine and feminine identities are both classed and ethnicized in Thailand and the United States. Nuanced and provocative, Marital Acts shows how diasporic Chinese are both self making and being made, not once, but twice--first in the society in which they are born and second in the society to which they migrate.

"A wonderfully detailed account of the fabric of Chinese Thai and diasporic Chinese Thai lives, as seen through the lens of gender and sexual identity and as it shifts across class and geographic lines. . . . Anyone teaching courses on the subject of gender and sexual identity will find this book a useful tool for bringing the analysis down to earth, down to the ground of life and experience that theory is supposed to illuminate for us." —Journal of Asian Studies, May 2006

"An engaging book about fascinating subjects. . . . It sheds new light on the impact of gender and sexuality on cross-national, cross-ethnic identity. It is well written, and the attentive reader will learn quite a bit of Thai and Mandarin, too! Using marriage and weddings as the focus of her study, Bao provides a perspective on identity formation that is inherently gendered and sexualized. The book thus provides an important feminist contribution to anthropology and Asian studies." —China Review International, Fall 2005

"Bao illuminates the complex and often contradictory ways in which her transnational subjects produce and renegotiate their understandings of themselves and each other as men, women, husbands, wives, Chinese, Thai, American, and more. Attentive to history, to shifts in political economy, as well as to cultural and ideological transformations, Bao offers a nuanced and provocative ethnography of structure and agency in lived experience." --Mary Beth Mills, associate professor of anthropology, Colby College

Author: Bao, Jiemin;
Jiemin Bao is associate professor of anthropology and ethnic studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Language Conventions



Part I: Positions

1. Introduction

2. The Ongoing Process of Identity Formation

Part II: The Chinkao Experience

3. The Gendered Politics of Migration and Marriage

4. Middle-Class Chinese-ness, Nei/Wai Politics

5. Changes in Sexual Practice: "Same Bed, Different Dreams"

Part III: The Lukchin Experience

6. Hybrid Identities

7. What’s in a Wedding?

8. Naturalized Sexuality and Middle-Class Respectability

9. Shang Jia: "Family Business"

Part IV: The Chinese Thai American Experience

10. Multiple Belongings