Towards Alternative Queerness: on the Photographic Work of Chinese Artists Chen Ronghui and Ren Hang

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



This thesis examines the works of Chinese photographic artists Chen Ronghui and Ren Hang and reflects upon and expands the ways in which queerness is commonly approached and understood in photography. Rather than be simply equated to the nonheteronormative sexualities of either artists or the represented subjects, queerness in the artists’ works are exceeding the framework of identity politics and the queer figures within the frame. The first chapter focuses on the photograph Sworn Brothers from Chen Ronghui’s series Freezing Land (2016-2019), a project that documents the underprivileged life of the younger generation in shrinking cities in Northeastern China. In this image that captures two young men intimately smoking together, I read their queerness as feeling--- loving attention, tenderness, mutual reliance--- that becomes palpable against the larger background of the regional dismal conditions. Since the two subjects and relationship are anonymous to the viewers, the image indeed forces a consideration of queerness as knowable as only feeling. The second chapter examines late artist Ren Hang’s explicit portraitures of young, naked Chinese bodies. Despite a minimal proportion of gay sex photos in Ren’s oeuvre, I understand his work’s queerness as an emergent property that allows us to see a once-existed queer lifeworld in which Ren and his models who are mostly his friends within 2010’s Beijing subcultural community, collectively and playfully created naked images while cultivating friendship and intimacy exceeding the accustomed categorical boundaries for relationality.





Peng, Liangyu (2023). Towards Alternative Queerness: on the Photographic Work of Chinese Artists Chen Ronghui and Ren Hang. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.