Semiotics of Allegory: Queerness in Contemporary Taiwan and Hong Kong Novel and Cinema

Semiotics of Allegory: Queerness in Contemporary Taiwan and Hong Kong Novel and Cinema
This project offers the framework of “semiotics of allegory” as an alternative to Fredric Jameson’s national allegory for studying non-Western cultural products by emphasising their plural meanings of signs and the importance of situating their reading in production contexts. National allegory refers to Jameson’s influential framework of using personal journeys to allegorise national destinies in non-Western, or what he called “Third-World” literature. But using this way to read non-Western cultural texts is decontextualised, reductive, and Western-centric, therefore losing nuances and possibilities to interpret the texts in ways that are not national, political, or geopolitical. This project proposes a paradigm shift by offering the semiotics of allegory as a framework to recuperate the plurality in interpreting non-Western cultural texts. The textual analysis situates the selected Sinophone novels and films in their production contexts against Confucianism and Buddhism and the Chinese allegorical tradition of Cao Xueqin’s 曹雪芹 Hongloumeng (紅樓夢 Dream of the Red Chamber, 1791) and Li Ruzhen’s 李汝珍 Jinghuayuan (鏡花緣 Flowers in the Mirror, 1828).

The framework is demonstrated by examining the relationship between the queer trope as an example that is often subject to national allegorisation alongside four types of signs, including the space, the image, the music, and the myth. The four texts and their corresponding signs are the space in Pai Hsien-yung’s 白先勇 novel Niezi (孽子, Crystal Boys, 1983), the moving images in Tsai Ming-liang’s 蔡明亮 film Heliu (河流 The River, 1997), the tango music in Wong Kar-wai’s 王家衛 film Ceon gwong zaa sit (春光乍洩 Happy Together, 1997), and the myths in Chu T’ien-wen’s 朱天文 novel Huangren shouji (荒人手記, Notes of a Desolate Man, 1994). This project adopts the frameworks of Shih Shu-mei’s Sinophone studies, Chen Kuan-hsing’s inter-Asian studies in Asia as Method, Judith Butler’s queer theories, and Roland Barthes’s semiotic theories.

This study provides a theoretical tool for interpreting non-Western cultures beyond literalism, geopolitics, and nationalism by attending to the asymmetrical geopolitics of the global cultural market’s working mechanism, such as the non-Western creators adopting self-exoticisation and self-Orientalism as strategies to market their works to the West.


Jessica Siu-yin Yeung

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

SOAS University of London




Hong Kong


Art and Culture