The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

James Cummings
James Cummings

Project title: Constructing Sexual Lives in a Changing Society: gay men’s understandings of sexual being, belonging and identities in Hainan Province, People’s Republic of China

Supervisor: Prof Diane Richardson, Prof Janice McLaughlin, Dr Joanne Smith Finley

Description of Research Project

This project emerged from my earlier experiences of living on Hainan Island, People’s Republic of China, a region historically considered ‘backwards’ and ‘underdeveloped’ in Chinese popular discourses, and participating in the emergent scene there. This scene is manifest in the emergence of gay bars in the urban centres of Haikou and Sanya, in AIDS prevention programmes that since 2008 have established ‘men who have sex with men’ as a ‘high-risk community’ and in social organisations have emerged promoting discourses of ‘LGBT rights’ and ‘gay culture’. Not limited to urban contexts, the burgeoning centrality of ‘sexuality’ to individual and group identities is evident in the formation of online and offline communities of people identifying as gay, homosexual (tongxinglian), tongzhi, and as ‘in the scene’ in smaller towns and rural areas, while discourses of ‘sexual liberalism/conservatism’ inform many gay men’s understandings of the city, town, and village spaces within which they live.

The project takes an ethnographic approach to exploring relationships between sexuality, space-place, social change, and discourses of community, morality, tradition and modernity in Hainan that shape the ways in which sexual identities are constructed, understood and lived in everyday experience. In this sense, my research responds to the question: ‘is there something subtly radical in living out an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered life as an everyday possibility that can be done in any location – rather than the particular cosmopolitan spaces where liberation politics existed in the past’? (Richardson, McLaughlin, & Casey, 2006)

Data for this research has been generated during an 18 month fieldtrip in Hainan, were 30 semi-structured interviews ranging from 1 to 3 hours have been conducted with gay men aged 18-63 across city, town, and rural settings. Interview data sits alongside extensive ethnographic participatory experience, field notes, visual data, and collected materials which situate my analysis within the everyday context of life in Hainan.


From Nanjing to Newcastle: Celebrations for the 10th Anniversary of the China Independent Film Festival come to the Toon, 2014, available at:


  • Screening Real: Becoming Gay Online in the People’s Republic of China. Paper presented Queer Screens, Northumbria University, 2nd September, 2017
  • Scene/quan: Negotiating Belonging in the Everyday Lives of Gay Men in Hainan. Paper presented at the Newcastle University Sociology Symposium ‘Citizenship in an Era of Fragility’, 15th March, 2017
  • Translating Sexuality. Paper presented at the Newcastle University doctoral workshop ‘Positioning Research’, 14th March, 2017
  • 'It’s Hainanese for Bitch': Negotiating ‘Peripherality’, ‘Modernity’ and Non-heterosexual Identities in Hainan. Paper presented at the British Association for Chinese Studies Annual Conference, 5th Sept. 2014
  • Scripting Sex in China’s Hawaii: Social Change and the Emergence of Gay, Tongzhi, and Yaojien Identities in Hainan Province, China. Paper presented for the Newcastle University Gender Research Group’s Evening Lecture Series, City Library, Newcastle, 11th June 2014.
  • The Intersections of Sexual Identity Politics and Internal Colonialism in Hainan, China. Paper presented at the Cultural Significance of Place Research Group workshop ‘Campaigning for Change: Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities’, 13th June 2014


  • Teaching Assistant: Understanding Social Change and Transformation, School of Geography, Politics, and Sociology, Newcastle University, 2017-18 and 2016-17
  • Teaching Assistant: Chinese-English Translation Level D, School of Modern Languages, Newcastle University, 2017-18
  • Teaching Assistant: Chinese-English Translation Level C, School of Modern Languages, Newcastle University, 2017-18

Qualifications and Achievements

  • Postgraduate Certificate in Research Training, Newcastle University, 2013-14
  • International Chinese Proficiency Exam (HSK Level 5), Confucius Institute for Scotland, Edinburgh University, 2014
  • MLitt Research Degree in Chinese Studies, Newcastle University. 2012-13
  • Dissertation Title: The Interrelation of Regionalism and Sexuality in the lives of Hainanese Same-Sex Attracted Men
  • BAHons in Modern Languages- Spanish/Chinese, Newcastle University, 2007-11