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  • Caterina Paiva

Editorial - Intimately Speaking

Nothing eases someone as much as the comfort of feeling intimately understood. From stand-alone scenarios or family relationships to friendship, passing by heteronormative relations, towards the queer possibilities, intimacy is a concept that assumes many variations. As everywhere else, nothing new under the Chinese sky.

But what is Intimacy then? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines intimacy as something of a “personal or private nature.” This definition begs the question of what (or whom) delineates what is personal or private.

Since at least the ’60s and in the west, with the so-called second-wave feminism, “the personal and private is political” has been brought to the public discourse, i.e., what happens at home can never be disassociated from the social context and its structures. In China, also during this time, Chinese socialism actually restructured society (including the family) by similar understanding.

However, way before it was re-contextualized by feminisms—in all their plural formulations—and by Chinese socialism, intimate relationships have long been politicized worldwide. In China, Confucius (孔子 Kong Zi) declared that no “harmonious society” could be built if people did not uphold their determined roles. This premise, called 正名 zheng ming or the “rectification of names” means matching the actual praxis to the expected role’s name:

“There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.”

(君君, 臣臣, 父父, 子子 Jun jun, Chen chen, Fu fu, Zi zi

That included father and son’s filial relationship—and hence their intimacy.

Similar to the rest of the world, however, much has changed in China since Confucius’ time. Neither is intimacy politicized in the same way.

“To add one meter to an unknown mountain” by Zhang Huan 張洹. Provided by Flickr. (08/01/2022)

From dating apps to live streaming, Chinese intimacy is intertwined with the Chinese technological reality. Changes in family relationships evolved in order to keep up with China’s economic progress. And contemporary public art exhibition bring intimacy to new visual discourses.

Intimacy has flourished in different practices and was acknowledged in academic and public speeches. So much so that Pope Francis said in January that pets are the new children of this generation—with a negative connotation. To be fair, the fact that this generation is outsourced to have (more than one) child might probably be the reason. That is particularly true of the China’s “one golden child” reality. It is a reality that materializes not only in the economic expenses that the family is ready to spend on a single child but also in the different ways of intimately connecting with them.

Based on this variety of possibilities, February, typically associated with Valentine’s Day, comes in as the month we discuss some of these practices. Intimately speaking, of course.


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