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Hitchhiking Travel in China: Power, Gender and Sexuality
Contemporary hitchhiking in China has caught little research interests regardless of its recent (re)emergence as a touristic practice. This research focuses on gender in hitchhiking travel in contemporary China. Literature suggests that gender is an important aspect of hitchhiking, particularly in regard to ease and risk: It is easier but more dangerous for the female than the male to hitchhike. Influenced by Judith Butler’s understanding of gender and subjectivity, I seek to explore hitchhiking travel as a context that gender and sexual norms are continuously performed and iterated. Based on an (auto)ethnographic fieldwork conducted on the South Sichuan – Tibet Route in China, I argue that the subjectivities in which the female and the male hitchhikers understand themselves as vulnerable and invulnerable respectively are set up by various discursive regimes, particularly the normative heterosexuality and the hitchhiker – lift-giver relation characterised by the principle of reciprocity. Further, I consider the ‘abjected’ queer subjects in hitchhiking travel by reflecting on my experiences of being a closeted gay man travelling/researching in this heteronormative ‘field’. Particularly I detailed my experiences of negotiating between ‘non-disclosure’ and ‘non-deception’ of my sexuality in the conversation with the lift-givers, which I felt compelled to participate in the odd social situation of being in a lift-giver’s car that is both mobile and static, both confined and extended, both private and public. To conclude, this research offers some understandings of the interplay of power, gender and sexuality in hitchhiking travel in China.