The Haunting of Huli jing
Love Intersections (David Ng, Jen Sungshine) in collaboration with Kendell Yan. Videography by Eric Sanderson.
There is no creature quite as alluring and sinister as the 9-tailed fox spirit, the Huli jing (). In Chinese mythology, the Huli jing is a well known mythological creature, most notable for its ability to acquire human form that is almost always in the image of a beautiful young woman. Today, the popular usage of the term “huli jing” is a pejorative word to describe women who are flirtatious and sexually liberated (similar to “slut”). It is important to point out that the nine-tailed fox spirit of which this term is derived from, is historically genderless (in its animal form) that only takes physical form (gendered) to lure mortals for their essence. The depiction of the fox spirit in historical texts and literature has evolved into a very cemented feminized image in contemporary East Asian popular culture. Similar iterations can be found in Japan (Kitsune), Korea (Kumiho), Vietnam (Hồ Ly Tinh), and in
the West (Succubus).
Through the eyes of the fox spirit, we fuse macabre and East Asian cultural mythos to highlight how a virus-like spread of anti-Asian racism is painfully experienced. What is it about the macabre and sci-fi horror that elicits unsettling feelings of discomfort and fear of infection? Like a mythic story, the virus is personified as a cultural phenomenon of our many realities. The fox spirit emerges from underground and transforms its animal form to human – and according to the origin of the mythical tale, its survival is contingent on accumulating essence through sexual intercourse with mortals, thereby prolonging its magical powers and eventual immortality.
This work was conceptualized prior to COVID-19, with production originally scheduled in March. We quickly realized during the quarantine that the context of the piece needed to transform, and mutate. Our initial idea on ‘bodies that transgress homonationalism’, now had different implications in the context of anti-Asian racism that emerged from COVID-19 related sinophobia, and has now shifted again with movements against anti-Black violence. This concept of interrogating how homonationalism upholds the colonial white supremacist nation state has new implications, in light of the changing discourse of systemic racism, and the literal enforcement of biopolitics and racial capitalism by the nation-state. How do notions of “fear”, “discomfort” and “destabilization” that we invoke through this piece relate to public discourse today?
By evoking a sci-fi horror lens, we connect our own xenophobic fears towards the fox spirit, to place an immediate sense of fear that this entity is growing and looming above, under, and surrounding all around us. Visually, the virus-like creature spreads through the gradient of 3 thematic worlds: utopia, apocalypse, and dystopia — infecting and penetrating into the very matter of each of the world’s reality, taking on the properties of everything it touches like the invasion of the body snatchers. In this state, it’s not just the physical bodies being replicated (fox to human), but thoughts, minds, DNA are all absorbed and mirrored. The evocation of fear through desolation and macabre reflects how (white) homonationalism is enforced by the nation-state to conform certain (racialized) bodies, genders and sexualities, into a productive “normative” citizen.
A key component in the potency of the fox spirit’s magical powers is memory loss. She enacts a kind of forgetting — serving both a protective shield around herself and her clan’s location and lair, and more importantly, what actually happened. The Huli jing’s potency and her magical powers threaten the colonial, homonational state, as well as the weaponized potential/power in forgetting and memory loss and what that does to our controlled/policed bodies. What exactly are the visceral and embodied tensions between the mechanisms of white homonormativity and the “deviant Other” that the Huli jing represents? What are the linkages between the emotional and spiritual vulnerabilities that are essential to the shifts towards broader social change in the queer community? What is the ultimate threat to the mechanisms of homonormativity — which includes whiteness — when assimilation is refused?