In a sense, Duilian has been incubating for at least a decade. When Tsang visited China for the first time in 2005, she discovered the story of Qiu Jin and Wu Zhiying, a moment she describes as a profound encounter. “I was staying in Shanghai with these friends who are lesbians and I told them that I was interested in Qiu Jin, that she was rumoured to be a lesbian. They said, ‘That’s crazy! She’s super famous, but we’ve never heard that she’s gay.’”
The conversation led to a trip to Qiu Jin’s home town of Shaoxing, where a display at the museum dedicated to the poet reinforced Tsang’s suspicions. It seemed obvious that the museum’s account of Qiu Jin and Wu Zhiying’s friendship indicated a romantic connection. “It wasn’t even censored,” Tsang says. “They didn’t even put two and two together. The funny thing was that we were able to find out about it because it was invisible, it didn’t even exist.” That was, of course, until someone came along with the right lens to reveal it.
“Queer histories are always unofficial, always hidden,” Tsang explains, but as covert as these stories are, coded traces remain. It seems fitting that Tsang first traveled to her father’s homeland in search of her roots, but discovered Qiu Jin, a bold, transgressive, and (possibly) queer artist, instead. Watching Duilian allows us to share this lens, to understand Qiu Jin’s life as Tsang did that day at the museum in Shaoxing: through the recognition of a concealed narrative. As Tsang puts it, “It’s a very familiar thing to see it and say to yourself, okay I know what’s really happening here.”