Taiwan Spotlight

Sex Work, Media Networks, and Affective Labor in The Fourth Portrait

Lily Wong

American University


Lingering in the cultural imagination, sex workers link sexual and cultural marginality, and their tales clarify the boundaries of citizenship, nationalism, and internationalism. Based on her new book, Transpacific Attachments, Lily Wong will discuss the mobility and mobilization of the “Taiwanese sex worker” figure through transpacific media networks, stressing the intersectional politics of racial, sexual, and class structures. As an example, she turns to the Taiwanese film The Fourth Portrait (2010) which tells the tale of a broken family held together by the mother through her affective labors as both a sex worker and the family caregiver. In focusing on the affective economy created by the heroine, Wong argues that the film reconfigures analogies of “Taiwanese” identity that complicates diasporic frameworks of cultural authenticity or ethno-nationalism. As such, Wong emphasizes the significant role affective labor plays in the restructuring of social relations as well as the reimagination of cultural belonging.

Lily Wong is associate professor of literature at American University. Her research focuses on the politics of affect/emotion, gender/sexuality, comparative race, and media formations of transpacific Chinese, Sinophone, and Asian American communities. Her work can be found in journals including American Quarterly, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Asian Cinema, and Asian American Literary Review, among others. She has published book chapters in World Cinema and the Visual Arts (2013), Queer Sinophone Cultures (2014), and Divided Lenses: War and Film Memory in Asia (2016). She is the author of Transpacific Attachments: Sex Work, Media Networks, and Affective Histories of Chineseness (Columbia University Press, 2018).