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Obsession: Male Same-Sex Relations in China, 1900-1950

Wenqing Kang
Series: Queer Asia
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This is the most serious study to date on the topic of male same-sex relations in China during the early twentieth century, illuminating male same-sex relations in many sites: language, translated sexological writings, literary works, tabloid newspapers, and opera. Documenting how nationalism and colonial modernity reconfigured Chinese discourses on sex between men in the early twentieth century, Wenqing Kang has amassed a wealth of material previously overlooked by scholars, such as the entertainment news and opinion pieces related to same-sex relations published in the tabloid press. He sheds new light on several puzzles, such as the process whereby sex between men became increasingly stigmatized in China between the 1910s and 1940s, and shows that the rich vocabulary and concepts that existed for male-male relations in premodern China continued to be used by journalists and writers throughout the Republican era, creating the conditions for receiving Western sexology.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-61-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book is a study of male same-sex relations in China during the first half of the twentieth century. During this period, a rich vocabulary existed to describe such relationships, which were frequently discussed in translated sexological writings, literary works, publications concerning the Peking Opera field and, most prominently, tabloid newspapers. In these various social and discursive locations, which were either new, such as sexology and tabloids, or in the process of being transformed, such as opera and literature, urban citizens argued about the importance of a modernized understanding of gender and sex in order to strengthen the nation.


  5. 1 The Language of Male Same-Sex Relations in China
    (pp. 19-40)

    A huge vocabulary describing male same-sex relations, and men engaged in such relations, suggests that the issue was not a silent one in China during the first half of the twentieth century. These terms included: duanxiupi (斷袖癖, the obsession with the cut sleeve), fentaozhihao (分挑之好, the love of sharing a peach), Longyangjun (巃陽君, the name of a male favorite in history), nanchong (男寵, male favorite), nanse (男色, male beauty), nanfeng (南風, southern mode, or 男風, male mode), xianggong (相公, young gentlemen or Peking opera actors who play female roles working as male prostitutes), tuzi (兔子, rabbit), pijing (屁精, ass expert,...

  6. 2 Sexology
    (pp. 41-60)

    As argued in the previous chapter, Western sexological understandings of male same-sex relations could gain a footing in China during the first half of the twentieth century because they shared comparable conceptual contradictions with indigenous Chinese thoughts on the issue. This chapter discusses the content of different kinds of Western sexological writings on homosexuality; and how the introduction of this new knowledge into China shifted attention toward sexual relations between men of equal social status. It also explores how the motivations of Chinese intellectuals who introduced the concept of “homosexuality” in China were connected to the social and political context...

  7. 3 Literary Intimacies
    (pp. 61-84)

    This chapter explores how intimate relations between men were represented in a number of literary works by major and minor writers—Yu Dafu, Huang Shenzhi, Ye Dingluo, Guo Moruo, and Ye Lingfeng—from the 1920s to the early 1930s. In both China and the United States, writings on male same-sex relations in modern Chinese literature have been ignored by both literary critics and historians, and this piece of China’s literary repertoire has been largely forgotten by history. It is very important to restore these writings because they represent a moment in modern Chinese history when male same-sex love inspired various...

  8. 4 Tabloid Sex and Cultural Conservatives
    (pp. 85-114)

    From the 1920s to the 1930s, a group of writers in China’s major urban areas linked the issue of same-sex relations to the question of national survival. Their venues were major tabloid newspapers such as Crystal (Jingbao, 晶报) in Shanghai.340 In their writings, discussion of same-sex relations, whether between wayward women, male politicians and their male favorites, Chinese and foreign men, or in the form of male prostitution, became the means through which they expressed their anxieties over the well-being of the nation.

    I call these tabloid writers the cultural conservatives. They were generally learned men who were well-versed in...

  9. 5 Actors and Patrons
    (pp. 115-144)

    On April 20, 1912, the Central Police Office of the Beijing Outer City (waicheng xunjing zongting, 外城廵警總聽)444 published this announcement in the Beijing zhengzong aiguo bao (Beijing orthodox patriotic newspaper, 北京正宗愛國報):

    The Central Police Office of the Outer City has announced the following prohibition. It has been verified that the owners of the houses and residences of Hanjiatan (韓家潭), Wailangying (外廊營) and other places, usually in the name of opera training, seduced boys from respectable families, made them sexually attractive, and taught them to sing. At first, some literati occasionally visited this place to write and eat together. As the...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-148)

    Male same-sex relations in China during the first half of the twentieth century appeared in many different sites: language, translated sexological writings, literary works, tabloid newspapers, and the Peking opera field. It is important to note that these five areas were not isolated: they overlapped with one another. Most obviously, the language that described male same-sex relations was used in all the other areas. Translated sexological thought not only appeared separately in specialized works, but also was appropriated and utilized in literary works and tabloid articles. Literary works not only reinforced certain kind of translated sexological thought, such as the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 149-174)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-184)
  13. Index
    (pp. 185-191)