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The Fragile Scholar

The Fragile Scholar: Power and Masculinity in Chinese Culture

Song Geng
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Fragile Scholar
    Book Description:

    The Fragile Scholar examines the pre-modern construction of Chinese masculinity from the popular image of the fragile scholar (caizi) in late imperial Chinese fiction and drama. The book is an original contribution to the study of the construction of masculinity in the Chinese context from a comparative perspective (Euro-American). Its central thesis is that the concept of "masculinity" in pre-modern China was conceived in the network of hierarchical social and political power in a homosocial context rather than in opposition to "woman." In other words, gender discourse was more power-based than sex-based in pre-modern China, and Chinese masculinity was androgynous in nature. The author explains how the caizi discourse embodied the mediation between elite culture and popular culture by giving voice to the desire, fantasy, wants and tastes of urbanites.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-138-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
    Song Geng
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Nowadays there are more sociologists and cultural critics who take on a semiotic understanding of gender. They view “femininity” and “masculinity” as arbitrary and conventional signifiers of the “referent,” namely sexual difference. Teresa de Lauretis writes, “gender can be subsumed in sexual differences as an effect of language, or as pure imaginary — nothing to do with the real.”¹ Sexual difference itself has also been viewed as a social construct that does not necessarily derive from the biological bodies of the male and female.² Gender discourses are therefore in nature cultural, historical, and above all, ideological. In light of this constructionist...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Fragile Scholar as a Cultural Discourse
    (pp. 19-42)

    This chapter gives a brief account of the development of the caizi-jiaren model for readers who are not familiar with Chinese literary culture. The meaning of “cultural discourse” is also explained here. We can find numerous studies of the caizi-jiaren, but few read the fragile scholar as a cultural discourse. Particularly absent are readings from the perspective of masculinity. By using this relatively novel approach, I attempt to offer a new reading of the various meanings traditionally ascribed to the texts under discussion.

    The ideals of the masculine and the feminine in pre-modern Chinese literary representations of love and sexuality...

  6. CHAPTER 2 From Qu Yuan to Student Zhang: A Genealogy of the Effeminate Shi
    (pp. 43-68)

    This chapter attempts an intertextual reading of the “emasculation” of the shi (±). The term “intertextuality” was first coined by Julia Kristeva¹ to refer to the interpretive strategy that “no text is ever completely free of other texts.”² The basic understanding underlying the theory is that, as Michael Worton and Judith Still point out, a text (in the narrower sense)³ “cannot exist as a hermetic or self-sufficient whole, and so does not function as a closed system.”⁴

    According to Jing Wang, what distinguishes this intertextual approach from the traditional “influence study” or “source criticism” is a “major shift of the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Textuality, Rituals and the “Docile Bodies”
    (pp. 69-86)

    R.H.Van Gulik writes that in most of the Chinese caizi-jiaren fiction and drama, the male lead “is described as a delicate, hypersensitive youngster with pale face and narrow shoulders, passing the greater part of time dreaming among his books and flowers, and who falls ill at the slightest disappointment.”¹ Images such as Student Zhang in The Western Wing are characterized by their white faces and rosy lips and are often linked to jade and pearl. From the illustrations in old engravings from the Ming dynasty, one can see that the scholar’s body, with his narrow shoulders, frail physique, slim waist,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Caizi versus Junzi: Irony, Subversion and Containment
    (pp. 87-124)

    In his Theorising Chinese Masculinity, Kam Louie makes the following comments on the “scholar,” who, in his view, embodies the wen masculinity:

    [T]he stereotyped wen man in traditional China is most popular equated with the scholar characters in the countless romances featuring talented scholars and beautiful women (the caizi jiaren stories). It is these fictional scholars who give concrete expression to qualities of talent in the junzi. These scholars and intellectuals would on the surface appear to personify the teachings of Confucius. Yet, more often than not, they are portrayed as wilfully deviating from Confucian orthodoxy, giving rise to the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Jasper-like Face and Rosy Lips: Same-sex Desire and the Male Body
    (pp. 125-156)

    Berthold Schoene-Harwood points out that “any discussion of masculinity would be incomplete without addressing its dichotomous divisions into straight and gay identifications.”¹ It is now time to go back to the question raised at the beginning of the book: Why was the caizi, an image strongly reminiscent of effeminacy and homosexuality in the eyes of Westerners, accepted by the pre-modern Chinese audience as a popular image of romantic hero? The key to this question may be the different position of homophobic discourse in the two cultures. The caizi-jiaren is heterosexual discourse and the effeminacy of the caizi, unlike the representation...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Homosocial Desire: Heroism, Misogyny, and the Male Bond
    (pp. 157-192)

    In the Analects of Confucius, there is an interesting story on Confucius’ meeting with the licentious concubine Nanzi: “Confucius paid a visit to Lady Nanzi. Zilu was not pleased. The master swore: ‘If I have done anything wrong, may Heaven confound me! May Heaven confound me!’ ” (子見南子,子路不説。夫子矢之曰 “予所否者,天厭之!天厭之!) (LY, 6.28, pp. 68-9)¹ This story reveals the subtle position of women in the homosocial bonds among men, which, according to Susan Mann, “were key to success and survival for rich and poor, elite and commoner, in Chinese history.”² When Duke Ling((衛靈公) went out in a carriage with his lady escorted...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-218)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 219-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-246)