Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China

Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China

Copyright Date: 2006
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China
    Book Description:

    Why did traditional Chinese literati so often identify themselves with women in their writing? What can this tell us about how they viewed themselves as men and how they understood masculinity? How did their attitudes in turn shape the martial heroes and other masculine models they constructed? Martin Huang attempts to answer these questions in this valuable work on manhood in late imperial China. He focuses on the ambivalent and often paradoxical role played by women and the feminine in the intricate negotiating process of male gender identity in late imperial cultural discourses. Two common strategies for constructing and negotiating masculinity were adopted in many of the works examined here.The first, what Huang calls the strategy of analogy, constructs masculinity in close association with the feminine; the second, the strategy of differentiation, defines it in sharp contrast to the feminine. In both cases women bear the burden as the defining "other." In this study,"feminine" is a rather broad concept denoting a wide range of gender phenomena associated with women, from the politically and socially destabilizing to the exemplary wives and daughters celebrated in Confucian chastity discourse.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6373-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    M.W. H.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On March 19, in the seventeenth year of the Chongzhen period (1628–1644), Zhu Youjian, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), hanged himself when the rebel troops of Li Zicheng (1605–1645;ECCP,pp. 491–493) were about to overwhelm the capital city. Learning of the emperor’s death, the vice censor-in-chief, Shi Bangyao (1586– 1644), also committed suicide. Before taking his life, Shi lamented the following in a suicide poem: “Ashamed of being unable to come up with even half a plan to defuse the present crisis/ I can only choose death to return the favor I...

  5. Part 1. Engendering the Loyal Minister

    • Chapter 1 From True Man to Castrato: Early Models and Later Ramifications
      (pp. 13-32)

      Although this study focuses on the late imperial period, this beginning chapter will examine two important figures in early China, the philosopher Mencius and the historian Sima Qian (ca. 145–ca. 86 BCE), both of whom exerted considerable influence on various later discourses on masculinity. Placing their views in the larger context of the formation of the so-calledshiclass (men of professional skills) in early China, I try to account for certain shifts in the early history of Chinese masculinities that would have farreaching implications for the late imperial period.

      The Chinese character nan (man or male) is glossed...

    • Chapter 2 From Faithful Wife to Whore: The Minister-Concubine Complex in Ming Politics
      (pp. 33-52)

      In chapter 1 I discussed the analogy between the gender status of women and the political status ofshiin early Chinese political discourse, wherechen(minister or subject) andqie(woman or concubine) were often juxtaposed to underscore their shared servile relationship to their respective “superiors.” In this chapter I shall examine how this analogy worked itself into Ming political discourse and how differently scholar-officials made use of it to negotiate their own male gender identities.

      Originally, the characterchenmeant male slaves, andqiemeant female slaves and criminals. When the two characters are combined as a noun,...

    • Chapter 3 The Case of Xu Wei: A Frustrated Hero or a Weeping Widow?
      (pp. 53-71)

      In this chapter we shall conduct a case study of one individual figure at the margins of the Ming elite community: Xu Wei (1521–1593), a dramatist, painter, and poet. It will allow us to explore in a much more focused manner how a disenfranchised Ming literatus tried to come to terms with his problematic manhood and the specific masculinizing strategies he employed in negotiating his gender identity. The fact that Xu Wei, unlike all the scholar-officials discussed so far, was never an official should provide us with a good opportunity to examine some of the unique challenges he faced...

    • Chapter 4 Manhood and Nationhood: Chaste Women and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty
      (pp. 72-86)

      Xu Wei’s views on female chastity were rather atypical among his male peers in that he considered widow suicide not necessarily praiseworthy. However, his deep interest in this topic was by no means unusual for a male literatus. In fact, male literati played a crucial role in the cult of chaste women, which reached an unprecedented scale during the Ming dynasty.¹ In male literati writings on chaste women—such as biographies, epitaphs, and memoirs—profuse praise of female chastity was often accompanied by laments over the moral deficiencies of male literati. In other words, the heroic deeds of the chaste...

  6. Part 2. Heroes and Other Competing Models

    • Chapter 5 From Yingxiong to Haohan: Models of Masculinity in San’guo yanyi and Shuihu zhuan
      (pp. 89-112)

      In the Ming novelSan’guo yanyithe presence of chaste women, though limited, is still prominent enough to complicate and problematize many aspects of the novel’s much more dominant masculine models. In addition, the novel contains many stories about how a masculine hero’s political career is ruined or almost ruined because he fails to maintain a proper distance from women. This apparently conflicting image of the feminine is especially significant sinceSan’guo yanyihad such an important role in shaping the notions of a masculine hero in the popular imagination of late imperial China.

      Before we examineSan’guo yanyiitself,...

    • Chapter 6 Reconstructing Haohan in Three Novels from the Sui-Tang Romance Cycle
      (pp. 113-134)

      In this chapter, we look at three novels from the so-called Sui-Tang romance cycle to explore how the image ofhaohanmade famous inShuihu zhuanunderwent significant changes in the fictional works of later ages.¹ I have chosen these three novels—Suishi yiwen(Forgotten Tales of the Sui Dynasty, 1633);Sui Tang yanyi(The Romance of the Sui and Tang Dynasties; first published 1695); andShuo Tang quanzhuan(Complete Stories about the Tang, 1736)—mainly because they, with extensive intertextual borrowings among them, are all long fictional narratives about roughly the same group of heroes in the same historical...

    • Chapter 7 Effeminacy, Femininity, and Male-Male Passions
      (pp. 135-154)

      Thus far we have explored the images ofyingxiongandhaohan—mostlywumodels of masculinity—in novels where political intrigue, military campaigns, and martial exploits are the main themes. As noted, these macho heroes are often definedagainstthe feminine, emphasizing their differences and disassociation from women. (San’guo yanyiandSui Tang yanyiare exceptions in a limited sense.) Turning to a group of fictional works that focus on romantic love, we find that the images of men become significantly more feminized; the men tend to be less distinguishable from their female counterparts in terms of both appearance and...

    • Chapter 8 Romantic Heroes in Yesou puyan and Sanfen meng quanzhuan
      (pp. 155-182)

      There was a discernable trend in the vernacular fiction of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries toward a significant convergence of narrative elements that in the past could be found only separately in works belonging to quite different genres. The contemporary development of the so-calledcaizi jiaren xiaoshuo(scholar-beauty fiction) may serve to illustrate some aspects of this trend. Historians of Chinese fiction have long noted that many works of this period defy easy classification—for example,Xue Yue Mei(Three Women Named Snow, Moon, and Plum) andLingnan yishi(Forgotten Tales of Lingnan).¹ Although these works are often...

  7. Part 3. What a Man Ought to Be

    • Chapter 9 Ideals and Fears in Prescriptive Literature
      (pp. 185-199)

      Masculinity is a prescriptive concept about what a man should be rather than a descriptive notion of what a man actually is. It is a man’s ideal of himself or the ideal of man shared in a particular group of men. In this chapter, it should be helpful to have a look at the ethical codes and behavioral models prescribed for men in some advice books in the late imperial period. Nowhere are masculinities presented more directly and more self-consciously as prescriptive ideals than in conduct advice books.

      In an investigation of how masculinities were constructed and negotiated in late...

  8. Epilogue: Masculinity and Modernity
    (pp. 200-204)

    Quite a few scholars of Chinese cultural history have observed that Chinese men became increasingly feminized during the Ming-Qing period in comparison with their counterparts in the Han (206 BCE–220 CE) and Tang (618–907) dynasties. Many of them regard the Song dynasty (960– 1279) as a period when this feminization began to accelerate. For example, the scholar Min Jiayin observes the following:

    Before the Song dynasty, China was advanced in many areas, such as the economy, technology, and culture. However, after the Song dynasty, China began to lag behind. Before the Song dynasty, Chinese culture and Chinese men...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 205-250)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 251-260)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-288)