Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History (New Approaches to Asian History)
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Gender and sexuality have been neglected topics in the history of Chinese civilization, despite the fact that philosophers, writers, parents, doctors, and ordinary people of all descriptions have left reams of historical evidence on the subject. Moreover, China's late imperial government was arguably more concerned about gender and sexuality among its subjects than any other pre-modern state. Sexual desire and sexual activity were viewed as innate human needs, essential to bodily health and well-being, and universal marriage and reproduction served the state by supplying tax-paying subjects, duly bombarded with propaganda about family values. How did these and other late imperial legacies shape twentieth-century notions of gender and sexuality in modern China? In this wonderfully written and enthralling book, Susan Mann answers that question by focusing in turn on state policy, ideas about the physical body, and notions of sexuality and difference in China's recent history, from medicine to the theater to the gay bar; from law to art and sports. More broadly, the book shows how changes in attitudes toward sex and gender in China during the twentieth century have cast a new light on the process of becoming modern, while simultaneously challenging the universalizing assumptions of Western modernity.
customs 173 Ming dynasty (1368–1644)elite courtesans (mingji) 55, 58–59 fall of xviii literature/sexualized plots 16 palace eunuchs 109–112 sexualized novel/fiction plots 16 theater arts 16 theater interests 16 mingji (elite courtesans) 55 Miss Sophia's Diary (Ding Ling) 164–165 modern China See People's Republic of China (PRC), Republican China monasteries and same-sex relationships 147 mutilation of the female body 113 muyou networks (“tent-friends”)
featuring monks and nuns, with sexual orgies, both heterosexual and homosexual, described in salacious detail (Ruan 1991:90). Lascivious nuns and monks as “sex adepts” were stock characters in erotic romances of the eighteenth century (McMahon 1995:139–142). In the theater too, monasteries suggested seduction, as West and Idema observe in their analysis of the play The Western Wing: “As a place where, theoretically, the urges of sexuality have been cleaned away, the monks’ cloister…is a cauldron
front of me, my nearest, my dearest love – the perfect oval of her face, the high arch of her brows, the limpid gaze, the rosebud mouth, the childhood dimples…and I am driven out of my mind by the sight and left mesmerized, as if in a drunken stupor. Oh, if only we had been destined to spend one night together, a single night, my nearest, my dearest love and I. Fu Lin, Stones in the Sea (Qin hai shi), 1906 (Hanan 1995:21) Romantic love became one of the most important themes in popular
meager income, and young women, for their part, were not clamoring to stay at home. The movement of women outside the home, begun in the late Qing reforms and continuing throughout the twentieth century, was clearly the most cataclysmic historical change in China's sex-gender system. But, as we have seen, fiction of the early Republic returns constantly to Nora's problem in the Ibsen play, A Doll's House: once a woman leaves home, then what? Women “emancipated” by natural feet and public
This is not to hold out the trap Gulik fell into – that is, Chinese sex-gender systems by no means offer some “other” utopia. Rather, it is to understand that critical historical analysis of sexuality opens the mind and frees the spirit to reflect on one's own culture with an appreciation for its dangerous limitations as well as its glorious possibilities. Permissions Quoted material from Rey Chow, Woman and Chinese Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991) by permission