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Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China

Martin W. Huang

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. 1-9

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...

Part I. Engendering the Loyal Minister

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1. From True Man to Castrato: Early Models and Later Ramifications

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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. ...

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2. From Faithful Wife to Whore: The Minister-Concubine Complex in Ming Politics

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pp. 33-52

In chapter 1 I discussed the analogy between the gender status of women and the political status of shi in early Chinese political discourse, where chen (minister or subject) and qie (woman or concubine) were often juxtaposed to underscore their shared servile relationship to their respective “superiors.” ...

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3. The Case of Xu Wei: A Frustrated Hero or a Weeping Widow?

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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...

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Manhood and Nationhood: Chaste Women and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty

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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 maleliteratus. In fact, male literati played a crucial role in the cult of chaste women, which reached an unprecedented scale during the Ming dynasty.1 ...

Part II. Heroes and Other Competing Models

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5. From Yingxiong to Haohan: Models of Masculinity in San'guo yanyi and Shuihu zhuan

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pp. 89-112

In the Ming novel San’guo yanyi the 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...

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6. Reconstructing Haohan in Three Novels from the Sui-Tang Romance Cycle

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pp. 113-134

In this chapter, we look at three novels from the so-called Sui-Tang romance cycle to explore how the image of haohan made famous in Shuihu zhuan under went 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); ...

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7. Effeminacy, Femininity, and Male-Male Passions

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pp. 135-154

Thus far we have explored the images of yingxiong and haohan—mostly wu models of masculinity—in novels where political intrigue, military campaigns, and martial exploits are the main themes. As noted, these macho heroes are often defined against the feminine, ...

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8. Romantic Heroes in Yesou puyan and Sanfen meng quanzhuan

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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. ...

Part III. What a Man Ought to Be

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9. Ideals and Fears in Prescriptive Literature

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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...

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Epilogue: Masculinity and Modernity

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pp. 200-203

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. ...


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pp. 205-249


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pp. 251-260


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pp. 261-277

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 279-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863739
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828967

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 256489034
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity -- China.
  • Gender identity -- China.
  • Sex (Psychology).
  • China -- History -- Qing dynasty, 1644-1912.
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