We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature

Zuyan Zhou

Publication Year: 2003

The frequent appearance of androgyny in Ming and Qing literature has long interested scholars of late imperial Chinese culture. A flourishing economy, widespread education, rising individualism, a prevailing hedonism--all of these had contributed to the gradual disintegration of traditional gender roles in late Ming and early Qing China (1550-1750) and given rise to the phenomenon of androgyny. Now, Zuyan Zhou sheds new light on this important period, offering a highly original and astute look at the concept of androgyny in key works of Chinese fiction and drama from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The work begins with an exploration of androgyny in Chinese philosophy and Ming-Qing culture. Zhou proceeds to examine chronologically the appearance of androgyny in major literary writing of the time, yielding novel interpretations of canonical works from The Plum in the Golden Vase, through the scholar-beauty romances, to The Dream of the Red Chamber. He traces the ascendance of the androgyny craze in the late Ming, its culmination in the Ming-Qing transition, and its gradual phasing out after the mid-Qing. The study probes deviations from engendered codes of behavior both in culture and literature, then focuses on two parallel areas: androgyny in literary characterization and androgyny in literati identity. The author concludes that androgyny in late Ming and early Qing literature is essentially the dissident literati's stance against tyrannical politics, a psychological strategy to relieve anxiety over growing political inferiority.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (43.1 KB)
pp. ix-x

During my graduate study I became fascinated with the emerging trend to apply feminist theory in the exploration of Chinese literati identity, which was starting to reorient Western scholars’ perspectives in Ming-Qing study. Out of this interest I launched into a full-scale gender study of canonical works for my dissertation, which ultimately evolved into the present...

read more

Introduction: Androgyny Defined

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.4 KB)
pp. 1-6

The gender deviation in late-imperial Chinese literature has in recent decades stimulated growth of scholarship in the sinological field, to which the present inquiry aims to add a new dimension. Scholars’ mounting political dissidence and thriving individualistic impulses during this period engendered...

read more

Chapter 1. Androgyny in Chinese Philosophy

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.6 KB)
pp. 7-14

Androgyny, an ancient concept, is deeply rooted in both Western and Chinese philosophies. In the Symposium, Plato, through Aristophanes, mentions the existence of three primordial races, one of which is made of the union between men and women...

read more

Chapter 2. Gender Ambiguity in Late Ming and Early Qing Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (310.4 KB)
pp. 15-46

Although the founder of the Ming dynasty was a strong military man and a vigorous ruler—the very personification of masculinity—and two empresses of the early Ming composed conduct instructions for women in an attempt to reinforce orthodox norms,1 late Ming China ...

read more

Chapter 3. The Plum in the Golden Vase: A Prelude to the Androgyny Craze

pdf iconDownload PDF (110.3 KB)
pp. 47-68

In the late Ming literary arena, gender imperatives are probably nowhere more peremptorily challenged than in The Plum in the Golden Vase (1596).1 Its heroine, Pan Jinlian, the murderess of her two husbands, shatters the traditional ideal of womanhood with such a vengeance that the precocious...

read more

Chapter 4. The Peony Pavilion: A Paean to the Androgynous Ideal

pdf iconDownload PDF (122.1 KB)
pp. 69-94

The androgynous ideal is most passionately celebrated in Tang Xianzu’s masterwork The Peony Pavilion (1598),1 where a chamber-cloistered girl, Du Liniang, having passed away for lovesickness, is miraculously restored to life once she has banished her maiden reserve to pursue love as a ghost...

read more

Chapter 5. Scholar-Beauty Romance: Idealistic Expression of the Androgynous Vision

pdf iconDownload PDF (266.9 KB)
pp. 95-126

In the wake of Tang Xianzu’s Pavilion, the Chinese literary arena witnessed the emergence of a legion of scholar-beauty romances, which project a more idealistic vision of gender freedom.1 Critics have traced its embryo to the...

read more

Chapter 6. The Peach Blossom Fan: An Ambivalent Hymn to Political Androgyny

pdf iconDownload PDF (127.3 KB)
pp. 127-154

The late Ming literati’s antagonism to the “concubine” identity was partly attributable to the lack of masculinity of the ruling clique, consequently gender features prominently in literary characterization when scholars turn to presenting the political conflict between the virilized subjects and the ...

read more

Chapter 7. The Dream of the Red Chamber: A Shattered Dream of Androgyny?

pdf iconDownload PDF (177.8 KB)
pp. 155-198

To probe into the fictional world of the Dream is to venture into a realm of sex/gender (con)fusion, where males and females often deport in manners deviating from their prescribed genders, hence are mistaken for the opposite sex. This prominent sex/gender aberration has fascinated scholars for centuries and has engendered several full-scale inquiries in recent decades.1...

read more

Chapter 8. Conclusion: Androgyny as Literary Trend and Strategy in Fashioning Chinese Literati Identity

pdf iconDownload PDF (77.2 KB)
pp. 199-210

In our study of the canonical works of late Ming/early Qing literature, we have examined the theme of androgyny and other related motifs from the Ming classics The Plum in the Golden Vase and The Peony Pavilion through the scholar-beauty romances, to the Qing masterpieces The Peach...

Appendix. Symbolic Values and Gender Associations of Some Flowers and Plants in Chinese Literature

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.3 KB)
pp. 211-214


pdf iconDownload PDF (316.2 KB)
pp. 215-282


pdf iconDownload PDF (688.5 KB)
pp. 283-286

Selected Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.1 MB)
pp. 287-312


pdf iconDownload PDF (86.7 KB)
pp. 313-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861452
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825713

Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Chinese literature -- Qing dynasty, 1644-1912 -- History and criticism.
  • Androgyny (Psychology) in literature.
  • Chinese literature -- Ming dynasty, 1368-1644 -- History and criticism.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access