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The Fragile Scholar

Power and Masculinity in Chinese Culture

Geng Song

Publication Year: 2004

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).

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. vii-x

The effeminate young man in traditional Chinese theater has notoriously been considered as a symbol of "lack of masculinity" in Chinese culture by Westerners. In Peking and other local operas, the young male lover is represented by the xiaosheng...

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pp. 1-17

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...

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CHAPTER 1. The Fragile Scholar as a Cultural Discourse

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pp. 19-41

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...

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CHAPTER 2. From Qu Yuan to Student Zhang: A Genealogy of the Effeminate Shi

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pp. 43-67

This chapter attempts an intertextual reading of the "emasculation" of the shi (⼠). 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...

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CHAPTER 3. Textuality, Rituals and the "Docile Bodies"

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pp. 69-85

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...

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CHAPTER 4. Caizi versus Junzi: Irony, Subversion and Containment

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pp. 87-124

iIn his Theorising Chinese Masculinity, Kam Louie makes the following comments on the "scholar," who, in his view, embodies the wen masculinity:...

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CHAPTER 5. Jasper-like Face and Rosy Lips: Same-sex Desire and the Male Body

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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...

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CHAPTER 6. Homosocial Desire: Heroism, Misogyny, and the Male Bond

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pp. 157-191

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...


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pp. 193-218

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 219-231


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pp. 233-246

E-ISBN-13: 9789882201385
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622096202

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Scholars in literature.
  • Chinese literature -- Qing dynasty, 1644-1912 -- History and criticism.
  • Homosexuality in literature.
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