The reconstruction of masculinity in China, 1896-1930

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Despite the burgeoning interest in Chinese masculinity, relatively little is known about the social configuration of Chinese manhood in the late Qing and the early Republican era. The overarching purpose of this project is to fill this gap by investigating the impact of nationalism, democratization and globalization on the self-perception of a particular group of men—modern male Chinese scholars. Guided by Connell’s gender theory and Louie and Edwards’ wen/wu paradigm of Chinese masculinity, this study explores how the meaning of male identities was negotiated at a transitional and crisis time when the traditional masculinity of the elite Chinese men was gazed at, challenged, and measured by the formidable western and Japanese powers. This work contributes to empirical research in the areas of gender, identity and social change. Findings deriving from this study show that the self-perception of this group of men changed dramatically after the defeat of China in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. Both Nationalism and democratization became drivers for seeking better or stronger manhood among the male Chinese scholars during this time of crisis. The need for national salvation and democracy brought about an array of changes to the standards of what constituted a good man: the image of the pale-faced scholar was replaced by the brawny male ideal that plays modern sports and undertakes military drills; the textual Confucian masculinity was supplanted by a modern masculinity that stressed a connection between male cerebral power and the practical world; the exercise of male sexual power over concubines, prostitutes and catamites was substituted by a claim of male chastity through cultivating exclusive conjugal love; the traditional image of a pious son was replaced by the icon of an autonomous son who seeks economic independence and free-choice marriage from the old joint family; and so on. The findings of this study reveal the wen/wu model of Chinese masculinity was subject to social change yet showed flexibility to the impact of these social/historical circumstances.
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