Masculinity and Femininity in China: 1500-Present


This class critically examines changing notions of masculinity and femininity in China from the Ming dynasty to the present. This class does not assume that gender history is synonymous with the female experience—rather, that patriarchal structures, laws, and gender norms have historically affected the roles, subjectivities, and lived experience of men as well as women. With this in mind, our class will attempt to grapple with the following questions: How have culture and history shaped the categories of “woman” and “man”?  What are the lines we draw between these categories, have the relationships among them changed over time? How have class, status, and divisions of labor influenced the shaping of normative gender roles and sexualities, as well as actual patterns of behavior?  How has gender performance interacted with the body? Who has the power to define masculine and feminine traits?

We will examine how elite and common notions of masculinity and femininity were constructed, respectively, examining how gender roles were ingrained and challenged through law, literature, and through elite example, as well as how these roles changed with increasing commercialization, dynastic change, and shifting scientific practices. Subsequently, we will examine how the “modern” both upended and maintained gender roles of earlier periods, exploring urbanization and global networks galvanized changes in those who had the power to define normalcy and deviancy. We will then explore the the role of gender in a revolutionary context, from the inner workings of party politics to the dynamics of the Chinese countryside. Finally, we will end by considering how globalization, notions of race, and China’s opening up reforms have affected how people imagine men and women in a new China.