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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


A Desire for the “Western Beauty”: Gender and Sexual Fantasies in the Early 20 th Century Chinese Feminist and Nationalist Discourses

Vol. 30 No. 1   3/2000  


A Desire for the “Western Beauty”: Gender and Sexual Fantasies in the Early 20th Century Chinese Feminist and Nationalist Discourses


Jen-peng Liu









Key words

The “Western Beauty”, Gender and Sexual Fantasies, Early 20th Century, Chinese Feminist and Nationalist Discourses, Liang Qichao’s, postcolonial Theories, Two Hundred Million Women. Chinese Women, Modern Chinese intellectual thought, Feminism, Nationalism


     This paper reads Liang Qichao’s (1873-1929) essays alongside postcolonial positional-ties and desires. I hope to elucidate how, in the historical processes of imperial colonialism, a nation that sees itself as both “weak(sickly)” yet “big (great)” discursively negotiates the relations between different” women” and different “men”; in the ultimate hope of moving towards alternative de-colonizing modes of knowledge.

     In his essay “On Revitalizing the People”, Liang Qichao wholly affirms Western Imperialism’s use of military weapons, commerce and industry, or indeed the church, as tools for expansion. Judging his own country from the eyes of the more powerful nations, he finds that his weakly country is “ghostly, sickly, feminine, approaching nightfall,” Moreover, this country has only “feminine but no masculine virtues. The ways of ghost and not those of men,” In a competitive fit, Liang sees before him a nation that is feminine and sickly, almost a ghostly apparition.

      Yet, when Liang writes of Chinese intellectual thought, China is positioned as the biggest country on the largest of five continents. More, from the view of a world history, that is, “the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, we Chinese are the first,” and “as for the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, we Chinese are the first” again, finally, the twentieth century heralds the ages of the “wedding” between Euro-American and Chinese civilizations, when “the Western Beauty will produce beautiful children for our family, and thereby multiply our patriline “This truly is a venerably aged and authoritative patriarchal country. At the conjunction of various time differences, what erotic relations are produced and imagined when an aged and sickly old “China” faces a young and strong “West”? A complex desire for the “Western Beauty” is, in my opinion, the reticence/noisy siren seducing the feminist and nationalist discourses at this time.

      In Liang’s writings on the education of women, women are both the multitude that do not produce but merely partake of the products of e ducation, their status in society , are an index to the nation’s strength. Is this woman then “self”, or “other”? Furthermore, what might the relation be between these multitudinous women that do not produce, and the singular “Western Beauty,” how are these two imaginings interwoven and mediated.



Author: Jen-peng Liu
Genre: Article
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