Title

The Legacy of Crossdressing in Tanci: A Histoire of Heroic Women and Men

Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Volume

5

Issue

4

Publisher

Brill Academic Publishers

Publication Date

12-5-2011

First Page

556

Last Page

599

DOI

10.1007/s11702-011-0142-x

Abstract

This essay studies a tanci work, A Histoire of Heroic Women and Men (1905), as a case which reflects the intersecting themes of crossdressing, gender representation and the literary form of tanci. Written tanci, appropriated and redeveloped by educated women to tell stories of female crossdressers, scholars, and military leaders, offers a meaningful intervention in the dominant social and cultural discourses of womanhood in late imperial China. In the fictional realm, women’s acts of crossdressing transcend the Confucian ideological prescriptions of feminine identity, displaying their heroic efforts to pursue autonomy in a patriarchal culture. This essay will analyze how these examples of crossdressing interact with and modify current critical accounts of gender and sexuality. A Histoire, in particular, holds a place of prominence in late imperial Chinese literature because of its revelation of the troubled relationship between gender construction, narrative agency, and women’s identity. The text manifestly destabilizes conventional attitudes toward gendered identity, yet simultaneously exposes the social and practical challenges of such temporary and often imagined transgressions, which are exercised by incarcerating the feminine and borrowing the male subjective position through transvestite performance.

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