Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male-female Relations in Eighteenth-century Chinese Fiction

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Duke University Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 378 pages
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Having multiple wives was one of the mainstays of male privilege during the Ming and Qing dynasties of late imperial China. Based on a comprehensive reading of eighteenth-century Chinese novels and a theoretical approach grounded in poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, and feminist criticism, Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists examines how such privilege functions in these novels and provides the first full account of literary representations of sexuality and gender in pre-modern China.
In many examples of rare erotic fiction, and in other works as well-known as Dream of the Red Chamber, Keith McMahon identifies a sexual economy defined by the figures of the "miser" and the "shrew"—caricatures of the retentive, self-containing man and the overflowing, male-enervating woman. Among these and other characters, the author explores the issues surrounding the practice of polygamy, the logic of its overvaluation of masculinity, and the nature of sexuality generally in Chinese society. How does the man with many wives manage and justify his sexual authority? Why and how might he escape or limit this presumed authority, sometimes to the point of portraying himself as abject before the shrewish woman? How do women accommodate or coddle the man, or else oppose, undermine, or remold him? And in what sense does the man place himself lower than the spiritually and morally superior woman?
The most extensive English-language study of Chinese literature from the eighteenth century, this examination of polygamy will interest not only students of Chinese history, culture, and literature but also all those concerned with histories of gender and sexuality.
 

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Contents

Polygamy According to Fiction and Prescriptive Models
28
Shrews and Jealousy in Seventeenth and EighteenthCentury
55
The Miser and the Ascetic
82
The Chaste BeautyScholar Romance and the Superiority of
99
Definition of the Chaste Caizi Jiaren Romance 1oj The Remarkable
123
Contagions Promiscuity in Chundeng Mishi Taohua Ying and Xinghua
140
The Confucian Superman150 The Author and his Work153 Confucian
174
Honglou meng and the Chaste and Erotic Romances176 The Study
202
The Wastrel and the Prostitute
234
The Benevolent Polygamist and the Domestication of Sexual
251
Ernii Yingxiong Zhuan as Antidote to Honglou Meng
265
Promiscuous Polygyny and Male SelfCritique
283
Notes
293
Bibliography
327
Glossary of Chinese Characters
341
Index
365

Womens Sacrif1ce and Formation of Alliances 2o8 Five Types of Women
219
The Spoiled Son and the Doting Mother in Qilu Deng
221

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About the author (1995)

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Keith McMahon is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Kansas. He is the author of Causality and Containment in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Fiction.

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