|A chronology of male beauties: imagined histories of metrosexuality in China
References drawing on historical notions and rejecting the more recent masculinity of the Maoist period are crucial to the formation of contemporary Chinese manhood generally and urban white-collar men in particular. Indeed, discussions in popular magazines targeted at the affluent middle class frequently allude to imagined models of ‘traditional’ Chinese masculinity to legitimize contemporary practices that may not bear much resemblance to historical practice. This paper examines how the figure of the metrosexual is sometimes placed into a continuum of beautiful men in Chinese culture - a historical narrative of sexualised “male beauty” (nanse) - stretching for thousands of years, which removes the need to acknowledge his specific historical and geographical origins in the metropolises of contemporary “Western” consumer society. In this guise, the possibility of a transgressive sexual orientation/identity recedes (despite his sexual practices, which may include same-sex desire and activities): he is marked off from foreign-inspired “gays” and thus can be appropriated into the “Chinese tradition” without too much difficulty. Whereas men with an androgynous look and even behaviour can be “filed under” existing historical concepts such as “little white faces” (xiaobailian), thereby affirming their heterosexualities, explicit gay identity is more difficult to appropriate because there is no obvious historical antecedent. For some people, therefore, a gay identity is not commensurate with the Chinese tradition; in other words, with their very construction of “Chineseness”. This paper argues that such legitimising/ delegitimising discourses ultimately curtail the transgressive possibilities of new masculine sexualities, through their widespread privileging of naturalized and unequal heterosexual norms.
|8th European Social Science History Conference