The tanci "Feng shuangfei": A female perspective on the gender and sexual politics of late-Qing China
Liu, Wenjia, 1981-
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Liu, Wenjia, 1981-
The late-Qing tanci "A Pair of Male Phoenixes Flying Together" (Feng shuangfei ; preface dated 1899) is unusual for its depiction of a wide variety of gender issues and sexual relationships. Because the 52-chapter work is credibly attributed to the female poet Cheng Huiying, who is known to have written the poetry collection Beichuang yin 'gao , the tanci gives scholars a unique opportunity to see how a gentry woman thought of the gender roles and sexual politics of the late Qing. My dissertation contains two major sections. Chapters I and II look at Cheng Huiying and her work as part of the `talented women" ( cainü ) culture. These two chapters demonstrate how Cheng Huiying deliberately establishes herself as a unique female writing subject and advocates women's agency in determining their own marriage arrangements. one of women's biggest concerns in premodern China. Chapters III to VI put Feng shuangfei into the larger context of male-authored fiction and examine how it adopts and rewrites the conventions and motifs common to xiaoshuo fiction from a female writer's perspective. I first argue that Feng shuangfei can be considered a serious literary work due to its sophisticated structural design and characterization, although tanci are usually considered as more popular literature. I then evaluate how the female author of this tanci subtly reinvents three gendered motifs that commonly appear in male-authored xiaoshuo fiction. The three motifs are male same-sex eroticism and homosociality, female same-sex desires, and the stereotypes of shrew and ideal wife. Through subtle twists in the plot, the tanci suggests the possibility of the expression of female subjectivity and agency within patriarchal Confucian society even while it follows and supports the normative Confucian order. The perspectives on gender norms and sexual practices offered in this tanci both display how a gentry woman thought about these issues in late imperial China and suggest how the rapid and vast social and ideological changes occurring during the turn of the century opened new spaces for Cheng Huiying to imagine increased agency and autonomy for women within the domestic sphere.