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Changing Chinese MasculinitiesFrom Imperial Pillars of State to Global Real Men$
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Louie Kam

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208562

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208562.001.0001

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Aestheticizing Masculinity in Honglou meng

Aestheticizing Masculinity in Honglou meng

Clothing, Dress, and Decoration

(p.90) 5 Aestheticizing Masculinity in Honglou meng
Changing Chinese Masculinities

Louise Edwards

Hong Kong University Press

This chapter argues that in the eighteenth century, during the height of the Qing dynasty, male bodies were a legitimate human form upon which to display beautiful clothing and accessories. Moreover, an elaborately decorated male body connoted power, high status and strength—superior masculinity was a decorative performance. I build this argument through an analysis of the premier classic Chinese novel of that era, Honglou meng (紅樓夢‎ Story of the Stone, Red Chamber Dream, circa 1760s), and its descriptions of clothing, dress, accessories, and fabric. Through Cao Xueqin’s 曹雪芹‎ novel we see that masculine bodies were the preferred aesthetic form. His detailed descriptions of clothing, dress, and accessories are not focused on the many young women who populate the novel—rather, the reader’s aesthetic eye is invited to roam primarily over the male protagonist, Jia Baoyu, and two masculine female figures, Wang Xifeng and Shi Xiangyun. All three of these characters are known for their rejection of strict gender-sex norms and for the fluidity of their expressions of yin陰‎ (female essence, subordinate, passive, shaded) and yang陽‎ (male essence, dominant, active, bright). I contend that Cao’s particular attention to the beauty of their dress serves to amplify their masculinity in this interplay of yin and yang. Although the novel focuses primarily on the lives of women, the descriptions of clothing are dedicated primarily to characters who manifest yang attributes.

Keywords:   Dream of the Red Chamber, Honglou meng, masculinity, clothing, dress, yin yang

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