This article examines the confluence of homoerotic desire with career ambition in Wu Jingzi’s (ca. 1701–1754) novel Rulin waishi (ca. 1750), specifically through its allusions to the author’s cousin Wu Qing (1696–1750), owner of the famed portrait by Chen Hu of the actor Xu Ziyun (1644–1675). The study argues that Wu Qing’s inscription on this portrait is subtly reflected in Wu Jingzi’s representation of male-male eroticism as complementary and even instrumental to the literati’s pursuit of social mobility through the examination system. It also compares this juxtaposition of libidinous and career desires to antecedents in earlier fiction, and concludes with a discussion of a second portrait of Xu Ziyun and his lover Chen Weisong (1625–1682) as well as the impact of this artistic and literary legacy on Chen Sen’s Pinhua baojian (1849).
Sophie Volpp“The Literary Circulation of Actors in Seventeenth-Century China,”Journal of Asian Studies61.3 (2003): 949–84; Cuncun Wu Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China (New York: RoutledgeCurzon 2004) 67–80ff.; Zhang Zaizhou 張在舟 Aimei de licheng: Zhongguo gudai tongxinglian shi 曖昧的歷程： 中國古代同性戀史 (Zhenghou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe 2001) 610–28; Shi Ye 施曄 Zhongguo gudai wenxue zhong de tongxinglian shuxie yanjiu 中國古代文學中的同性戀書寫研究 (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe 2008) 251–290ff. While few of their contemporaries expressed criticism of Xu and Chen’s relationship one of the contributors to the scroll You Tong wrote elsewhere that Chen’s early death might have been precipitated by his infatuation with Xu. See Yunlang xiaoshi 雲郎小史 (in Zhang Cixi Qingdai Yandu liyuan shiliao xubian [Shanghai: Shanghai shudian chubanshe 1996]) 15.