Red-light Novels of the late Qing


Chinese literature has traditionally been divided by both theorists and university course providers into ‘classical’ and ‘modern.’ This has left nineteenth-century fiction in limbo, and allowed negative assessments of its quality to persist unchecked. The popularity of Qing dynasty red-light fiction – works whose primary focus is the relationship between clients and courtesans, set in tea-houses, pleasure gardens, and later, brothels – has endured throughout the twentieth century. This volume explores why, arguing that these novels are far from the ‘low’ work of ‘frustrated scholars’ but in their provocative play on the nature of relations between client, courtesan and text, provide an insight into wider changes in understandings of self and literary value in the nineteenth century.

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Biographical Note

Chloë Starr, DPhil (2000) in Oriental Studies, Oxford, is a Departmental Lecturer in Classical Chinese at the University of Oxford. She has published on textual and gender issues in late Qing fiction.

Review Quotes

"Like the liminal space of the brothels, in other words, the territory of fiction-writing, rich in tradition yet marginal enough to accept flexibility, provided a ground for experimental reshapings of late Qing literati subjectivity. By detailing the contours of this congruence, Starr makes a strong case for our understanding courtesan fiction not as a tedious excrescence on the literary scene, but as a vital and even path-breaking participant in the literary and cultural developments of the late Qing."
John Christopher Hamm (University of Washington), MCLC, April 2009.
"...the study by Starr is excellent. A multi-perspective analysis of the many facets of late-Qing 'red-light novels', it fills a gap in the study of Chinese fiction."
Rüdiger Breuer, Bochum, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung. 104 (2009) 1


To scholars and students of Chinese literature, especially those interested in the late Qing period; to scholars of comparative literature; textual studies and gender studies.

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