Gender transformations in Pinhua baojian reveal a much broader examination of gender and sexuality than allowed for by discussions of the work as a homosexual novel. This paper examines some of the complexities of the gendered representations of boy actors in the novel, seen in their marriage unions, in cross-dressing episodes, and particularly in parallels with female prostitutes of other nineteenth-century courtesan fiction. The coerced adoption of a feminine gender identity and homosexual sexual role by the boy actors, together with their gradual remasculination during the course of the novel, expose masculinity and femininity as highly socialized constructions and act as comment on the wider nineteenth-century marriage economy.
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.