Masculinizing Jianghu spaces: homosociality, nationalism, and Chineseness

Geng Song
Jianghu 江湖 (rivers and lakes) refers to the imagined spatial arena in Chinese literature and culture that is parallel to, or sometimes in a tangential relationship with, mainstream society. Inhabited by merchants, craftsmen, beggars, and vagabonds, and later bandits, outlaws, and gangsters, the jianghu space constitutes a “field” (to borrow Pierre Bourdieu’s term) that produces alternative subjectivities in traditional Chinese culture. In most representations, jianghu is primarily a social world of men, which honours masculine moral codes.

By tracing changes in jianghu spaces over time, this paper attempts to set the spatial politics of masculinity in Chinese culture in a historical context. It unravels its dynamic interrelations with the tropes of class and nation, from the hosting of outlaws in the traditional masterpiece Shuihu zhuan 水滸傳 (Water Margin) to the resurgence of jianghu images and imaginaries as symbols of Chineseness in post-socialist film and television. It argues that the widely referenced relationship between civil (wen 文) and martial (wu 武) values in imperial China describes only gentry-class masculinities. By contrast, jianghu spaces lie at the margins of society and so invite an alternative conceptualization of lower-class masculinities. In post-socialist China, jianghu has come to symbolize a new mode of Chinese masculinity in the global age. It can refer not only to fictional spaces in the martial arts genre, but also to social spaces that cement the “Chinese-style” relationships and networks needed for success in the reform market.

About the speaker

Geng Song is Associate Professor in the School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong. He is interested in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary investigations of gender and popular culture in a globalizing China. Among his publications are The Fragile Scholar: Power and Masculinity in Chinese Culture (HKUP, 2004); Men and Masculinities in Contemporary China (co-author, Brill, 2014); Chinese Television in the Twenty-First Century (co-editor, Routledge, 2015); The Sound of Salt Forming: Short Stories by the Post-80s Generation in China (co-editor, Hawaii UP, 2016); as well as a number of articles in such journals as Modern ChinaThe China Journal, and Asian Studies Review. He co-edits a book series on “Transnational Asian Masculinities” for Hong Kong University Press. He is currently working on a project on gender politics and nationalism in Chinese television.

Before the seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.
The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.



Geng Song

Date & time

6 July 2018


Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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