Masculinity, homo-sociality/sexuality and class: reflections on two late imperial novels

Sun Wen's depiction of the Dream of the Red Chamber

Registration required:

This lecture explores how male same-sex attractions are depicted in Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber, two of the most important novels in late imperial China. The characters in these very different novels represent diametrically opposed ideals of manhood in traditional China. Professor Louie will examine these representations by focusing on the homo-sociality of Guan Yu and Bao Yu, the protagonists of these novels, and draw out the class implications of their behaviour.

The first half of the paper rehearses the previously published thesis that Guan Yu’s homosexuality is repressed although homo-sociality is the major theme of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Because of Guan Yu’s wu武 credentials, the repression of his homosexuality is a necessary one, as sex becomes a fundamental test to show a (working class) man’s self-control. By contrast, coming from an aristocratic class, Bao Yu’s homo-sociality, indeed homosexuality, can be less restrained. The lecture concludes that these depictions are not accidental: they function as vehicles to ensure that in intimate relationships, class boundaries are not crossed.

About the Speaker

Kam Louie was Dean of the Faculty Arts and MB Lee Professor of Humanities and Medicine at The University of Hong Kong until his retirement in 2014. He is currently the Adjunct Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at The University of New South Wales and Honorary Professor in School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong. His diverse research interests cover interdisciplinary studies of language, literature, history, and philosophy in modern China. His sole authored publications include: Theorising Chinese Masculinity (Cambridge University Press, 2002), Inheriting Tradition: Interpretations of the Classical Philosophers in Communist China (Oxford University Press, 1986). He also has a number of edited volumes such as Cambridge Companion to Modern Chinese Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Professor Louie was a research fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies, Taipei. He has taught at a number of universities in Australasia and has also served as Chair Professor of Chinese Studies at The University of Queensland and the Australian National University. He was a member of the Australia-China Council and Chief Editor of Asian Studies Review. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, he was also elected President of The Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities at its inauguration in 2011.


Professor Kam Louie, Adjunct Professor, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW

Dates & times

Monday, 14 December 2015

12.30pm - 2.30pm


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

Updated:  6 October 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team