Gendered Spectacles: Lu Xun on Gazing
at Women and Other Pleasures

By Eileen J. Cheng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 16, no. 1 (Spring 2004), pp.1-36

This essay attempts to unravel the complexities of Lu Xun’s views on gender. His reflections on women were by far the most profound and critically engaged among his intellectual cohort, touching upon topics ranging from: the continued currency of traditional biases against women; the facile promotion of women’s issues in the name of nationalism; to the rampant objectification of women in popular media. Fear of the power of narratives and images in bringing representations to life may have led Lu Xun to pay particular attention to the issue of how women are rendered visible in cultural forms. This fear is registered in his virulent critique of what he regarded as disingenuous and exploitative images of women, as well as his own scrupulous attempts to avoid reproducing them.

While the first portion of the essay focuses on Lu Xun’s views of women in the public, the latter half deals with his views toward the performative aspects of gender. The essay shows how, despite his sensitivity to issues of gender and profound sympathy for women, Lu Xun unwittingly replicates the assumptions of the very gender discourse he critiques. I argue that his paternalistic concern over the malicious gazes and gossip directed at women, coupled with his distrust of gender-crossing behaviors in cultural forms, effectively precludes the possibility of women’s agency and performative politics in the public arena.