In the Name of Enlightenment: Pedagogy and
the Uses of Same-Sex Desire in
Early-Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction

By Ta-wei Chi

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 167-201

This article focuses on desire in pedagogical situations as represented in early-twentieth-century Chinese fiction. Since male-female desire is more readily identifiable, this article centers on the less often discussed same-sex desire in literature. The texts under discussion, published from the 1910s to the 1930s, are Xu Zhenya’s novel Jade Pear Spirit (Yuli hun, 1912), Yu Dafu’s short story “Misty Nights” (Mangmang ye, 1922), Ye Dingluo’s story “Boyfriends” (Nanyou; ca. 1920s), Zhang Ziping’s novella Flying Catkin (Feixu; 1926), Rou Shi’s novella February (Eryue; 1929), and Shen Congwen’s story “Tiger Cub” (Huchu; 1931). These works are populated with characters that are concerned with various acts of enlightenment, ranging from literacy training to sexual initiation. Same-sex desire is useful to a number of narratives on pedagogy. In some texts, same-sex desire is eroticized as a  eviation from the heterosexual norm so that it accentuates the unusual nature of the pedagogy in question. Such pedagogy appears too modern or too Western to Chinese, as it is portrayed to be associated with the seemingly outlandish same-sex desire. In other texts, however, same-sex desire is desexualized so as to protect the pedagogical relationship from a negative taint. In this way, it functions as a buffer for those who seek to repress desire in pedagogical situations. While the sexualized representations of same-sex desire and the asexual ones are diametrically opposed to each other, both camps of representations illustrate how pedagogy appeared ambivalent to the Chinese at that time.