From Patriarchal Polygamy to Conjugal Monogamy:
Imagining Male Same-Sex Relationship in Modern China

By Jie Guo

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 25, no. 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 165-205

This essay examines the impact of the fall of the traditional patriarchal polygamist joint family (da jiating) on the imaginings of male same-sex relationships in modern China. This essays first examines Ba Jin’s 1930s fiction, which, despite its vehement attack on the allegedly dark and oppressive da jiating, inadvertently offers a window into the arrangements of male same-sex relationships that existed under its sanction. This study argues that the fall of the da jiating inevitably led to significant changes in the modes of male same-sex relations and practices. If, up to this point in China’s history, the powerful patriarch was still often imagined as desirous of beautiful young men, his image radically changed when, after decades of absence during the Mao era and the first years of the post-Mao period, representations of male-male intimacies began to appear again. The patriarch, now the head of the modern conjugal family (xiao jiating), has become the oppressor of the gay son. Or, alternatively, the patriarch has metamorphosed into a self-identified gay man himself, who often models his relations with men on exclusive monogamous marriage, as can be seen in the popular “internet novel” Beijing Story (Beijing gushi) by an anonymous writer under the pseudonym Beijing Tongzhi (Beijing Comrade).