In our first issue dealing specifically with masculinities, our contributors were asked to consider how conceptions of masculinity intersect with consumption and nation. Their submissions bring into focus the changes that capitalism have engendered – or that have happened in line with capitalism – in what constitutes a ‘real man.’ Their submissions reflect on masculinities in the business world and cultural portrayals, in the Republican era and the reform era. A central component of this issue is the rising status of the entrepreneur. With the businessman’s ascent have come questions about how work can exist alongside an emotional life, which in some ways reflects the dilemmas that came to light in our issue that focussed on Women and Work in China’s Cities. Yet, in the articles of this issue, ‘the female’ becomes one aspect of what creates masculine identity. This happens through the creation of her male-authored sexuality and through processes that ‘other’ or obscure her, whilst Chinese men are portrayed as (sometimes anxious) heroes.
In the first article Kam Louie looks at the changing status of the merchant class in China. Once at the bottom of the social strata that prioritised wen-wu (brain-brawn), he finds that the entrepreneur and businessman has increased in prominence and self-regard in line with the rise of capitalism.
Derek Hird’s article observes some similar trends in examples of films released 2012-2017. However, the rising importance of money creates new problems for fictional heroes. The films explore anxieties about the quality of Chinese men in comparison with their Western counterparts, pursuit of ‘glocalised’ cosmopolitan identities, emotions and fatherhood, whilst consistently portraying two-dimensional female characters.
As Joseph Reid signals, this unsteady new masculine archetype is nothing new, a fragile masculinity having been in evidence since the Republican era. His article explores the fiction and diary writing of Yu Dafu and Mu Shiying.
Complementing Hird’s piece, Geng Song explores masculinity and nationalism in the relatively under-researched field of Chinese television. He observes how the ‘heroic masculinity’ of the big screen translates to the dramas broadcast into the home.
This masculinity issue reflects the commitment of WAGIC to explore the tensions between gender studies, women’s studies, feminisms and activism. We are pleased to include at the end of the issue a report on the inaugural conference of the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE), a new network that shares WAGIC’s mission to use and reflect on gender as a lens with which to see China.