Skip to main content Accessibility help

Nationalism and Sexuality in China

  • Frank Dikōtter (a1)


Following the influential volumes of Benedict Anderson (Imagined communities) and Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (The invention of tradition), a number of recent publications have moved away from the more conventional focus on political nationalism to highlight the cultural expressions of national identities in East Asian history. From the manipulation of physical objects like flags, uniforms and monuments to symbolically represent the nation, to the discursive invention of identities in nationalist ideologies, cultural nationalism as an object of historical investigation has come into vogue. The emphasis on the interpretation of symbols like the Great Wall and the Yellow River no doubt contributes to our understanding of Chinese cultural history, but can it really account for the deeper changes wrought by the spread of nationalism? As I have pointed out elsewhere, the racialization of nationalist identities, with its myths of origins, ideologies of blood and narratives of descent, for instance, has been of great importance in China and remains significant to this day. Instead of explaining how ‘the Chinese’ have invented cultural symbols that represent the nation, it might be more fruitful to deconstruct the notion of ‘Chineseness’ itself as a nationalist invention that can be dated back to the first half of this century.



Hide All


1 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined communities (London 1991); Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence eds., The invention of tradition (Cambridge 1983).

2 For instance Befu, Harumi (ed.), Cultural nationalism in East Asia: Representation and identity (Berkeley 1993); Robinson, M.E., Cultural nationalism in colonial Korea, 1920–1925 (Seattle 1988); Kosaku, Yoshino, Cultural nationalism in contemporary Japan: A sociological enquiry (London 1992).

3 Waldron, Arthur, The Great Wall of China: From history to myth (Cambridge 1990).

4 Dikotter, Frank, ‘Racial identities in China: Context and meaning’, The China Quarterly 138 (1994); Dikotter, Frank, The discourse ofrace in modem China (London, Stanford, Hong Kong 1992).

5 See Crossley, Pamela Kyle, ‘Thinking about ethnicity in early modern China’, Late Imperial China 11/1 (1990) 135.

6 Dikotter, Frank, Sex, culture and modernity in China: Medical science and the construction of sexual identities in the early Republican period (London, Hawaii, Hong Kong 1994).

7 Fu, Yan, ‘Baozhong yuyi’ (Afterthoughts on the preservation of the race) in Yan Fuji (Collected works of Yan Fu) (Beijing 1986) 87.

8 See par t 6, chapters 2 and 3 of Youwei, Kang, Datongshu (One World) (Beijing 1956); partial translation in Thompson, Laurence G., Ta t'ung shu: The one world philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei (London 1958).

9 Rowe, William T., ‘Modern Chinese social history in comparative perspective’ in Ropp, Paul (ed.), Heritage of China: Contemporary perspectives on Chinese civilization (Berkeley 1990) 260.

10 Bergere, Marie-Claire, The golden age ofthe Chinese bourgeoisie, 1911–1937 (Cambridge 1989).

11 Anderson, , Imagined communities, 6782.

12 Chengpin, Wang, Qingchun de xingjiaoyu (Sex education for youth) (Shanghai 1939) 1; see also Zuozhou, Du, ‘Xingyujiaoyu’ (Sex education), Zhonghua jiaoyujie 15/12 (1926) 18.

13 Ch'en, Jerome, China and the West: Society and culture, 1815–1937 (London 1979) 388.

14 Fengbin, Yu, Xingyu weisheng pian (Talks on sexual hygiene) (Shanghai 1915) 12.

15 Jiayue, Yi, ‘Zhongguo de xingyujiaoyu wenti’ (The problem of sexual education in China), Jiaoyuzazhi 15/8 (1923) 22151.

16 Guorong, Yuan, Yijingbingzhimi (Guide to spermatorrhea) (15th edn., Hong Kong 1940).

17 Gongzhan, Pan, ‘Liangxing shenghuo yu xingjiaoyu’ (Human sexual life an d sexual education), Jiaoyuzazhi 15/8 (1923) 22105.

18 Ching-sheng, Chang, Sex histories: China's first modem treatise on sex education, tr. by Levy, H.S. (Yokohama 1967) 17.

19 Hao, Cheng, Renlei dexmgshenghuo (The sexual life of mankind) (Shanghai 1934) 38.

20 Nannu xingbing zhinan (Guide to venereal diseases) (Hong Kong 1920s) Part 2, 18–8.

21 Fuyuan, Chai, Xingxue ABC (ABC of sexology) (Shanghai 1928) 42.

22 Yizhen, Su, Funu shengyu lun (About women bearing children) (Shanghai 1922) 10; also Mingsheng, Gu, Fangzhongyi (Medicine for the bedchamber) (15th edn., Shanghai 1916) 7.

23 Piji, Liu, Shenguni nanli jieda (Explanations of difficult problems in biology) (Shanghai 1935) 14.

24 Yucang, Chen, Renti de yanjiu (Research on the human body) (Shanghai 1937) 195.

25 SeeDikotter, , Discourse of race, 47–8, 89 and 142.

26 Wang, Qishu, Jinshi shengwuxue (Modern biology) (Shanghai 1925) 5859.

27 Zheshen, Xu, Xingfang mijue (Secrets of the bedchamber) (Shanghai 1938) 89.

28 SeeJingsheng, Zhang, ‘Di sanzhong shui yu luanqiu ji shengji de dian he youzhong de guanxi’ (The third kind of fluid and the egg in their relationship to the current of vitality and eugenics), Xinwenhua 1/2 (1927) 2348.

29 Dikōtter, Frank, ‘Sexually transmitted diseases in modern China: A historical survey’, Genitourinary Medicine 69 (1993) 341345.

30 Shouyuan, Fan, Qingnian weishengjianghua (Guide to youth hygiene) (Shanghai 1947) 44.

31 Cheng, Hao.Jiezhi shengyu wrnti (Questions about birth control) (Shanghai 1925) 92.

32 Jianmeng, , ‘Meidu shi zhongzu shuaitui de yuanyin’ (Syphilis is the cause of racial decline), Dongfang zazhi 19/7 (1922) 8586; see also hisMinzu zhi shuaitui’ (The decline of the race),, Dongfang zazhi 18/21 (1921) 13.

33 Dikotter, Frank, ‘Eugenics in Republican China’, Republican China 15/1 (1989) 118.

34 Kevles, D.J., In the name ofeugenics: Genetics and the use ofhuman heredity (New York 1985); Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang, The racial state: Germany 1933–1945 (Cambridge 1991); Proctor, Roben N., Racial hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Cambridge 1988); Weindling, Paul J., Health, race and German politics between national unification and Nazism, 1870–1945 (Cambridge 1989).

35 Shoucheng, Wang, Gongmin shengivuxue (A textbook of civic biology) (Shanghai 1928) (lst edn 1924) 52.

36 Zhenzi, Wu, ‘Women wei shenme yao yanjiu youshengxue’ (Why we should study eugenics), Xueshengzazhi 15/9 (1928) 3136.

37 For instance Chonggan, Ma, Jiehun zhidao (Marriage guide) (Shanghai 1931) 1112.

38 Jixiu, Zhang, Funu zhuance (Special handbook for women) (Shanghai 1937) 5261.

39 Yijiayue, , ‘Zhongguo de xingyu jiaoyu wenti’ (The problem of sex education in China), Jiaoyu zazhi 15/8 (1923) 22160.

40 Evans, Harriet, ‘The official construction of female sexuality and gender in the People's Republic of China, 1949–1959’ (PhD dissertation. University of London, 1991).

41 Shuze, Huang, ‘Zenyang cai neng duanjue shouyin de huai xiguan?’ (How can we stop the evil habit of masturbation?), Zhongguo qingnian, 1955/13, 38.

42 Qingnian shengti weisheng changshi (Common knowledge of physiological hygiene for youth) (Beijing 1982) Vol. 5, 3234.

43 Bakken, Borge, ‘Modernizing morality in China’, East Asian History 2 (1991) 127.

44 Rocca, Jean-Louis, L'empvre el son milieu. La criminalite en Chinepopulaire (Paris 1991) 243266.

45 Fan, Chen (ed.), Xingbingzai Zhongguo (Venereal disease in China) (Beijing 1990).

46 Fangfu, Ruan, Sex in China: Studies in sexology in Chinese culture (New York 1991) 171.

47 ‘Gansu tongguo difang faguijinzhi chidai sharen shengyu’ (Gansu province promulgates a law prohibiting mentally retarded people to bear children), Renmin ribao, 25 11 1988.

48 Survey of World Broadcast, 22 12 1993, G/23.

Nationalism and Sexuality in China

  • Frank Dikōtter (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed