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Performing masculinity in peri-urban China: duty, family, society

Wong, Magdalena (2016) Performing masculinity in peri-urban China: duty, family, society. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.vpzqxkk7x5vz


This thesis examines how a hegemonic ideal that I refer to as the ‘able-responsible man' dominates the discourse and performance of masculinity in the city of Nanchong in Southwest China. This ideal, which is at the core of the modern folk theory of masculinity in Nanchong, centres on notions of men's ability (nengli) and responsibility (zeren). It differs from, while not always being in contradiction with, the ideal of the ‘wealthy and worldly man' that many scholars of contemporary China have written about. For my research informants, an exemplary man is expected to excel financially but also to shoulder his responsibilities, first and foremost within the kin group, and then to society and the country. I explore the formation and nuances of this ideal in an economic and social milieu that has been radically transformed by forces such as modernization, labour migration, the one-child policy, and changing ideologies and practices of leisure, individualism, filial piety, gendered power and nationalism. Through ethnographic accounts from teenage boys, men of marriageable age, and married men alike, I show that the hegemonic model is coercive, yet negotiable. These accounts reveal the vulnerabilities of male youth and adults in different circumstances, and the multiple and varying strategies they take as they enact their masculinities. The hierarchical nature of relationships amongst men and between the two genders is complicated by an intersection with other social divisions and individual life trajectories. At the apex of the hegemonic model are the country’s leaders who exemplify for their political subjects what it means to be an exemplary Chinese man in the modern era. The thesis looks into not only what men think of being men and their performance as men, but also at what women think and how they construct and, in some regards, sustain the male mode.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Magdalena Wong
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Steinmüller, Hans

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