Skip to main content

The Emerging Lesbian

Female Same-Sex Desire in Modern China

In early twentieth-century China, age-old traditions of homosocial and homoerotic relationships between women suddenly became an issue of widespread public concern. Discussed formerly in terms of friendship and sisterhood, these relationships came to be associated with feminism, on the one hand, and psychobiological perversion, on the other—a radical shift whose origins have long been unclear.

In this first ever book-length study of Chinese lesbians, Tze-lan D. Sang convincingly ties the debate over female same-sex love in China to the emergence of Chinese modernity. As women’s participation in social, economic, and political affairs grew, Sang argues, so too did the societal significance of their romantic and sexual relations. Focusing especially on literature by or about women-preferring women, Sang traces the history of female same-sex relations in China from the late imperial period (1600-1911) through the Republican era (1912-1949). She ends by examining the reemergence of public debate on lesbians in China after Mao and in Taiwan after martial law, including the important roles played by globalization and identity politics.

392 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture

Asian Studies: East Asia, General Asian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: Asian History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Asian Languages

Women's Studies


"It is a pleasure following Tze-lan Sang’s arguments and imaginative flights enabled by her examinations of literary works. The book is written with great care and clarity. It should be recommended for both specialists in gender studies and Chinese literature as well as generalists interested in understanding contemporary Chinese society and culture."

Gang Zhou | Chinese Literature

“This study of the enunciation and politics of female same-sex love is a welcome and timely addition to the growing body of work examining issues of sexuality and gender identity in China. . . . A valuable addition to critical studies of sexual and gender identity.”

Gary Sigley | China Journal

“[Sang’s] detailed contextualization of the moments on which the book focuses is exemplary, as is her command of a range of secondary literatures—from Western theories of sexuality to Chinese representations of erotic love in late imperial, Republican, and contemporary Chinese sources. . . . [A] rich contribution to our understanding of gender relations in twentieth-century China, global economies of sexual knowledge, and the lived experience of lesbianism in transnational China today.”

Joan Judge | Journal of the History of Sexuality

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction

One: Premodern China
2. Revisiting Premodern Chinese Female-Female Relations
3. Odd Girls in Pu Songling’s Tales of the Strange

Two: Republican China
4. Translating Homosexuality: The Discourse of Tongxing ai in Republican China
5. Female Same-Sex Love in May Fourth Fiction

Three: China after Mao
6. The Brave New World of Post-Mao China: An Overview
7. Lin Bai’s Narratives of Female Homoerotic Desire
8. Gender-Transcendent Consciousness and Private Life

Four: Taiwan after Martial Law
9. Lesbian Activism in the Mediated Public Sphere
10. The Autobiographical Lesbian

Select Glossary of Chinese Names and Terms
Select Bibliography

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press