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The Masquerade of Male Masochists: Two Tales of Translation of the Zhou Brothers (Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren) in the 1910s

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Through reading two creatively translated stories by the Zhou brothers, Lu Xun’s (Zhou Shuren) “The Soul of Sparta” (Sibada zhi hun, 1903) and Zhou Zuoren’s “The Chivalrous Slave Girl” (Xia nünu, 1904), this paper takes a close look at the intellectual trend in the first decade of the twentieth-century China of constructing strong and heroic women as the emblem of national power while rendering men as powerless. By focusing on a foreign heroine with traditional Chinese virtues, both translations creatively Sinicized and feminized the foreign power in the original tales. At the same time, male characters, prospective readers of the stories, and even authors themselves were marginalized, diminished, and ridiculed vis-à-vis the newly constructed feminine authority. Comparing this form of cultural masochism to other literary masochisms in modern China analyzed by Rey Chow and Jing Tsu respectively, this paper endeavors to excavate a hybrid model of nationalist agency grounded in the intertwined relationship of race, gender and nation. In my analysis, Gilles Deleuze’s discussion on masochism is utilized as a heuristic tool to shed light on the revolutionary potential embedded in the “strong women, weak men” complex in the 1910s. I argue that the cultural masochism in late Qing represents one of the earliest attempts of the Chinese intellectuals to creatively use Chinese traditional gender cosmology to absorb the threat of Western imperialism and put forward a hybrid model of nationalist agency.


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