Epistemic Modernity and the Emergence of Homosexuality in China


In 1950, the Time Bookstore in Shanghai published a book titled Sexual Science by Zhang Mingyun.1 In nine chapters, the book summarises contemporary scientific research on animal and human sexuality, including perspectives from psychology, biomedicine, ethnology and sociology. Although the book provides no biographical information about the author, Zhang’s familiarity with the history of sexual sciences outside China is demonstrated by his eloquent discussion of their developments in Japan, the part of Asia where the writings of European sexologists had made the deepest impression since the late nineteenth century.2 Zhang clarifies his authorial intention in the opening chapter: ‘Especially in the east (such as in China and Japan), people have yet to fully appreciate sexual science. So the author has decided to compose this book: providing Chinese people with a reliable understanding of sexology is precisely the intent of the author’.3 According to Zhang, because the scientific study of sex was so underdeveloped in China, it was high time for the introduction of sexology to Chinese experts and laypersons. Zhang’s assertion, nonetheless, overlooked an entire generation of thinkers and cultural commentators who promoted sexological studies in the aftermath of the New Culture movement (1915–19). Among the famous May Fourth iconoclastic intellectuals, some not only translated texts and adopted methodological rigour from European sexology, but they also developed their own theories of human sexual behaviour and desire. They frequently engaged in heated debates over the meaning, principles and boundaries of a science of sexuality. Questions of competence, credentials, expertise and authority preoccupied those of the early twentieth-century urban intelligentsia who spoke seriously about sex in public. By the 1930s, disparate efforts and conversations converged in the founding of such periodicals as Sex Science. For the first time in China, sexuality was accorded a primacy of scientific ‘truthfulness’.4 This article focuses on the intellectual journey of two pivotal figures in this rich tradition of Republican Chinese sexology: Zhang Jingsheng ( ) and Pan Guangdan ( ). Historians have regarded Zhang’s commentary on proper heterosexual conduct as a key feature of his sexological enterprise, especially as it was stamped by his controversial theory of the ‘third kind of water’.5 Meanwhile, studies of Pan’s contribution to Chinese sexology have typically focused on his annotated translation of Havelock Ellis’s Psychology of Sex, which grew out of his lifelong interest in promoting

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@inproceedings{Chiang2010EpistemicMA, title={Epistemic Modernity and the Emergence of Homosexuality in China}, author={Howard Chiang}, year={2010} }