Faculty Research Fellows Talk with Matthew Sommer
Matthew Sommer: "The Persecution of M-F Crossing in Imperial China"
In China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the cross-dressing boy actor who performed female roles was a paradigmatic figure of risqué popular culture and the object of erotic fascination and connoisseurship on the part of elite men. And yet, for “a man to masquerade in women’s attire” offstage was a capital offense, prosecuted under the Qing code’s venerable statute against “using heterodox doctrines to provoke and deceive the people.” What was the ideological and legal foundation for criminalizing M-F cross-dressing, and why did this behavior provoke such official horror when practiced offstage, when it was tolerated – even celebrated – onstage?
Matthew Sommer is Professor of History.