China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paperstudies female homoeroticism as a queering look of love in the nineteenth- century prosimetric novel Dream of the Pomegranate Flowers by Li Guiyu. Earlier prosimetric novels Jade Bracelets and Destiny of Rebirth feature multivalent identity of a heroine disguised as a man and stage homoerotic sensibilities between the cross-dresser and unsuspecting women who mistake the heroine for a man. Pomegranate Flowers transforms this convention by portraying heroines who are aware of each other’s identity, and yet are engaged in homoerotic interactions, focusing on the love between two heroines who disguise themselves as men and address each other as “brothers.” Male friendship is evoked as a transformed form of sisterhood and reconfigures women’s same-sex love through discourses of male chivalric friendship. Female homoeroticism offers a queering outlook at virginal chastity, which, rather than merely being a premarital condition for a heterosexual marriage, provides justification for women to explore temporary freedom and transgressive roles. In traditional prosimetrical novels, women’s same-sex bonds through female alliance or mock unions are akin to kinship and conjugal love, and deemed as premarital social bonds that are supporting rather than subverting family and marriage. In this story women’s friendship, mobilized by a storyline of “male” chivalry, draws attention to compelling queer erotics, and renders such same-sex dynamics in disguised and socially more acceptable forms. The novel invites studies on the social effects of female and male homoerotic companionship, and the ideological process in which women's unconventional yearnings are negotiated or neutralized in early modern contexts.