Document Type

Working Paper


Starting from Bruce Lee in the 1960s, Chinese martial arts films have been gaining increasing importance in Hollywood. Amidst global fascination and the prevalence of male heroes in martial arts films, it is surprising to note that only a few studies engage the genre with issues of Chinese masculinity, and none by investigating how the audience makes sense or use of what they are seeing. Taking martial arts films as the research site, I want to study how Chinese men negotiate their masculinity in a context where their masculinity is marginal, that is, in a diasporic context. The findings of this research attest to the marginalization and subordination of diasporic Chinese men by the two dominant and interlocking discourses in the West, namely that only certain white male characteristics would be considered masculine, that certain Chinese male characteristics would be considered neutered or even effeminate. The male informants of this study, however, are never entirely marginalized, victimized and oppressed; they are able to construct alternative, different versions of masculinities, by privileging what they can do with their ‘small bodies’, by downplaying the sexual and romantic dimensions of masculinity, and by emphasizing the importance of control and discipline. These Chinese men are garnering creative resources not necessarily by going into ‘indigenous’ sources of historical or literary Chinese culture, as suggested by theorists on Chinese masculinity. Instead, contemporary transnational popular culture, in this case, Chinese martial arts films open up possibilities for them to articulate and construct different masculine ideals.


David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies

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