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Jesuits and Eunuchs: Representing Masculinity in Late Ming China

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For early modern ethnographers, gender was an invaluable category of analysis. It provided a crucial means of testing the civility and morality of foreign people. And it was put to vigorous rhetorical work in conjuring up comforting similarities and repulsive alterities. Hence in their descriptions of China, the Portuguese apothecary Tomé Pires commented reassuringly that “The women resemble Castilian women”, while the Spanish Dominican friar Gaspar da Cruz focused on the “filthy abomination”, the “accursed sin” of male homosexuality with which late Ming society was afflicted. My article explores Matteo Ricci's strategies of representation in describing Chinese masculinities. In doing so, it sheds light on the vulnerability of the Jesuit's own gender identity.
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Keywords: Eunuchs; Jesuits; Masculinity; Matteo Ricci; Ming China

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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