Chinese Bodies that Matter: The Search for Masculinity and Femininity

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22 Citations (Scopus)


This article is an inquiry of why such significance has been assigned to sports in general and the Olympics in particular in China. It looks at how history and politics intersect with gender. I explain how the historicity of China's traumatic past – how it fell prey to the western imperialists – has allowed the state to draw on the biopolitical discourse that links its subjects’ physical, mental and moral attributes to that of the survival and revival of a Chinese nation. This article examines the ways in which gender ideals/norms were inscribed onto the athletes’ bodies that helped exemplify China's nation-building project and its pursuit of modernity. My analysis focuses on the representation of their bodies, clothes and corporal expression. Three sets of male and female athletes of three different periods were examined: (1) Liu Changchun and Yang Xiuqiong, representing the Republican China; (2) Li Ning and Lang Ping, representing the post-opening up period; (3) Liu Xiang and Guo Jingjing, representing the global China. I argue that manliness and femaleness are cultural as well as political products produced according to the needs of the nation and the state at different historical moments; and both men and women carry their share of national burden.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-266
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of the History of Sport
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2013

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies

User-Defined Keywords

  • Masculinity
  • Femininity
  • Chinese body culture
  • Olympics
  • China


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