The Effeminate Boy and Queer Boyhood in Contemporary Chinese Adolescent Novels

  • Lisa Chu Shen
Original Paper


This article explores the representation of the figure of the effeminate boy in two contemporary adolescent novels written in Chinese which break the silence in addressing alternative gender and sexual identities. In A Beautiful Heart, the transsexual and homosexual tendencies evinced by an effeminate boy are treated as forms of sexual perversion to be cured through professional psychotherapy. The narrative’s tensions and contradictions, however, call into question the reductive discourse of pathology. Such questioning unsettles, but does not subvert, the text’s explicit conservatism, nor does it attribute legitimacy to queer identities. The Dream of A Beautiful Lad, on the other hand, sets out expressly to interrogate and shatter the monopoly of received opinions about boyhood, gender, maturity and adulthood. In presenting cases of gender nonconformity, however, the text reveals its own complicity in binarism, carrying with it strong traces of androgynous humanism which, in its intention to validate queer existence, is inevitably coloured by heteronormative and heterosexist prejudices. It is concluded that the various forms of gender-crossing and trans-phenomena represented as accompanying queer boyhood do not necessarily entail transcendence or subversion. The figure of the effeminate boy is nonetheless a welcome presence in children’s and adolescent literature, unleashing possibilities for resistance and intervention in a rigidly gender-defined society.


Boyhood Gender and sexual identity Transsexuality Homosexuality Queer Young Adult literature 



The present article is made possible by a research project on children’s literature criticism funded by the Shanghai Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science (Grant No.: 2017EWY006). I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and CLE’s Catherine Butler in particular for their insightful comments on the initial version of the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Shanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina

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