Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia

Part of the series Palgrave Series in Asian German Studies pp 151-169


The Liberating Masculinity of Goethe’s Werther and Its Repression in Modern China

  • Arnhilt Johanna HoefleAffiliated withDepartment of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna

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Tracing the rise and demise of Goethe’s Werther as an icon of the New Culture Movement, Hoefle for the first time analyzes the Chinese “Werther fever” of the 1920s through the lens of gender. She argues that Werther’s uncontrolled emotionality dangerously trespassed both traditional Chinese concepts of masculinity, wen (cultural attainment) and wu (martial valor), and thus represented a liberating counter-image that needed to be contained. First replaced by female Werther figures, Chinese writers of the 1930s harshly parodied the sentimental man. Re-reading two of the most influential modern Chinese novels, Mao Dun’s Midnight (Ziye) and Ba Jin’s Family (Jia), Hoefle concludes that their repression of Werther’s masculinity sheds light on a more complex and even paradox process of negotiating gender roles at a historical crossroads.