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

Guo Moruo’s translation of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) in 1922 triggered a large-scale “Werther fever” in China. As “the bible of modern Chinese youth,” Werther soon became an icon of the New Culture Movement, an intellectual movement of the 1910s and 1920s that turned against the traditional feudal ways of Chinese society.

In this chapter, recently published in the volume Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia: Transnational Perspectives since 1800, I trace the rise and demise of Werther in modern China through the lens of gender. Quite surprisingly, gender, and in particular masculinities, is a perspective that has been almost entirely neglected in studies on this crucial moment of German-Chinese literary relations so far.

Re-reading Chinese literary works of the period, I argue 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.

Mao Dun’s Midnight (Ziye) and Ba Jin’s Family (Jia), two of the most influential modern Chinese novels, are among the key texts of the analysis. The repression of Werther’s masculinity in these works, I conclude, sheds light on a more complex and even paradox process of negotiating gender roles at a historical crossroads.

Gendered Encounters is the second volume published in the newly launched Palgrave Series in Asian German Studies. Dedicated to this new interdisciplinary field, it focuses on the multi-faceted dimensions of ties between the German-speaking world and Asian countries over the past two centuries.

See:

Arnhilt Johanna Hoefle, “The Liberating Masculinity of Goethe’s Werther and Its Repression in Modern China,” in Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia: Transnational Perspectives since 1800, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Douglas T. McGetchin, 151-169. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Kicking off this year’s conference season: the GSA’s Annual Meeting, feat. Asian German Studies

The new academic year is fast approaching and, as every year, the conference season will be kicked off by one of the largest of its kind: the GSA’s annual meeting (18-21 September 2014). Members of the German Studies Association, which was founded in 1976 in the US as the Western Association for German Studies (WAGS) and re-named in 1984, will meet for the 38th time. This year Kansas City will have the honor to host the academic invasion of over 1,000 scholars from the US and, though in a much smaller proportion, other places around the globe (see an interesting article on this issue by Jochen Hung). Kansas City, sitting on the border between the two states of Kansas and Missouri, has given its name not only to a more “beboppy” kind of jazz and a more “jumpy” kind of blues but also a particular kind of slow smoked barbecue. Sadly, Missouri has recently been in the headlines for completely different reasons of course.

This year’s program, which is itself a book of 233 pages, promises a stunning number of 326 panel sessions and seminars in the course of four days. Thus, even the pickiest of all conference-goers might find their session of choice, in particular as the GSA is devoted to a broad understanding of German Studies, encompassing all areas of German history, literature, culture, politics and any other discipline relating to the German-speaking countries in any time period. For conference enthusiasts like me, on the other hand, this is conference paradise.

One of the highlights of this year’s program is certainly the “Asian German Studies” panel. This young field of studies is dedicated to the long history of encounters between the two contexts and has just recently become more accepted within German Studies. Its regular presence at the GSA’s meetings since 2009 is certainly an indicator of this, as are an increasing number of recently published volumes on different topics, see for example Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia (Berghahn, 2014), Transcultural Encounters between Germany and India: Kindred Spirits in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Routledge, 2013) and Imagining Germany Imagining Asia. Essays in Asian-German Studies (Camden House, 2013). Asian German Studies will also be represented by two panels at the IVG‘s (International Association for German Studies)  conference “Germanistik zwischen Tradition und Innovation” in Shanghai next year: Tradition und Transformation. Der Ferne Osten in der deutschsprachigen Literatur and Begegnungen zwischen den deutschsprachigen Ländern und Asien.

The field of Asian German Studies advocates multi-perspectival and interdisciplinary approaches, which is also demonstrated by this year’s sessions of the panel at the GSA meeting. They will present a variety of topics ranging from German-Asian interactions during the era of the world wars, images of the Other in literature and film, peoples in motion between Asian and Germany, German visions of China in the 19th and 20th centuries, the origins of Orientalism as well as the challenges to studying the Orient in the Orient.  Another session is dedicated to gendered views on German-Asian interaction, where I will have the opportunity to present a part of my new postdoc project on the negotiation of German and Chinese masculinities. In my paper I will discuss the ambivalent reception of Goethe’s Werther in modern Chinese literature from the perspective of masculinities.