Homosexuality, Dan, Peking Opera, Female Impersonation, Mei Lanfang, New Culture Movement


The homosexuality of male dan actors — female impersonators — in the renowned Peking Opera has long been the subject of tabloid speculation and intellectual criticism since the 19th century, and yet little is said about it in modern-day China. While scholars have ascribed the cause of this change in perceptions of dan homosexuality to events of 1910–20s, including the work of Mei Lanfang, domestic political and economic change, and Japanese influence, I argue that Western and Soviet influence spanning from 1910–45 was the driving factor behind the vilification and heterosexualisation of dan actors.

I show the absence of homophobic stigma surrounding dan actors in fin-de-siècle China, before the introduction of Western ideas by the New Culture Movement. It then illustrates how the New Culture Movement’s import of Western sexology (1910–35) created homophobia and vilification toward dan actors. Finally, it examines how American and Soviet praise for dan actors (1930–35) was connected with the immediately subsequent heterosexualisation of dan actors in Chinese literature (1935–45) by showing that these new writings incorporated the rhetoric of American and Soviet commentary of dan to deny their homosexuality.