From Courtesans to Modern Hostesses: Music and Construction of Gender in the Entertainment Industry in China*

By Tiantian Zheng.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Modern hostesses differ from traditional courtesans in that traditional courtesans enjoyed much more freedom and control than modern hostesses because of the different natures of elite and entrepreneurial masculinity at two different historical junctures. Men’s social relationships made the courtesan house a venue for elite men to display a refined version of masculinity. This was during the secure time of “culturalism” in China when sexual services were the least significant part of a sophisticated interaction between courtesans and the scholars who sought their services. Masculinity was linked to social class and courtesans helped produce an urbane, sophisticated and refined elite masculinity. In the postsocial era, the entrepreneurial man requires a hypersexualized, provocative trophy woman to monopolize, control, and objectify. A consistent pattern through these two stages has been a coarsening of masculine identity. Entrepreneurial masculinity is constructed in tandem with the return of male privilege and female disadvantage. The two are inextricably interwoven and intermingled with each other.
This paper illustrates how this kind of entrepreneurial masculinity is played out in karaoke bar settings. Karaoke bars allow men to achieve a fantasy world of wealth, celebrity, prestige, creativity, individuality, pleasure, sexual prowess, and rebellion by singing masculine songs like a rock star, consuming the status symbol of karaoke bars, and enjoying erotic, submissive services of hostesses. As demonstrated in the paper, this masculinity is constructed, bolstered, and upheld by hostesses who utilize romantic, soft, and gentle songs to convey their subjugation and devotion to men, and sing high praises for men’s talents and creativities in singing. While asserting their agency to perform this ultra-feminine, dutiful, and faithful image to their male clients in exchange for economic benefits and possible opportunities for upward mobility, hostesses paradoxically reproduce and reinscribe their objectification and victimization.

Keywords: Music, Femininity, Masculinity, China, Entertainment Industry

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 7, pp.39-54. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 932.441KB).

Tiantian Zheng

Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, State University of New York, Cortland, NY, USA

Tiantian Zheng received her Ph.D. in Anthropology at Yale University in 2003, and currently teaches as Professor of anthropology in the department of Sociology/Anthropology at SUNY Cortland. She is the author of the following four books: Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press); Ethnographies of Prostitution in Contemporary China: Gender Relations, HIV/AIDS, and Nationalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan Press); HIV/AIDS Through an Anthropological Lens (Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing); and Sex Trafficking, Human Rights, and Social Justice (Routledge). She has also edited one journal issue titled Anti-Trafficking, Human Rights, and Social Justice in Wagadu: Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies (2008). She has published 14 journal articles and 17 book chapters.


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