In her semi biographical novel Shanghai Baby from 1999 Wei Hui describes a sexual encounter between the Chinese female protagonist and her German lover: “His golden body hairs were like fine rays of sunlight, zealously and intimately nibbling at my body […] He penetrated my protective labia with deadly accuracy and located my budding clitoris. […] His huge organ made me feel swollen […] I imagined what he would be like in high boots and a leather coat, and what kind of cruelty would show in those Teutonic blue eyes. These thoughts increased my excitement.” (Translated by Bruce Humes. Simon&Schuster: 2001, pp.63)
This sexualization of the Western, in this case German, ‘Other’ is stereotype bordering on the comic with its images of blond hair, blue eyes and aggressive virility. The direct allusions to Nazism and the German reputation for accuracy, only increase the feeling of foreignness and thus desire in the protagonist.
Throughout the novel, as professor of comparative literature Sheldon H. Lu points out in his brief analysis of the book, the virile, aggressive European lover is contrasted with the protagonists artistic and intellectual but impotent Chinese boyfriend. (Lu, Sheldon H.: Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics, University of Hawai’i Press: 2007, pp.58)
This put me in mind of Gao Xingjian’s novel One Man’s Bible also from 1999, in the very beginning of which we find the male protagonist in bed with a German woman: “She sips the cognac and closes her eyes. She is a white German with very dark hair and long eyelashes. You get her to part her legs so you can see clearly and have her deeply imprinted in your memory.” (Translated by: Mabel Lee. HarperCollins: 2003, pp. 11)
Later they talk about how they first met: “‘I remember you, of course I remember you! As soon as you came through the door you took of your big padded coat and your scarf, and there stood a very beautiful young foreign woman!’ ‘With big breasts, right?’ ‘Of course, very big breasts. Blushing white skin and bright red lips even with no lipstick. Really sexy.'” (Ibid. pp. 14)
Again the foreignness is underlined and sexualized by images of white skin, big breasts, red lips, this time with a hint of irony, which does not however diminish the effect of the foreign body on the Chinese protagonist.
Later the plumpness and natural vigor of the German woman, as well as the protagonists open and bold investigation of her body, is contrasted with his nostalgic love for a very young and delicate Chinese girl: “‘It was special because a white German girl with bright red lips had suddenly arrived…’ ‘And there was also a bare foot little Beijing girl who was lovely and slender…'” (Ibid. pp.15)
In both cases it is the very foreignness of the Western ‘Other’, the points in which their body differs from the well-known and homely, that makes them sexually attractive. It is also interesting, albeit maybe coincidental, that these to instances both centers on the German physique as the one diametrically opposed to the Chinese, both when it comes to women and men. Both objects of desire are more over soaked in foreign and exclusive liquor, another forbidden, exotic and sensually intoxicating luxury.
3 thoughts on “Sexualizing the Western ‘Other’: Wei Hui and Gao Xingjian”
Shanghai Baby, translated from Chinese into English by Bruce Humes
You are so right. My mistake. Thank you for noticing, I have now repaired it.
Thanks, I appreciate your updating the post!