Ghosts and Gender in Chinese Literature

The “phantom heroine”—in particular the fantasy of her resurrection through sex with a living man—is one of the most striking features of traditional Chinese literature. Even today the hypersexual female ghost continues to be a source of fascination in East Asian media, much like the sexually predatory vampire in American and European movies, TV, and novels. But while vampires can be of either gender, erotic Chinese ghosts are almost exclusively female. The significance of this gender asymmetry in Chinese literary history is the subject of Judith Zeitlin’s elegantly written and meticulously researched new book, The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature.

“This is an accomplished book by a maverick thinker and writer. Zeitlin’s genius is to turn something hideous and freaky into the stuff of life. She adopts an archaeological approach, excavating motifs from and finding resonances in disparate genres and periods. An elegant book, it should attract readers from Chinese studies, gender studies, comparative literature, performance studies, and religion.” —Dorothy Ko, Columbia University

June 2007 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3091-5 / $57.00 (CLOTH)

Judith T. Zeitlin is co-editor, with Charlotte Furth and Ping-chen Hsiung, of Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Chinese Cultural History, published by University of Hawai‘i Press.