Queer Love in Early Republican Chinese Fiction

Meet Chinese major Stephanie Shu.

October 11, 2023

Hometown: San Mateo, California

Thesis adviser: Jing Jiang [Chinese and humanities]

Thesis: “Writing Love and Liminality: Female Homoeroticism in Early Republican Chinese Fiction”

What it’s about: I translate and analyze a selection of Chinese short stories from the early 20th century that center around female-female relationships and tease out the nuances across various perspectives on same-gender love. I also explore why the topic of female homoeroticism is inextricably tied to contemporaneous national discourses on Chinese modernity and women’s independence.

What it’s really about: Unearthing lost voices from the past to reclaim space for queer love.

In high school: I was an obsessive rom-com watcher and comic reader, an aspiring polyglot, and an extremely rule-adherent kid who desperately wanted to seem cool and quirky. At one point I thought I’d study biology, then it was linguistics, but never Chinese . . . back then I was flunking my vocab quizzes in Chinese class.

Influential professor: My adviser, Prof. Jing Jiang [Chinese and humanities], constantly encouraged my writing, supported my various research whims, and always seemed to have the right words whenever I faced a personal crisis. Outside of our thesis advising sessions, she spent many hours guiding me through extracurricular readings, reviewing my translations, and offering her advice.

Influential book: Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou. It’s a poignant, satirical novel about a young Chinese American woman pursuing a degree in Chinese-American literature and her experience confronting whiteness, Sinophobia, and the fetishization of Chinese women in academia. Though a bit on-the-nose, it helped me reflect on how my identity intersects with my work and informs my relationship to academia.

Cool stuff: I cofounded Chinese eHouse and hosted conversation tables, mahjong nights, and off-campus excursions. I also helped organize the annual school-wide Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival events. I took a year off to study Mandarin and reconnect with my cultural roots in Taiwan. I collected and translated stories at the Taiwanese American Archives and presented at Reed’s translation symposium. I taught myself to knit and play guitar (both badly), spent way too many hours in the ceramics studio, practiced Chinese calligraphy at Scriptorium, and learned how to throw a mean hotpot party. Reed was also where I discovered my queer identity, found community, and came out via my queer thesis!

Challenges faced: During my time at Reed I developed a chronic pain condition, struggled with my mental health, and experienced several difficult personal losses. I took time off twice and ended up as a nontrad student and a spring/fall senior. It was lonely at times, but I received support from professors and ended up finding a really great community, which made navigating the unexpected detours a lot easier.

What’s next: Read more books, do more art, see more places. Further down the line, I want to continue uncovering queer narratives in Chinese literature, whether that’s in grad school or elsewhere.