Flower Drinking and Masculinity in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Although a broad vision for research into interconnected global masculinities (Connell, 2002) has been suggested as a goal for masculinity studies, this goal will be difficult to attain until a better understanding of local masculinities is achieved. Few studies have focused specifically on Chinese masculinity (the term Chinese is used in a cultural, and not a political sense in this article); this dearth is interesting considering the enormous importance of male-male bonds in Chinese history. China's late imperial society was highly sex-segregated--more so than in the West or even elsewhere in East Asia; trade and commerce and even bureaucracy and scholarship were almost exclusively the domain of men (Mann, 2000). A broad network of male relationships was seen as a manly accomplishment since it represented the ability to travel and meet people outside the family, which contrasts with the traditional female role that was confined to the household (Huang, 2007). While this arrangement of work and gender may be, in some respects, similar to the Western situation, the Chinese context differs in that Confucian sexuality is characterized by containment rather than conquest and control (McMahon, 1988). Based on McMahon's literary analysis, Louie (2003) argued that wen-wu, meaning literary-martial, captures both mental and physical aspects of the masculinity ideal for Chinese men. Both the wen path of learning with its "calligraphic traditions of imitating the masters, extensive rote learning of texts, and physical containment of examination candidates at all points of training" and the wu path, which represents "containment of war rather than rampant militarism" and "concentration on restraint, patience and the ability to know when to withhold" emphasize containment (Louie, 2003, pp. 6-7).

Our goal in this study was to examine some meanings and experiences of Taiwanese men in creating and sustaining masculinities. A secondary question explored was whether the traditional concept of wen-wu still influences construction and maintenance of masculinities in a modern Chinese society. We applied West and Zimmerman's (1987) concept of doing gender and Bourdieu's (2001) concept of symbolic goods to examine some ways masculinity is manufactured in Taiwan. Connell's (1995) concept of plural masculinities, which suggests that there are specific core features to masculinity among different groups, as well as Allison's (1994) descriptions of corporate outings in Japan, are used to consider whether the concept of wen-wu is still relevant in modern Taiwan.

We focused this study on a setting of cultural significance in which gender is salient: special service clubs. Hostesses are employed at these clubs to drink with customers and ensure they continue drinking and having a good time. This type of activity involving recreation with hostesses is called he hua-jiu, literally, flower drinking. Physical contact may be negotiable. For example, customers may engage in kissing, fondling, wiping the hostesses' private parts with an object, licking preserved plums placed on the hostesses, or any of a number of sexual games such as when tomatoes or ice cubes are placed between the hostess's private parts and the customer's buttocks (Hwang, 1996). Some of these clubs are integrated with prostitution.

We selected this context for three reasons. First, the practice of flower drinking stems from an older Taiwanese social institution. From the 19th century to around 1960, women at high-class clubs were available to accompany men at social gatherings. They received strict training from childhood in music or poetry and ancient literature. Their clients included wealthy businessmen, officials, and intellectuals. Second, employment is central in masculine identity because men evaluate themselves and others on the basis of criteria related to success in the workplace (Beagan & Saunders, 2005). The practice of flower drinking is widely believed to be crucial to doing business in Taiwan. …