The Making of the Modern Chinese Mind: An Early Psychoanalysis of a Literary Case of Female Narcissism

By Jiang, Yanjun; Wang, Bo | The Journal of Psychohistory, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

The Making of the Modern Chinese Mind: An Early Psychoanalysis of a Literary Case of Female Narcissism


Jiang, Yanjun, Wang, Bo, The Journal of Psychohistory


Feng Xiaoqing: A Study in Narcissism, Pan Guangdan, Crescent Moon Bookstore, Shanghai, 1929.

"Feng Xiaoqing: A Study of Narcissism", authored by one of the most renowned sociologists, eugenicists, and ethnologists in China, Pan Guangdan (1899-1967, also known as Quentin Pan), was originally published in book form in 1927. It was based on a research assignment submitted in 1922 to Liang Qichao, a significant intellectual in China's modern history.

Pan then took an MA under Charles Davenport (1866-1944) from Columbia University (Chung, 2010, p. 259) in 1926. Fei Xiaotong (or Fei Hsiao-Tung, 1910-2005), one of the founders of Chinese sociology and anthropology, was among Pan's students.

Pan became fascinated with psychoanalysis as he encountered Sigmund Freud's A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis in around 1921 (Rocha, 2012). Appropriating psychoanalysis developed by Freud and Trigant Burrow (1875-1950) as a new conceptualizing and transforming tool, Pan reinterpreted the narcissism of an ancient Chinese woman Feng Xiaoqing (1595-1612) and thus engaged in the Zeitgeist of the New Culture Movement of the mid 1910s and 1920s, namely modernizing the subjectivity of the Chinese people. The book was divided into three parts, with a total of eight chapters.

According to sources like A Biography of Xiaoqing (Xiaoqing zhuan) by Zhi Ruzeng, A Classified Outline of the History of Love (Qingshi leilue) by Feng Menglong, and New Tales of Yu Chu (Yu Chu xinzhi) by Zhang Chao, poems composed by Zhang Dai, Shi Runzhang, etc., and novels, notes, legends of the Ming Dynasty, the author made it clear to us that Feng was born in Yangzhou City and lived during the Wanli Period (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. As a concubine, she was married to a rich man in Hangzhou City at the age of 15 and died at the age of 18. Feng "every now and then liked to talk to her own shadow...She watched her reflection in the pool and murmured to herself garrulously" (p. 3).

She was even infatuated with the painting of herself. Upon three attempts, "... Xiaoqing asked the painter to capture her spirit with his brush... When the portrait was finally done, she offered a libation to the woman in the portrait, uttering, 'Xiaoqing, Xiaoqing, 1 consecrate my spirit to you,' and wept over her fate" (Tsu, 2005, p. 151).

The author believed that Feng, like Narcissus in ancient Greek mythology, fell in love with her own reflection in the water and took herself as a sex object. Pan divided narcissism into two levels, the shallow and the deep. Shallow narcissism is a common component that can be found in all human psyches, as shown in Chinese idioms "look at oneself complacently or look at one's reflection and self-pity" (p. 37). It belongs within the range of normal mental states. However, those who take themselves as a sex object while not being influenced by other psychopathological factors could be labeled as deep narcissists. The author proved that Feng's symptoms were completely consistent with the characteristics of a narcissistic patient. He also identified the psychological roots of Feng's narcissism.

In the process of Feng's psychosexual development, her libido experienced a partial fixation in the stage of secondary narcissism. Suffering from the early marriage, the sexual disharmony in the marriage, and the mistreatment from her husband's principal wife, Feng's libido was withdrawn from objects and became centered on Feng's Self, which led to Feng's narcissism and premature death.

As a result, the author conducted a further analysis of Feng's sexual psychology, suggesting that her libido did not completely return to the stage of secondary narcissism. There were still two parts, with one staying in the homosexual stage, and the other breaking through the stage of secondary narcissism and returning to the stage of maternal love. Although these two parts only accounted for a small amount of the sexual energy, they affected Feng's sexual psychology, making her demonstrate both her homosexuality and her Oedipus complex. …

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