Journal of Romance Studies

The Chinaman and the cinesina

Gendering Chinese migrants in Italian novels

Journal of Romance Studies (2019), 19, (1), 69–97.


I examine the Chinaman, the cinesina [literally, ‘a petite Chinese woman’], and competing discourses in recent Italian novels to pinpoint their gender meanings and politics. While the Chinaman-Fu Manchu figures are usually successful at dominating Italian men in business, they are often morally or sexually inferior. As such, Chinese migrants help the Italians achieve their hegemonic masculine potential. The dominant story about the cinesina figure posits her as a signifier of several pressing social and cultural issues concerning Italy’s Chinese women today, who are often depicted as victims receiving help from the Italians and as using Italian culture to attain self-fulfilment. Pro-Chinese Italian and migrant authors challenge these discourses from various perspectives.

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Author details

Zhang, Gaoheng