In Polygamy and Sublime Passion, Keith McMahon provides a thought-provoking literary history of the normative ideal of polygamy, its critics, and accommodations from the late Ming to the late Qing. Reading through numerous late imperial novels about family romance and courtesan courtship, McMahon argues that these fantasies of polygamy had intimate ties to the imagination of political power, with the dissolution of the polygamous ideal reflecting the decline of the imperial order. In doing so, McMahon sheds new light on texts that increasingly have been employed to redefine China's literary transition to modernity, providing a powerful analytical framework for historians of premodern and modern literature.

McMahon's argument revolves around the polygamous ideal and how, long before Western notions of monogamy displaced traditional forms of polygamy, Chinese criticized and negotiated the inequality of the system. Prominent men, whether to enjoy multiple partners or to flaunt their status, were supposed to...

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