Reading the Taiwanese author Wu Jiwen's 1996 novel Fin-de-siècle Boylove Reader (Shijimo shaonian’ai duben), this essay considers the age-old figure of the male dan and the critical role it played in the emerging gay scene in the Sinophone world at the turn of the twenty-first century. Based on the Qing author Chen Sen's novel Precious Mirror for the Appreciation of Flowers (Pinhua baojian), Wu's version resorts to the figure of the male dan, often referred to as xianggong, to explore male same-sex intimacies, which were gaining increasing visibility in the 1990s Sinophone world. While scholars generally agree that the male dan in Wu's novel bears considerable resemblance to the figure of the contemporary gay man, some read the ending of Wu's novel, where the two protagonists, Mei Ziyu and Du Qinyan, part ways, as representing a compromise. I contend that this “unhappy ending” points to Wu's most radical departure from Chen's novel. The original novel's ending, where Ziyu lives happily ever after with both his wife and Qinyan, reaffirms the centrality of the “polygamous” patron-patronized relationship in the late imperial imagination of male-male relations. In contrast, the failed relationship between Ziyu and Qinyan in Wu's version points to the obsoleteness of the xiangong system, as well as the polygamous mode in the 1990s, which required new modes, categories, and symbols for the imagination of male same-sex relationships. Arguing that in this novel forces past and present, local and global converge, the author uses it to explore the larger question of how to approach the queer Sinophone.

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