Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 9–10, pp 533–548 | Cite as

Talking Politics, Performing Masculinities: Stories of Hong Kong Men Before and After the Umbrella Movement

  • Petula Sik Ying HoEmail author
  • Stevi Jackson
  • Jun Rene Lam
Original Article


The present paper addresses the under-explored issue of the role of politics in the construction of masculinity, focusing specifically on political Confucianism and men’s doing of gender in the context of Hong Kong’s recent turbulent history. Between 2014 and 2016 we conducted a series of paired interviews and focus groups with 10 Hong Kong men from differing social backgrounds. Through cooperative grounded inquiry, we demonstrate how political events and figures provided points of reference for these men in the construction and performance of masculinities. We emphasize the importance of Confucian hierarchical harmony to gender performance, elaborating three cultural logics—respectability, responsibility, and romance—underpinning the doing of Hong Kong masculinities. We thereby shed light on the mutual constitution of personal and political selves and how men define and redefine masculine ideals in times of political turbulence.


Masculinities Umbrella movement Confucianism Gender Social movements 



The research reported in this paper was supported by the University Grants Committee of the Research Grants Council under a General Research Fund entitled “Be a man!: Conceptualizing Hong Kong Chinese men’s strategies of sexual choices” (HKU 744812H).

We are grateful for the participation of the respondents and the assistance of Professor Veronica Pearson, Mr. Chi Kwok, and our video team at an early stage of the project.

Compliance with Ethical Standard

The research was funded by University Grants Committee of the Research Grant Council under General Research Fund. There are no conflicts between the research funding and the findings in this paper. All interviewees were carefully informed and gave informed consent to the researchers before the commencement of the project. Ethical approval was obtained through the host university of the first author. (Reference EA: 130212)


  1. Banerjee, S. (2012). Make me a man: Masculinity, Hinduism and nationalism in India. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  2. Beasley, C. (2008). Rethinking hegemonic masculinity in a globalizing world. Men and Masculinities, 11(1), 86–103. Scholar
  3. Bell, D. (2008). China’s new Confucianism: Politics and everyday life in a changing society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blanchard, E., & Lin, S. (2016). Gender and non-western ‘global’ IR: Where are the women in Chinese international relations theory? International Studies Review, 18, 48–61. Scholar
  5. Boratav, H., Fişek, G., & Ziya, H. (2014). Unpacking masculinities in the context of social change: Internal complexities of the identities of married men in Turkey. Men and Masculinities, 17(3), 299–324. Scholar
  6. Broude, G. J. (1990). Protest masculinity: A further look at the causes and the concept. Ethos, 18(1), 103–122. Scholar
  7. Charmaz, K. (2014). Grounded theory in global perspective: Reviews by international researchers. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(9), 1074–1084. Scholar
  8. Choi, S. Y. P., & Peng, Y. (2016). Masculine compromise: Migration, family, and gender in China. Oakland: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collier, A., & Wyer, M. (2016). Researching reflexively with patients and families: Two studies using video-reflexive ethnography to collaborate with patients and families in patient safety research. Qualitative Health Research, 26(7), 979–993. Scholar
  10. Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  11. Connell, R. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Connell, R., & Messerschmidt, J. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, 19(6), 829–859.\.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davis, M. C. (2015). Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement: Beijing’s broken promises. Journal of Democracy, 26(2), 101–110. Scholar
  14. Deng, Y., & O’Brien, K. J. (2013). Relational repression in China: Using social ties to demobilize protesters. The China Quarterly, 215, 533–552. Scholar
  15. Distelhorst, G. (2017). The power of empty promises: Quasi-democratic institutions and activism in China. Comparative Political Studies, 50(4), 464–498. Scholar
  16. Dudink, S., Hagemann, K., & Clark, A. (Eds.). (2012). Representing masculinity: Male citizenship in modern western culture. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  17. Evans, H. (1997). Women and sexuality in China. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  18. Farrer, J. (2013). Good stories: Chinese women’s international love stories as cosmopolitan sexual politics. Sexualities, 16(1–2), 12–29. Scholar
  19. Fosse, N. E. (2010). The repertoire of infidelity among low-income men: Doubt, duty and destiny. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 629(1), 125–143. Scholar
  20. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  21. Griffin, P. (2012). Gendering global finance: Crisis, masculinity, and responsibility. Men and Masculinities, 16(1), 9–34. Scholar
  22. Hensby, A. (2017). Networks of non-participation: Comparing ‘supportive’, ‘unsupportive’ and ‘undecided’ non-participants in the UK student protests against fees and cuts. Sociology, 51(5), 957–974. Scholar
  23. Heron, J. (1996). Co-operative inquiry: Research into the human condition. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Hird, D. (2016). Making class and gender: White-collar men in postsocialist China. In K. Louie (Ed.), Changing Chinese masculinities: From imperial pillars of state to global real men (pp. 137–156). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ho, P. S. Y. (2012). Hong Kong men’s stories of intra-national cross border romances. Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 22(3), 176–186. Scholar
  26. Ho, P. S. Y. (2014). An embarrassment of riches: Good men behaving badly in Hong Kong. In D.S. Davis and S.L. Friedman (Eds), Wives, husbands and lovers: Marriage and sexuality in Hong Hong, Taiwan and urban China (pp. 165-188). Stanford: Stanford University press/Hong Hong: Hong Kong university press.Google Scholar
  27. Ho, P. S. Y., Jackson, S., & Kong, S. S-T. (2017). Speaking against silence: Finding a voice in Hong Kong Chinese families through the umbrella movement. Sociology. Advance online publication. Scholar
  28. Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Research and Prevention. (2014). Retrieved from accessed .
  29. Hua, C. Y. (2014). Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s regular press conference on September 30, 2014. Retrieved from
  30. Jackson, S. (2010). Self, time and narrative: Re-thinking the contribution of G.H. Mead. Life Writing, 7(2), 123–136. Scholar
  31. Jankowiak, W., & Li, X. (2014). The decline of the chauvinistic model of Chinese masculinity: A research report. Chinese Sociological Review, 46(4), 3–18. Scholar
  32. Jiang, Q. (2013). A Confucian constitutional order: How China’s ancient past can shape its political future. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Johansson, T., & Ottemo, A. (2015). Ruptures in hegemonic masculinity: The dialectic between ideology and utopia. Journal of Gender Studies, 24(2), 192–206. Scholar
  34. Johnson, C. A. B., & Morrison, T. G. (2007). The presentation of masculinity in everyday life: Contextual variations in the masculine behaviour of young Irish men. Sex Roles, 57, 661–674. Scholar
  35. Kaeding, M. (2014). Challenging Hongkongisation: The role of Taiwan’s social movements and perceptions of post-handover Hong Kong. Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, 5, 120–133.Google Scholar
  36. Kimmel, M. (2005). The gender of desire: Essays on male sexuality. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  37. King, D. S. (2006). Activists and emotional reflexivity: Toward Touraine’s subject as social movement. Sociology, 40(5), 873–891. Scholar
  38. Kleinman, A., Yan, Y., Jun, J., Lee, S., Zhang, E., Pan, T., … Guo, J. (Eds.). (2011). Deep China: The moral life of the person: What anthropology and psychiatry tell us about China today. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Kong, S. T. (2016). Social work practice research innovation, implementation and implications: A case of ‘cooperative grounded inquiry’ with formerly abused women in Hong Kong. Qualitative Social Work, 15(4), 533–551. Scholar
  40. Lee, F. L., & Chan, J. M. (2016). Digital media activities and mode of participation in a protest campaign: The case of the umbrella movement. Information, Communication & Society, 19(1), 4–22. Scholar
  41. Lee, C. K., & Zhang, Y. (2013). The power of instability: Unraveling the microfoundations of bargained authoritarianism in China. American Journal of Sociology, 118(6), 1475–1508. Scholar
  42. Leung, L. C., & Chan, K. W. (2012). Understanding the masculinity crisis: Implications for men’s services in Hong Kong. British Journal of Social Work, 44(2), 214–233. Scholar
  43. Leung, K., & Ip, O. (2007). Employee confidence, job satisfaction and age discrimination survey. Hong Kong: Department of Management, City University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  44. Louie, K. (2002). Theorising Chinese masculinity: Society and gender in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Louie, K. (2012). Popular culture and masculinity ideals in East Asia, with special reference to China. The Journal of Asian Studies, 71(4), 929–943. Scholar
  46. Lui, T. L. (2009). Hong Kong’s changing opportunities structures: Political concerns and sociological observations. Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, 5, 141–164. Scholar
  47. Lusher, D., & Robbins, G. (2009). Hegemonic and other masculinities in local social contexts. Men and Masculinities, 11, 387–423. Scholar
  48. Ma, N. (2011). Hong Kong democrats divide. Journal of Democracy, 22(1), 54–67. Scholar
  49. McDowell, L. (2002). Masculine discourses and dissonances: Strutting “lads,” protest masculinity, and domestic respectability. Environment and Planning D: Space and Society, 20(1), 97–119. Scholar
  50. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  51. Messerschmidt, J. W. (2012). Engendering gendered knowledge: Assessing the academic appropriation of hegemonic masculinity. Men and Masculinities, 15(1), 56–76. Scholar
  52. Mouffe, C. (2005). The return of the political. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  53. Nagel, J. (1998). Masculinity and nationalism: Gender and sexuality in the making of nations. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21(2), 242–226. Scholar
  54. Osburg, J. (2013). Anxious wealth: Money and morality among China’s new rich. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Osburg, J. (2016). Corruption, masculinity and jianghu ideology in the PRC. In L. Kam (Ed.), Changing Chinese masculinities: From imperial pillars of state to global real men (pp. 157–172). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pompper, D. (2010). Masculinities, the metrosexual, and media images: Across dimensions of age and ethnicity. Sex Roles, 63, 682–696. Scholar
  57. Riabov, O., & Riabova, T. (2014). The remasculinization of Russia? Gender, nationalism and the legitimation of power under Vladimir Putin. Problems of Post Communism, 61(2), 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rofel, L. (2007). Desiring China: Experiments in neoliberalism, sexuality, and public culture. Durham: Duke University Press.
  59. Shen, H. H. (2005). “The first Taiwanese wives” and “the Chinese mistresses:” the international division of labour in familial and intimate relations across the Taiwan Strait. Global Networks, 5, 419–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Strier, R. (2014). Fatherhood in the context of political violence. Men and Masculinities, 9, 5–22.Google Scholar
  61. Sung, S., & Pascall, G. (2014). Gender and welfare states in East Asia: Confucianism and gender equality? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Scholar
  62. Uretsky, E. (2016). Occupational hazards: Sex, business, and HIV in post-Mao China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Wade, J. C. (2000). Male reference group identity dependence: Support for construct validity. Sex Roles, 43, 323–340. Scholar
  64. Walker, G. W. (2006). Disciplining protest masculinity. Men and Masculinities, 9, 5–22. Scholar
  65. West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125–151. Scholar
  66. World Health Organization. (2014). Preventing suicide: A global perspective. Retrieved from
  67. Yang, G. (2000). The liminal effects of social movements: Red guards and the transformation of identity. Sociological Forum, 15(3), 379–406. Scholar
  68. Yeh, K. H. (2009). The dual filial piety model in Chinese culture: Retrospect and prospects. Indigenous Psychological Research in Chinese Societies, 32, 101–148. Scholar
  69. Yeh, K. H., Yi, C., Tsao, W., & Wan, P. (2013). Filial piety in contemporary Chinese societies: A comparative study of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. International Sociology, 28(3), 277–296. Scholar
  70. Yuval-Davis, N. (1997). Gender and nation. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  71. Zeng, J. (2016). Feminism and genesis of the citizen intelligentsia in China. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.Google Scholar
  72. Zheng, T. (2012). Female subjugation and political resistance: From literati to entrepreneurial masculinity in the globalizing era of postsocialist China. Gender, Place & Culture, 19(5), 652–669. Scholar
  73. Zheng, T. (2015). Masculinity in crisis: Effeminate men, loss of manhood, and the nation-state in postsocialist China. Etnogràfica, 19(2), 347–365. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Petula Sik Ying Ho
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stevi Jackson
    • 2
  • Jun Rene Lam
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social Work & Social AdministrationThe University of Hong KongPok Fu LamHong Kong
  2. 2.Centre for Women’s StudiesUniversity of YorkYorkUK
  3. 3.Department of Social Work & Social AdministrationThe University of Hong KongPok Fu LamHong Kong

Personalised recommendations