BUDDHISM AND SEXUALITY IN CHINA
Most Buddhist schools denied sexual desire, and traditionally Buddhist monks have been celibate. But, it is not the case of the school of Mi-tsung (Mantrayana, or Tantrism). Sex was the major subject of Mi-tsung. Mi-tsung was very similar with some sects of Taoism, and stressed the sexual union. Even Mi-tsung said that Buddhatvam yosidyonisamas-ritam (“Buddheity is in the female generative organs”). In China, “ Tibetan Esoteric Sect” (Tibetan Mi-tsung) flourished in the Yuan Dynasty, especially from the time of Kubilai Khan (A.D. 1216-1294). Women call their vagina the “yoni” and invoked “Tantric practitioners”. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Through Buddhist-nun monasteries, Buddhism exerted a strong influence for the equality of men and women. Although the monasteries were skeptically regarded by the Confucianist elite - one of the common defamations being that the nuns were involved in lesbian sexual practices - Buddhism gave women another role model besides that of wife and mother. This was especially true for elderly widows who were entering Buddhist orders. On the other hand, their influence on the priesthood seems to be difficult to detect. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 */ ]
Confucianism and Sexuality and Love
In sexual matters, Confucianism is quite “puritanic.” A “good” young girl is not only expected to keep her virginity until she gets married and to get married only once in her life, she is not supposed to make herself attractive, even to her own husband. Confucianism does not consider sexual activity as wrong, but love and tenderness are treated with mistrust, and physical displays of them are considered at least questionable. This rule applies not only to showing affection in public, but also to its display in the privacy of the home. As early as in the seventeenth century, male and female poets protested against it. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 ]
Confucianism is based on writings which are attributed to Confucius (551-479 B.C.), the first great educator, philosopher, and statesman of China, and his followers, including Mencius (372-289 B.C.), a political thinker who believed in democracy. Confucianism dominated Chinese sociopolitical life for most of Chinese history. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
Confucius and Mencius themselves expressed rather a positive view of human sexuality. For example. The Master (Confucius) said, “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves sex” (Confucian Analects Book IX, chapter 17); “Food and drink and the sexual relation between men and women compose the major human desires” (The Book of Rites, one of the major Confucianism classics, chapter 9). In The Works of Mencius, one of the major Confucianism classics (book 6, part 1), we find: “Eating food and having sex are both of human nature.” =
It was not until much later that sexual conservatism became a feature of Neo-Confucian philosophy. The crucial change was initiated by several famous Neo-Confucianists, including Ch’eng I (1033-1107), and Chu Hsi (1130-1200). Ch’eng I summarized the Neo-Confucian viewpoint as “Discard human desires to retain the heavenly principles.” =
When asked whether it was justifiable for a widow to remarry when pressed by poverty and hunger, he replied, “It is a small matter to die as a result of starvation, but a serious evil to lose chastity toward one’s dead husband by remarrying.” Chu Hsi stressed the inferiority of women and the strict separation of the sexes, and forbade any manifestation of heterosexual love outside of wedlock. Chu Hsi laid the foundations of Neo-Confucianism as the sole state religion. It encouraged a puritanical and strictly authoritarian form of government, including the establishment of censorship and thought control. However, the government had difficulty enforcing these views on the lower class or sciao-ren (the non-exemplary class of people). =
Taoism and Sexuality and Love
Taoism had some definite ideas about sex. For example, the wife’s purpose is to please the husband and conceive more children. If the wife is barren, the husband can have a concubine or mistress to bear children, especially sons, for him.
Daoism, derived from the doctrine of Lao Tzu, is based essentially on the participation of man in the universal order. This order depends on the equilibrium of the two elements Yin and Yang, which represent the constant duality of nature: rest and motion, liquid and solid, light and darkness, concentration and expansion, and material and spiritual. The material world being imbued with these two principles, the Daoist believes that whoever is able to act according to these principles could become the master of the world. This belief, in turn, has promoted a kind of mysticism, reflected in the magical practices of certain shamans who claim to possess the secret of the universe. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 */]
The Daoist refrains from troubling the natural order of things; on the contrary, he conforms to it in every circumstance. He considers the taking of initiatives to be a waste of time and energy. In respecting the basic Daoist doctrines of passivity and absence of care, he avoids the active life. These doctrines, which were adopted by many Confucian scholars as well, are summed up in the Daoist maxim: “Do nothing and everything will be accomplished simultaneously.” The supreme divinity of Daoism is the Emperor of Jade. With his ministers of Death and Birth, he controls the destiny of men. The cult is replete with incantations, charms, and amulets, which once made for prosperous trade, with the shamans intervening in every possible occasion in life. */
Taoism has both a philosophical and a religious tradition in China. Although philosophical Taoism flourished early in the fifth century B.C., Taoism as a religion did not develop until the first century A.D. Next to Confucianism, it ranks as the second major belief system in traditional Chinese thought. The philosophy of Taoism outlined in the Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching offers a practical way of life. Both philosophical and religious Taoism included in their classics some positive ideas about sex. For example, from Lao tzu’s Tao Te Ching. “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing male. When male and female combine, all things achieve harmony”. And from Taiping Jing (The Canon of Peace and Tranquility), an early classic of religious Taoism: “Through the way of copulation between husband and wife, the Yin and Yang all obtain what they need and Heaven and Earth become peace and tranquility;” “Based on one Yin and one Yang, Heaven allows both man and woman to exist and to be sexually attractive to each other, therefore life can be continued.” [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
Tao and Sex and Traditional Sexual Symbols
According to Taoism sex and spirituality are linked through the union of the cosmic forces of ying and yang. Taoist believe that ying and yang exist within each individual and "having sex, especially in the wilderness, was a way to cultivate oneself and prolong life."
In the Taoist sex manual, The Plain Girl's Secret Way, men were told to have a lot of sex but not come very often. That way their yang (the male essence, the source of masculine strength, power and longevity) would remain within their bodies. Life-extending Taoist sexual practices also encouraged men to have a lot of sex because the waters of the yin (vaginal secretions) helped strengthen a declining yang.
These beliefs live on in shenkui, a mental disorder found in China and Taiwan characterized by extreme feelings of panic and anxiety associated with complaints attributed to perceived death caused by loss of semen.
In China the dragon sometimes symbolizes a penis, and a lotus flower, a vagina. The vagina also is sometimes referred to as the jade gate and jade generally has sexual connotations in China. Some Chinese believe that jade is the petrified semen of a dragon. The Imperial sex handbook described "Jade Girl Playing the Flute" (oral sex) and Fish Interlocking Their Scales (woman on top).
Yin and Yang and Sexuality and Love
Yin-Yang is a major philosophical concept developed during the Zhou dynasty (1027-221 B.C.). The concepts of Yin and Yang may be found in the majority of important Chinese classics, including such a major classic of Confucianism as the I-Ching, and such a Taoist classic as the Tao-te-ching. Thus, the Yin-Yang philosophy is among the most important unifying concepts of Chinese culture. According to the Yin-Yang philosophy, all objects and events are the products of two elements, forces, or principles: Yin, which is negative, passive, weak, and destructive; and Yang, which is positive, active, strong, and constructive. It was very natural for the Yin-Yang doctrine to become the basis of Chinese sexual philosophy. The Chinese have used the words Yin and Yang to refer to sexual organs and sexual behavior for several thousand years. Thus Yin Fu, “the door of Yin” means vulva, Yin Dao, “the passageway of Yin” means vagina, and Yang Ju, “the organ of Yang” means penis. The combination of these words into the phrases Huo Yin Yang or Yin Yang Huo He - ”the union or combination of Yin and Yang” - describes the act of sexual intercourse. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
In the context of sexuality, yang is identified with semen or seminal essence (jing, yin), which is why Daoists are encouraged to have intercourse often but without ejaculating. The aim is to build up jing but retain yang through not ejaculating, but at the same time enabling the woman to reach orgasm and give off her yin essence, which additionally strengthens the man. Another Daoist practice is to get a young man and woman together and to gather up their sexual secretions and swallow them - a practice that is believed to prolong life for the Daoist. Jacobus X. (1898) reported that it was still very common at the end of the 1800s, although he did put it strongly as a “strange freak of eroticism” : “The old Celadon is accompanied by a servant or strong coolie, who copulates with a woman in his presence, and then retires ... When once the agent is retired, well and duly paid, the old debauchee is left alone with the woman, who is still resting upon the field of battle. Then the man approaches, and eagerly receives in bucca sua, the liquid which runs ex vulva feminae. */
Jing Pin Mei and Erotic Literature in China
China has a rich history of erotic literature and painting. China's most famous examples of erotic literature---The Prayer Mat of the Flesh and Jin Ping Mei ("The Golden Lotus")---were written in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty.
Jin Ping Mei is a 2,000 page novel about the sexual exploits of a horny young merchant, Hs-men (pronounced semen), and his mistress, Golden Lotus. Because some of the descriptions are very explicit, the story has been banned since the Ming Period. In one passage, for example, Hs-men tosses a plum into Golden Lotus's vagina, moves it around until she has an orgasm, and then eats the plum. In the Mao era, the Communist government edited out sexy parts of Jin Ping Mei but unedited versions were available if you had connections.
Golden Lotus was an unhappy housewife before she became Hs-men's lover. "Her hair was black as a raven's plumage; her eyebrows mobile as the kingfisher and as curved as the new moon. Her almond eyes were clear and cool, and her cherry lips most inviting...Her face had the delicate roundness of a silver flower, and her fingers as slender as the tender shoots of a young onion. Her waist was as narrow as a willow, and her white belly yielding and plump. Her feet were small and tapering; her breasts soft and luscious. One other thing there was, black-fringed, grasping, dainty and fresh, but the name I may not tell...it had all the fragrance and tenderness of fresh-made pastry, the softness and appearance of a new-made pie."
Jennifer Schuessler wrote in the New York Times, Sex “has fed fascination with the book, even though few people could actually read it. In Mao’s China, access to the unexpurgated edition was restricted to government high officials (who were urged to study its depiction of imperial corruption) and select academics. Today, complete versions remain hard to find in China, though it is easily downloadable on Chinese Internet sites. The level of raunch remains startling even to some Western literary scholars — particularly the infamous Chapter 27, in which the merchant, named Ximen Qing, puts his most depraved concubine to particularly prolonged and imaginative use. [Source: Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, November 18, 2013 >]
“When I taught it, my students were flabbergasted, even though they knew about the novel’s reputation,” said Patricia Sieber, a professor of Chinese literature at Ohio State University. “S-and-M, the use of unusual objects as sex toys, excessive use of aphrodisiacs, sex under all kinds of nefarious circumstances — you name it, it’s all there.” “The novel’s sex has also inspired some modern reconsiderations. Amy Tan’s new novel, “The Valley of Amazement,” features a scene in which an aging courtesan in early-20th-century Shanghai is asked to re-enact a particularly degrading sex scene from this classic. “I can’t say any of the characters are likable,” Ms. Tan said of the older novel. “But it’s a literary masterpiece.”
Juicy Passages from the Jin Ping Mei
One night after Hs-men returned home drunk, Golden Lotus "played delicately with his weapon, but it was as limp as cotton wool and had not the slightest spirit. She tossed about on the bed, consumed with passionate desire, almost beside herself. She squeezed his prick, moved it up and down, put down her head and sucked. It was in vain. This made her wild beyond description."
Later she gave him three pills with a strong aphrodisiac that kept his penis erect while he was asleep. When she climbed on top of him "her body seemed to melt away with delight...she moved up and down about 200 times. At first it was difficult because it was dry but soon the love juices flowed and moistened her cunt. Hs-men let her do everything she wished, but he himself was perfectly inert. She could bear it no longer...She twisted herself towards his penis which was completely inside her cunt, only his two balls staying outside."
"She stroked his penis with her hand, and it was wonderfully good. The juices flowed and in a short time she had used up five napkins. Even then Hs-men kept on, although the tip of his penis was swollen and hotter than a live coal. It was so tight that he asked the woman to take off the ribbon, but his penis remained stiff and he told her to suck. She bent over and with her red lips moved the head on his prick to and fro, and sucked."
"Suddenly white semen poured out, like living silver, which she took in her mouth and could not swallow fast enough. At first it was just semen, soon it became blood which flowed without stopping. Hs-men had fainted and his limbs were stiff and outstretched...Golden Lotus was frightened. She hastily gave him some red dates. Blood followed semen, and the blood was followed by freezing air. Golden Lotus was terrified. She threw her arms around him and cried, 'darling, how do you feel?'...Readers, there is a limit to our energy, but none to our desires. A man who sets no bounds to his passion cannot live more than a short time..."
New Translation of Jin Ping Mei
Jennifer Schuessler wrote in the New York Times, “When David Tod Roy entered a used-book shop in the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1950, he was a 16-year-old American missionary kid looking for a dirty book. His quarry was an unexpurgated copy of “The Plum in the Golden Vase,” an infamously pornographic tale of the rise and fall of a corrupt merchant, written by an anonymous author in the late 16th century. Mr. Roy had previously encountered only an incomplete English translation, which switched decorously into Latin when things got too raunchy. But there it was — an old Chinese edition of the whole thing — amid other morally and politically suspect items discarded by nervous owners after Mao Zedong’s takeover the previous year. “As a teenage boy, I was excited by the prospect of reading something pornographic,” Mr. Roy, now 80 and an emeritus professor of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago, recalled. “But I found it fascinating in other ways as well.” [Source: Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, November 18, 2013 ]
“So have readers who have followed Mr. Roy’s nearly 40-year effort to bring the complete text into English, which has just reached its conclusion with the publication by Princeton University Press of the fifth and final volume, “The Dissolution.” The novelist Stephen Marche, writing in The Los Angeles Review of Books, praised Mr. Roy’s masterly rendering of a richly encyclopedic novel of Ming dynasty manners, which Mr. Marche summed up, Hollywood-pitch style, as “Jane Austen meets hard-core pornography.” And Mr. Roy’s scholarly colleagues are no less awe-struck at his erudition, which seemingly leaves no literary allusion or cultural detail unannotated.
“He is someone who believes it’s his obligation to know absolutely everything about this book, even things that are only mentioned passingly,” said Wei Shang, a professor of Chinese literature at Columbia University. “It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to complete this kind of project.” The range and precision of Mr. Roy’s 4,400-plus endnotes would give one of Nabokov’s obsessive fictional scholars a run for his money. They touch on subjects ranging from the novel’s often obscure literary references and suggested further reading on “the use of impatiens blossoms and garlic juice to dye women’s fingernails” to obscure Ming-era slang whose meaning, Mr. Roy notes with pride, had long eluded even native Chinese-speaking scholars.
“It’s not just a translation, it’s also a reference book,” said Yihong Zhang, a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who is translating some of Mr. Roy’s notes into Chinese as part of his doctoral dissertation at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “It opens a window onto Chinese literature and culture.”
Translating Jin Ping Mei
Jennifer Schuessler wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Roy dates the beginning of his work on the translation to the 1970s. By then, a revision of Clement Egerton’s 1939 English translation had put the Latinized dirty bits into English. But that edition still omitted the many quotations from earlier Chinese poetry and prose, along with, Mr. Roy said, much of the authentic flavor. [Source: Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, November 18, 2013 ]
“So he began copying every line borrowed from earlier Chinese literature onto notecards, which eventually numbered in the thousands, and reading every literary work known to have circulated in the late 16th century, to identify the allusions. The first volume appeared in 1993 to rave reviews; the next came a long eight years later. Some colleagues urged him to go faster and scale back the notes. At one point, a Chinese website even reported that he had died amid his labors.
Just as Mr. Roy was completing the final volume, he received a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, which ruled out any prospect of preparing a condensed edition, as his Chicago colleague Anthony Yu did with his acclaimed translation of “Journey to the West,” another marathon-length Ming classic. “I miss having something to concentrate on,” Mr. Roy said. “But unfortunately, I’m suffering from virtually constant fatigue.”
Literary and Historical Value of Jin Ping Mei
Jennifer Schuessler wrote in the New York Times, “ the “Chin P’ing Mei,” as the novel is known in Chinese, is about far more than just sex, scholars hasten to add. It was the first long Chinese narrative to focus not on mythical heroes or military adventures, but on ordinary people and everyday life, chronicled down to the minutest details of food, clothing, household customs, medicine, games and funeral rites, with exact prices given for just about everything, including the favor of bribe-hungry officials up and down the hierarchy. [Source: Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, November 18, 2013 ]
“It’s an extraordinarily detailed description of a morally derelict and corrupt society,” Mr. Roy said. It may take a certain stubbornness on the part of ordinary readers to make it all the way through this five-volume work, given its Proustian length (nearly 3,000 pages), DeMille-worthy cast (more than 800 named characters) and “Ulysses”-like level of quotidian detail.
“Scholars credit Mr. Roy with rescuing “The Plum in the Golden Vase” from its reputation in the West as merely exotic pornography and opening the door to a more political reading of the book.It’s one that already comes easily to commentators in China, where the novel is seen as holding up a mirror to the tales of political and social corruption that fill newspapers now. “You can find people like Ximen Qing easily today,” said Mr. Zhang in Pittsburgh. “Not just in China, but everywhere.”
Image Sources: All Posters com, Search Chinese Art except 3000 B.C. vessel, Columbia University, and marriage poster, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2015