right China has a rich history of erotic literature and painting. China's most famous examples of erotic literature — “Rouputuan, (The Carnal Prayer Mat) and “Jin Ping Mei” ("The Golden Lotus") — were written in the 16th century as the the Ming Dynasty was transitioning to the Qing Dynasty. Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”:“Though the one surviving extant text is riddled with errors from an ignorant scribe, the Tang-era "Poetic Essay on the Supreme Joy of the Sexual Union of Yin and Yang and Heaven and Earth" attempted to record the entire range of sexual behavior, including topics of beauty, peasants' sex lives, monastery sex, wedding night tales, puberty, and tales of rape. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties, literati with unparalleled leisure and erudition dallied in regions near the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in eastern China near Hangzhou and Shanghai. Erotic novels, women's poems, and widely varying literary works provide the best picture of the lives of everyday lives of Chinese in any dynasty. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Fang-fu Ruan wrote in “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: Among the oldest of the surviving Chinese manuscripts are those dealing with sex. The two oldest extant texts, dating from 168 B.C., were discovered in 1973 in Chang-sa, Hunan Province, at Tomb No. 3. The interment included 14 medical texts, three of them sexological works: Shi-wan (Ten Questions and Answers), He-yin-yang-fang (Methods of Intercourse between Yin and Yang), and Tian-xia-zhi-tao-tan (Lectures on the Super Tao in the Universe). [Source: Fang-fu Ruan, “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

Sex positions mentioned in Yuan and Ming- era erotica such as the Chi pozi zhuan “”Biography of a Foolish Woman”), Ruyi Jun zhuan (“The Lord of Perfect Satisfaction”) and the Xiuta yeshi (“An Unofficial History of the Embroidered Couch”) include “The Dragon Turns” (missionary position); “White Tiger Leaps” (woman entered from behind); “Fish Interlock their scales” (woman on top); “Fish Eye to Eye” (side by side); “Approaching the Fragrant Bamboo (both standing); “Jade Girl Playing the Flute” (fellatio); and win Dragons Teasing the Phoenix” (one woman with two men simultaneously). Among others are “Rooster Descends on the Ring”, “Cicada Clings”, “Blue Phoenixes Dance in Pairs” “Monkey Wrestles”, “Rabbit Nibbles the Hair”,“Seagull Hoovers” and “Butterflies Somersault”.

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.”

Websites and Sources: USA Today piece ; Sex Incidents in China ; Sex Industry ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: “Sexual Life of Ancient China”, written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; “The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History” by Professor Liu Dalin and “Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture” by Fang-ju Juan, The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture ; Chinese Sex Literature ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China

Yin and Yang Sexology in Early Chinese Literature

Fang-fu Ruan wrote in “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: Key to Chinese sexology is the concept of yin and yang. 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, female, and destructive; and yang, which is positive, active, strong, male, and constructive. It is quite possible that the two sexes — whether conceived of in terms of female and male essences, the different social roles of women and men, or the structural differences between female and male sex organs — are not only the most obvious results of the workings of yin and yang forces, but major sources from which the ancient Chinese derived these concepts. Certainly, it was very natural for yin-yang doctrine to become the basis of Chinese sexual philosophy. [Source: Fang-fu Ruan“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

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, he yin yang, or yin yang huo he (the union or combination of yin and yang) describes the act of sexual intercourse. These words were also used in constructing more abstract sexual terminology. According to Han Shu (History of the Former Han Dynasty) the earliest terms referring to classical Chinese sexology were yin dao (or yin tao) meaning "the way of yin, " and yang yang fang, meaning "the method for maintaining yang in good condition."

Because the yin-yang theory holds that the harmonious interaction of male and female principles is vital, it is the basis of an essentially open and positive attitude toward sexuality. The following passage from the classic I Ching (Book of Changes), which is one of the earliest and most important Chinese classics equally cherished in both the Confucian and the Taoist traditions is representative of the traditional sex-positive viewpoint: "The constant intermingling of Heaven and Earth gives shape to all things. The sexual union of man and woman gives life to all things." Thus, any time a man and woman join in sexual intercourse, they are engaging in an activity that reflects and maintains the order of nature.

Art of the Bedchamber

Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”:“Taoists also practiced an "inner alchemy, " or sexual science, that produced libraries of sex manuals, the first of which are now lost to history. The Historic Records of the Western Han Dynasty (221 B.C.-220 A.D.) listed eight such sex manuals under the category fang zhong, or "Art of the Bedchamber." This list is apparently only the first record of what already had a long history. Also referred to as the "School of Yin and Yang" or the "Way of the Yin, " these first eight texts are all ascribed to ancient sage kings of old or the somewhat mythical founder of Taoism, Lao Zi (Lao Tzu). They seem to have been widely circulated and, at their earliest stages, were concerned with longevity and immortality through sex acts. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Fang-fu Ruan wrote in “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: Pan Ku (Ban Gu, 32-92 A.D.), one of China's greatest historians, included in his Han Shu (The History of the Former Han Dynasty) a special heading for fang zhong (literally "inside the bedchamber, " and usually translated as "the art of the bedchamber, " "the art of the bedroom, " or sometimes as "the sexual techniques"), immediately after his medical works.[Source: Fang-fu Ruan“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

Pan Ku concluded his list of fang zhong with a commentary which is the earliest extant essay on Chinese sexology: The Art of the Bedchamber constitutes the climax of human emotions, it encompasses the Super Tao. Therefore the Saint Kings of antiquity regulated man's outer pleasures in order to restrain his inner passions and made detailed rules for sexual intercourse. A familiar quotation says: "The ancient Kings created sexual pleasure thereby to regulate all human affairs." If one regulates his sexual pleasure he will feel at peace and attain a high age. If, on the other hand, one abandons himself to its pleasure, disregarding the rules set forth in the above-mentioned treatises, one will fall ill and harm one's very life. [Translated by R.H. van Gulik.]

Pan Ku's work demonstrates that more than 2,000 years ago, sexology was not only a well-developed academic field, but a respected subject of inquiry. Unfortunately, the books Pan Ku listed were all lost in the many wars and repeated book-burnings which mar China's history.

Ancient Chinese Sex Manuals

In different periods from the Han dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 M.E.) until the end of the Tang dynasty (618-907 M.E.), more than 20 sex handbooks were produced and circulated. Some of them are still available including:
Su Nu Ching (Canon of the Immaculate Girl)
Su Nu Fang (Prescriptions of the Immaculate Girl)
Yu Fang Chih Yao (Important Matters of the Jade Chamber)
Yu Fang Pi Chueh (Secret Instructions concerning the Jade Chamber)
Tung Hsuan Tzu (Book of the Mystery-Penetrating Master)
These manuals offer detailed advice on the selection of sexual partners, flirting, and every aspect of coitus, including foreplay, orgasm, and resolution. [Source: Fang-fu Ruan“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: “By the Sui Dynasty (581-618), these sexology texts were omitted from the historical record. Instead, a new category of sex manuals emerged under "medical books." These handbooks recount the story of the sexual initiation of the legendary Yellow Emperor, a descendant of the fabled sage kings of remote antiquity, who founded China's first dynasty, the Xia, two thousands years bce. He had three immortal sex education teachers, the Dark Girl, the Plain Girl, and Peng Zu, who initiated him into the entirety of sexual knowledge. These girls instructed later emperors and other males about the "jade stalk, " which "rises at her yin influence" for penetration of the "jade gate." These secrets, so the story goes, had been transmitted from woman to woman since the Han Dynasty. These girls taught the Yellow Emperor everything from the reason for different penis sizes to the importance of preserving ones vital essence and collecting the essence of others. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“In later dynasties, these sexual manuals would all but disappear from circulation, being replaced by sexual literature and art. When sex manuals were listed as medical texts in later imperial histories, they concerned methods of producing offspring, not immortality.

Passages from Ancient Chinese Sex Manuals

One description from the "Art of the Bedchamber" goes: “The celebrants, not to exceed twenty in number, first bathe, burn incense, and offer salutations to the officiating priest . . . and invocations to the gods. The participants now begin meditative visualizations based on colored [qi] (white, yellow, red, green, and black) corresponding to the five directions and five organs. The couples kneel facing each other and carry out more . . . visualizations and petitions to the deities for health and salvation. Following this, the priest helps the supplicants remove their garments and loosen their hair. Now the couples interlace their hands in various ritual patterns and recite formulas, followed by a series of gestures with hands and feet relating to the eight trigrams, twelve Earthly Branches, and organs. [Source: Douglas Wile, Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992], pp. 25-26).

On the main activities a sixth-century text reads: “ Raising his hand and inhaling living [qi] through his nose, he swallows yang according to the numbers 3, 5, 7, and 9, and recites: "May the [dao] of heaven be set in motion." The second partner now recites: "May the [dao] of earth be set in motion." Following this he enters the "gate of birth" to a depth of half the head, while reciting: "Oh celestial deities and immortals, I would shake heaven and move earth that the 'five lords' . . . might hear my plea." Now the second partner recites: "Oh, celestial deities and '[dantian] palace' . . . I would move earth and shake heaven that the five deities of the body might each be strong." He then penetrates to the greatest depth, closes his mouth and inhales living [qi] through his nose and exhales through his mouth three times. Gnashing his teeth, he recites: "May none and one be born in the midst." Now he withdraws and returns to a depth of half a head. (Quoted in Wile, Art of the Bedchamber, p. 26).

The Taoist sex handbook True Manual of the "Perfected Equalization" states: In the Taoist master's sexual "battle" (to give the woman an orgasm while avoiding ejaculation), his enemy is the woman. He should begin by touching her vulva, kissing her lips and tongue, and touching her breasts, making her highly aroused. But he should keep himself under control, his mind as detached as if it were floating in the azure sky, his body sunk into nothingness. He must close his eyes, avoid looking at the woman, and maintain an utter nonchalance so that his own passion is not roused. When she makes sexual movements, the man must remain still rather than take any action. When her hand actively touches the penis, the man avoids her caress. The man can employ stillness and relaxation, to overcome the woman's excitement and movement. [Source: Fang-fu Ruan, “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

Erotic Fiction in China

Wen Huang wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”:Erotic literature has a long history in China and it includes all literary forms: poetry, prose, drama, short stories, and novels. Sun Kaiti's A Catalogue of Chinese Works of Popular Fiction, published in 1932, is the only known bibliography that included a pornography category. Under this heading there were listed forty-two books, some of which were not examined by Sun because of his lack of access to them or because they were simply nonexistent at his time (other reference works documented their prior existence). Story or fiction writing was considered, in Chinese tradition, less prestigious than the writing of formal classics. Therefore, Chinese literary authors received no official recognition and in fact would write anonymously. With erotic literature, authors had all the more reason to hide their identities. Bai Yuan Chuan (One hundred love stories), Deng Yue Yuan (The lamp and moon), and Hua Ying Jin Zhen (Fragrant flower) were listed in Sun's catalogue. The most influential works are Su E Pian (The lady of the moon), Jin Ping Mei (Golden lotus), and Rou Pu Tuan (Prayer mats of the flesh); without exception, the authorship of all remain unknown. [Source: Wen Huang, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“Su E Pian was published in 1610 during the Ming dynasty. This rare book contains ninety illustrations that describe forty-three lovemaking positions and the landscape of the lovemaking locations. The preface, by Fang Hu Xian Ke ("The Immortal Square Pot"), mentions the author as being Ye Hua Sheng, another pen name. The novel features Su E, a talented and well-versed young woman, who is one of the concubines of Master Wu. Su E and Wu perform sexual acts in forty-three forms, each of which are poetically named by Su E. The author uses elegant language to describe the outdoor and indoor scenes and how the couple's sexual imagination and practice are inspired and aroused by the natural surroundings. Some sexual positions are given titles, such as Flowers Longing for Butterflies, The Union of Ying and Yang, Boat Widthwise over the Ferry, Lightless on the Palm, and Stopping the Horse to Pull the Saddle. The only complete copy survives at the Kinsey Institute Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

“Rou Pu Tuan was written by Li Yu in 1634 and prefaced by the author, who believed that sex acts between a man and a woman benefited one's longevity and that sexual pleasure mitigated the suffering and miseries of daily life. According to Li Yu, eunuchs and Buddhist monks, who lacked such sex acts and pleasure, often had shorter lives as a consequence. The protagonist of Yu's story is a young scholar wanting to enlighten his wife about sexual pleasures. Though he makes many daring and desperate attempts to change her sexual attitudes, he always fails. That is until he purchases an album of erotic paintings. The album, by a well-known artist, contains thirty-six paintings, each of which correspond to a line in the Tang dynasty poem "Spring Reigns in all the Thirty-six Palaces." Using the album as a proper and valid sex education tool ensures the wife's sexual awakenings. The story continues with sexual acts among the husband, his wife, and other sexual partners. In the end, his sexual adventures get him into many troubles, and he retreats to a monastery as a devout Buddhist. There the abbot explains to him that his sexual experience was the necessary path for his salvation, thus, the prayer mat of the flesh.

“Jin Ping Mei is perhaps the best known Chinese erotic novel and was also published in the Ming dynasty. The novel uses colorful, colloquial language to tell the sexual stories of Ximen Qing and his numerous sexual partners and wives. In it, there are explicit descriptions of oral and anal intercourse as well as details about aphrodisiacs and sexual toys. This novel was the first fictional work to depict sexuality in a graphically explicit manner. It describes in detail the downfall of the Ximen clan during the years 1111-1127, the Southern Song dynasty. Jin Ping Mei is named for the three women of Ximen: Pan Jinlian (whose name means "Golden Lotus"), Li Pinger, and Pang Chunmei, a maid who rose to power within the family. A key moment in the novel, the seduction of the lascivious and adulterous Pan Jinlian, occurs early in the book and is taken from an episode in another well-known Chinese novel. After secretly murdering the husband of Pan, Ximen takes her as one of his wives. The story follows the domestic sexual struggles of the women within his clan as they clamor for prestige and influence while the Ximen clan gradually declines in power. Jin Ping Mei was reprinted in 1983 with much of its sexually explicit passages purged or modified.

“Whereas pieces of erotic literature were often well circulated underground to prevent prosecution, they were among the first novels to be burned or destroyed by government censors throughout Chinese history. Their existence, survival, and destruction were seldom documented or studied. Erotic literature was banned after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949; rules and regulations associated with public security directly outlawed pornography and obscene material. Individuals responsible for production or distribution of obscene or absurd books, periodicals, or picture books were punishable by detention and a fine. During the early years of the Chinese Communist/Socialist government and the Cultural Revolution, erotic expressions were nonexistent. After the 1970s, along with the market reforms and the open-door policy to the outside world, erotic literature was produced and circulated in the underground world but destroyed under regular surveillance by the government.

Hundreds of erotic fictional works were written in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Fang-fu Ruan has examined numerous classic Chinese stories and scored them on an eroticism Scale of 1-4 as follows: Score of 1: Fully erotic fiction — Works receiving this score consist primarily or entirely of explicit sexual descriptions. An example is Rou Putuan (Carnal Prayer Mat). Score of 2: Partially erotic fiction — Works receiving this score include a considerable amount of explicit sexual description. An example is Jing Pin Mei (The Golden Lotus). Score of 3: Incidentally erotic fiction — Works receiving this score contain only a small amount of explicit sexual description, which is incidental to the overall character of the novel. Examples are the famous Hung Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber), and 120 Hui Shiu Hu Chuan (The Water Margin of 120 Chapters). Score of 4: Nonerotic fiction — Works receiving this score contain no explicit sexual description. Examples are Hsi Yu Chi (Journey to the West, also known as Monkey), and San Kuo Yen Yi (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms). [Source: Fang-fu Ruan“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

Rou Putuan (“The Carnal Prayer Mat”)

“Rou Putuan”(“The Carnal Prayer Mat”) is a Chinese erotic novel published under a pseudonym but usually attributed to Li Yu (1610–1680, also known as Li Liweng), a Chinese playwright, novelist and publisher. Written in 1657 and published in 1693 during the Qing dynasty, it is divided into four volumes of five chapters each. “Jou Pu Tuan” is regarded as a well-crafted comedy and a classic of Chinese erotic literature It was published in Japan in 1705 as Nikubuton with a preface proclaiming it the greatest erotic novel of all time. [Source: Wikipedia]

“Rou Pu Tuan” is also known as “Jou Pu Tuan," Rouputuan”, “Huiquanbao” and “Juehouchan”, which in turn have been translated as “The Prayer Mat of Flesh” or “The Before Midnight Scholar”, The novel has long been banned and censored in China. Recent scholarship treats the work as an allegory, using explicit pornography to attack Confucian puritanism. The prologue comments that sex is healthy when taken as if it were a drug, but not as if it were ordinary food.

Set during the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century, the main character in the novel is Weiyangsheng (meaning "Unrealised One" or "Unfinished One"), a self-absorbed young scholar who claims he will one day marry the most beautiful woman in the world. He seeks neither fame nor glory, but instead pursues his passion for women and sex. One day Weiyangsheng visits a Buddhist temple, where he meets a monk, who notes that he exhibits wisdom but also lust. Weiyangsheng says that the monk's purpose in life is to sit on a zafu (or prayer mat) and meditate, while his desire is to marry a beautiful woman and sit on a "carnal prayer mat", the source of the novel’s title. On a trip Weiyangsheng befriends a bandit who introduces Weiyangsheng to a Taoist magician, who splices Weiyangsheng's penis with a dog's penis, causing it grow bigger and more 'powerful'. Weiyangsheng then has illicit sexual relationships with many married women.

Li Yu was born in Rugao, in present-day Jiangsu province. Although he passed the first stage of the imperial examination, he did not succeed in passing the higher levels. Li was an actor, producer, and director as well as a playwright, who traveled with his own troupe. In his time he was widely read, and appreciated for his daring and innovative works. His play Fēngzhēng wù ("Errors caused by the Kite") remains a favorite of Chinese Kun opera. His biographers described him a "writer-entrepreneur" and the “most versatile and enterprising writer of his time”. Li also wrote a book of short stories called Shí'èr lóu ( "Twelve Towers"), the tale Cuìy lóu ( "House of Gathered Refinements"), in which he addresses same-sex love, also explored in the collection Wúshēng xì ("Silent Operas" i.e. "novels") and his play The Fragrant Companion.

Quotes and Passages from Rou Putuan

One famous quote from “The Carnal Prayer Mat” goes: “If officials wish to apprehend adulterers, all they need to do is lie in wait for them at the sex aids shop. For the man has not been born who buys sex tonics and studies the bedroom art for the sole purpose of pleasing his wife.” Another goes: “Beauty while enjoying herself should allow her lover some rest to spare a thought for the morrow's sport - mightn't that be lust at its best?” [Source: Goodreads]

Knave is the bandit that befriends Weiyangsheng: At one point he says: "Aphrodisiacs can only give you endurance, they cannot increase your size or firmness. If a man with a large endowment uses one, he'll be like a gifted student taking a ginseng tonic at examination time; in the examination hall, his mental powers will naturally be enhanced, and he will be able to express himself well. But if a student with a very small endowment uses he'll be no better off than some empty-headed candidate who couldn't produce a line even if he swallowed pounds of the tonic. What is the point of his sitting in an examination cell for three days and nights, if all he wants to do is to hold out regardless of results? Moreover, most aphrodisiacs are a swindle."[Source:, Amitabha Mukerjee, book excerptise, August 26, 2010; “The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan) by Li Yu, translated by Patrick Hanan, Ballantine Books, 1990]

Knave had sex so often he says at one point: Gradually a vulva came to resemble some kitchen utensil and aroused about as much feeling in me." On seduction he said: "Talent and looks are sweeteners for the medicine of seduction. Like ginger and dates, their flavor helps get the medicine inside, but once it's in there, the medicine alone has to cure the disease; the ginger and dates are of no further use."

On inspecting Weiyangsheng penis the first time, Knave says: “Body a pearly white Head a crimson glow. Around the base thin grasses in dense profusion rise. In length all of two-inches In weight a good quarter-ounce. ... easy to confuse with at Tatar girl's pipe stem. Bent like a bow when all is done, suggesting a very plump dried shrimp. When I saw you looking about everywhere for women, I assumed you had a mighty instrument on you, something that would strike fear into the hearts of all who set eyes on it. That is why I hesitated to ask you to show it to me.

On Weiyangsheng’s operation to enlarge his penis by grafting on a dog's penis: the dog's penis must be cut off while in heat, and while it is so big that the female vagina has to be cut to extract it. It is then placed on a man's penis using "miracle dressing". But there is a 90 percent chance of success. Before the operation Weiyangsheng says: “Before I go under the knife, I ought to take this chance to find a woman and have a bout or two with her. It would act like a dose of rhubarb and purge all the emotional congestion from my system.”

Sex Acts in the Rou Putuan

After having his penis enlarged with the dog penis, Weiyangsheng soon begins having lots of sex. “From the moment she had gotten into bed, her feet had been up and her vagina open, waiting for his penis. I never suspected she was such a wanton, thought Weiyangsheng. But since she is, I won't need my gentler techniques. I shall have to start off with a show of strength. Raising himself a foot or more above her vagina, he thrust out his penis and attacked. She began squealing like a pig."Oh, no! Be gentle, please!" Weiyangsheng parted the labia with his hands and began to work his way slowly inside. But time went by and no more than an inch of the glans had penetrated."The gentler I am", he said,"the harder it is to enter. I'll need to be a bit more vigorous, I'm afraid. You'll just have to put up with a little pain before you start enjoying yourself."He attacked once more, which only set her squealing again. "Don't! Don't! Use some spit at least!" "Spit is for virgins only; that's an inviolable rule. We'll just have to do it dry." He attacked again. [Source:, Amitabha Mukerjee, book excerptise, August 26, 2010; “The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan) by Li Yu, translated by Patrick Hanan, Ballantine Books, 1990]

During another encounter: “He thrust and counterthrust in pitched battle, then insisted on withdrawing from the palace and driving into the lair itself. For the first dozen or two strokes the inside was slippery, but after fifty strokes it turned sticky. Cloud could bear the discomfort no longer and asked, "When I sleep with my husband, I find that things get easier as we go along. Why is it harder now than at the beginning?"

On a ménage à trois: “Embracing both girls, Weiyangsheng popped his tongue first into Lucky Pearl's mouth and let her suck it and then into Lucky Jade's and let her do the same. Then he brought all three mouths together to form the character pin, after which he took both tongues into his own mouth and sucked them... Placing his penis between her thighs, he gave her vulva such a massaging that the inside began to itch abominably and fluid naturally ran out, after which he felt like a heavily laden boat floated off a sand bar . 213

On yet another enocunter: With that he began a series of earthshaking thrusts. Although Pearl's vagina was deep, the heart of the flower was extremely shallow, and he needed to penetrate only an inch or two before touching and teasing it, so that every thrust hit the mark. After several hundred thrusts she was in a desperate state and kept crying out, "Dearest, I'm not just half dead, I'm completely dead! Have mercy!"

On sex with three sisters: “Weiyangsheng would get the three sisters to lie side by side, while he himself rolled here and there from body to body, never touching the bed, but making love wherever he fancied as he worked his way from one side to the other. Luckily none of the women possessed a great deal of sexual stamina, and after thrusts ranging in number from one hundred to two hundred, they would want to spend. When the woman in the middle had spent, he would move to the one on the left, and when she had spent, he would turn to her neighbour on the right.

Looking at Pictures of Sex Positions in the Rou Putuan

Jade Scent is initially repulsed by the paintings of sex. But then she begins to look at them a little. “She's beginning to show a little interest, thought Weiyangsheng. I was planning to start at once, but this is the first time her desires have been aroused and her appetite is still quite undeveloped. If I give her a taste of it now, she'll be like a starving man at the sight of food — she'll bolt it down without savoring it and so miss the true rapture; I think I'll tantalize her a little before mounting the stage. Pulling up an easy chair, he sat down and drew her into his lap, then opened the album and showed it to her picture by picture. This album differed from others in that the first page of each leaf contained the erotic picture and the second page a comment on it. The first part of the comment explained the activity depicted, while the rest praised the artist's skill. All the comments were in the hand of famous writers. [Source:, Amitabha Mukerjee, book excerptise, August 26, 2010; “The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan) by Li Yu, translated by Patrick Hanan, Ballantine Books, 1990]

Picture Number One. The '''Releasing the Butterfly in Search of Fragrance''' position. The woman sits on the Lake Tai rock with her legs apart while the man sends his jade whisk into her vagina and moves it from side to side seeking the heart of the flower. At the moment depicted, the pair are just beginning and have not reached the rapturous stage, so their eyes are wide open and their expressions not much different from normal.

Picture Number Two. The Letting the Bee Make Honey position. The woman is lying on her back on the brocade quilt, bracing herself on the bed with her hands and raising her legs aloft to meet the jade whisk and let the man know the location of the heart of the flower so that he will not thrust at random. At the moment depicted, the woman's expression is almost ravenous, while the man seems so nervous that the observer feels anxiety on his behalf. Supreme art at its most mischievous.

Picture Number Three. The '''Lost Bird Returns to the Wood position'''. The woman leans back on the embroidered couch with her legs in the air, grasping the man's thighs and driving them directly downward. She appears to have entered the state of rapture and is afraid of losing her way. The couple are just at the moment of greatest exertion and show extraordinary vitality. This scene has the marvelous quality of "flying brush and dancing ink."

Picture Number Four. The '''Starving Horse Races to the Trough position'''. The woman lies flat on the couch with her arms wrapped around the man as if to restrict his movements. While he supports her legs on his shoulders, the whole of the jade whisk enters the vagina, leaving not a trace behind. At the moment depicted, they are on the point of spending; they are about to shut their eyes and swallow each other's tongues, and their expressions are identical. Supreme art indeed.

Picture Number Five. The '''Two Dragons Who Fight Till They Drop position'''. The woman's head rests beside the pillow and her hands droop in defeat, as soft as cotton floss. The man's head rests beside her neck, and his whole body droops too, also as soft as cotton floss. She has spent, and her soul is about to depart on dreams of the future. This is a state of calm after furious activity. Only her feet, which have not been lowered but still rest on the man's shoulders, convey any trace of vitality. Otherwise, he and she would resemble a pair of corpses, which leads the observer to understand their rapture and think of lovers entombed together.

Having Sex After Being Aroused by the Pictures

After Jade Scent has perused the pictures: “He then inserted his jade whisk into her vagina before removing the clothes from the upper body. Why did he not start at the top and work his way down instead of taking off her trousers first, you ask. You must realize that V was an experienced lover. Had he taken her top off first, despite all her agitation, she would still have felt shy and indulged in all kinds of coy pretense. He chose instead to seize the key position first and let the rest of the territory fall into his hands later. [Source:, Amitabha Mukerjee, book excerptise, August 26, 2010; “The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan) by Li Yu, translated by Patrick Hanan, Ballantine Books, 1990]

"Dear heart, I know you are about to spend, but this chair is rather awkward. Let's finish up on the bed." ... He locked his arms securely around her waist and picked her up with her tongue still in his mouth and his jade whisk still in her vagina. Then, thrusting as he went, doing a Looking at the Flowers from Horseback routine, he walked her to the bed and deposited her across it. [As she is coming,] Weiyangsheng knew that her essence had come and he set the jade whisk against her flower's heart and with her legs trailing in the air, kneaded it with all his might until he ejaculated together with her. 52

Jing Pin Mei

“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 had all the fragrance and tenderness of fresh-made pastry, the softness and appearance of a new-made pie."

Suppression Erotic Fiction in the Mao Era

Fang-fu Ruan wrote in “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: Although the suppression of erotic fiction and other erotica began to occur in the 12th and 13th centuries and gradually became more oppressive, censorship became more extreme with the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, when a strict ban on erotic fiction and pornography of any kind was imposed nationwide. In the 1950s and 1960s, the policy of banning erotica was very effective. In the whole country, almost no erotic material was to be found. There were few difficulties implementing this policy until the mid-1970s. Then, the legalization and wide availability of pornography in several Western countries during the late 1960s and early 1970s, coupled with China's increasing openness to the outside world, increased the supply of such material available for underground circulation. [Source: Fang-fu Ruan“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Haeberle, Erwin J., Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

In recent years, the suppression of pornography has caused both political and legislative concerns. The number of arrests and the severity of sentences on people involved in pornography have increased in the attempt to suppress it entirely. In 1987, the deputy director of the National Publication Bureau announced that during the preceding three years 217 illegal publishers had been arrested. Perhaps the most massive arrests of 1987 occurred in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, where by October, 44 dealers in pornography had been arrested, and 80,000 erotic books and magazines confiscated. It was reported that an underground publishing house with 600 salesmen had been circulating erotic materials in 23 of China's 28 provinces, making a profit of one million yuan (in that period about U.S. $300,000) in two years.

In Shanghai, a railway station employee named Qin-xiang Liang was sentenced to death. Liang and four other persons organized sex-parties on nine different occasions showing pornographic videotapes and engaging in sexual activity with female viewers. The other organizers were sentenced to prison, some for life. The climax of this wave of repression seemed to occur on January 21, 1988, when the 24th session of the Standing Committee of the sixth National People's Congress adopted supplemental regulations imposing stiffer penalties on dealers in pornography. Under these regulations, if the total value of the pornographic materials is between 150,000 yuan and 500,000 yuan, the dealer shall be sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Deng Xiaoping, China's top leader, went further by declaring that some publishers of erotica deserved the death penalty. In a later nationwide strike against pornography, beginning on the thirty-seventh day after the Tienanmen Square massacre, on July 11, 1989, 65,000 policemen and other bureaucrats were mobilized to investigate publishing houses, distributors, and booksellers. By August 21, more than 11 million books and magazines had been confiscated, and about 2,000 publishing and distributing centers, and 100 private booksellers were forced out of business.

Modern Sex Literature in China

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Chinese writers grappled with the traumas of the Mao period, seeking to make sense of their suffering. As in the imperial era, most had been servants of the state, loyalists who might criticize but never seek to overthrow the system. And yet they had been persecuted by Mao, forced to labor in the fields or shovel manure for offering even the most timid opinions. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, October 26, 2017]

“Many wrote what came to be known as scar literature, recounting the tribulations of educated people like themselves. A few wrote sex-fueled accounts of coming of age in the vast reaches of Inner Mongolia or the imagined romanticism of Tibet. Almost all of them were self-pitying and insipid, produced by people who were aggrieved by but not reflective about having served a system that killed millions.

“Then, in 1992, an unknown writer published a strange novella that told the hilarious and absurd story of two young lovers exiled to a remote part of China near the Burmese border during the Cultural Revolution. There they have an extramarital affair, are caught by officials and forced to write endless confessions, tour the countryside in a minstrel show reenacting their sinful behavior, escape to the mountains, and return for more punishment, until one day they are released, unrepentant and slightly confused.

“The novella was immediately popular for its sex, which is omnipresent and farcical. But it isn’t described as something liberating during a period of oppression or as a force of nature unleashed by living in Chinese borderlands. Instead, sex is something the Communist Party wants to control — the apparatchiks want the couple to write endless self-criticism so they can drool over the purple prose — but the narrator and his lover still manage to imbue it with a deeper meaning that they understand only later, at the end of the story.

“After the sex, what was most shocking about the novella was how intellectuals are portrayed. They are almost as bad as the party hacks who control them. The novel’s hero cons his lover into the sack, picks fights with locals, dawdles at work, and is as tricky as his tormentors. The novella’s title added to the sense of the absurd. It was called The Golden Age, leaving many to wonder how this could have been anyone’s or any country’s best years.

Wang Xiaobo

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “And who was Wang Xiaobo, the author? He was not part of the state writers’ association and hadn’t published fiction before. But after its publication in Taiwan, The Golden Age was soon published in China and became an immediate success. Wang followed it with a torrent of novellas and essays. He was especially popular with college students, who admired his cynicism, irony, humor — and of course the sex. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, October 26, 2017]

“Just five years later, in 1997, Wang died of a heart attack at the age of forty- four. Few remarked on his passing. Most in China’s literary scene saw him as little more than an untrained writer who had become famous thanks to bawdy, coarse works. Abroad, almost none of his writing had been translated. He seemed destined to be little more than one of the many writers whose works are reduced to fodder for doctoral students researching an era’s zeitgeist.

“In the twenty years since Wang’s death, however, something remarkable has happened. In the West he remains virtually unknown; a single volume of his novellas has been translated into English. But Chinese readers and critics around the world now widely regard Wang as one of the most important modern Chinese authors. He is now included in every major anthology of recent Chinese fiction, and his essays are considered crucial to understanding China’s recent past. The Shanghai- based critic and literature professor Huang Ping told me that Wang now rivals the World War II — era Hong Kong writer Zhang Ailing (better known abroad as Eileen Chang) as the most popular modern Chinese author.

“Wang had no sense of this in his lifetime, according to Li Yinhe, his wife. “There weren’t too many literature reviews of his works in the mainstream, ” she said. “People just began to pay attention to his works and essays. We had no idea of his sales.” Huang has a slightly contrarian explanation of Wang’s popularity. While government critics see him as a libertarian, he can also be read as someone whose irony and sarcasm exonerates middle class Chinese from responsibility for social problems. Huang said that “instead of explaining how to overcome the issues, [Wang] tells you by his ironic tone that the issues have nothing to do with you.” And yet his books don’t read as if he were a practitioner of what Perry Link calls “daft hilarity” — a use of humor to avoid social criticism. In his fiction, the system and the officials are clearly misguided. His essays are also sharply critical of issues like nationalism. His support for marginalized members of society is now common among Chinese intellectuals in the post- Tiananmen era.

Image Sources: All Posters com, Search Chinese Art except 3000 B.C. vessel, Columbia University, and marriage poster, Landsberger Posters

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 October 2021

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