SEX AND EARLY CHINESE HISTORY
According to some old sayings “eating and having sex is human nature” and “after you have enough food and clothing, your thoughts turn to sex.." China was relatively open about sex until the Tang dynasty. After that a more moralistic, Confucian view on the subject was adopted.
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., sexarchive.info]
Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: "The area now called China has one of the world's longest and most detailed sexual cultures in the world” with more than 5,000 years of Chinese history recorded in the world's oldest continuous writing system. By piecing together clues from these scattered texts, classic books, works of art and archeological artifacts like oracle bones and bronze relics, there is evidence of a generally open early sexual culture during the first three millennia of dynastic history. It was not until after the fall of the Tang Dynasty in A.D. 906, when rising literacy and the advent of printing wrought a more balanced historical record, that one can begin to understand how average people performed gender and sexuality. This same period saw the rise of Neo-Confucian dynasties and a corresponding increase of sexual intolerance and disempowerment of women. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Chinese "Wedding Tiles" — paintings on silk with erotic pictures — have traditionally been used to educate new brides. Tiles from the Eastern Han period (A.D. 23-220) show a ménage à trois — one couple copulating and a man watching — beside a mulberry tree filled with monkeys.In the old days in northern China, men sometimes let travelers sleep with their wives in the belief, one Chinese scholar told National Geographic that "outsiders were distinguished and would bring their family new blood and a better future." On the subject Marco Polo wrote of a man who runs a boarding house and "tells his wife to do all that the stranger wishes...And the stranger stays with his wife in the house and does as he likes and lies with her in bed." Polo called the women who did this as “fair and gay and wanton.”
Everett Yuehong Zhang, a professor of East Asia studies at Princeton University, told the New York Times in Chinese history, ‘yu’” — sexual desire — “tended to have pejorative connotations.” Sex was often expressed by terms like ‘‘se’’ (lust) and ‘‘yin’’ (lewd or lascivious), words that persist throughout the Chinese-speaking world, including in Hong Kong and Taiwan. ‘‘Sexual pleasure had been a function of sexual practices before, but satisfaction of sexual desire had never been so publicly justified and encouraged until the post-Mao era, particularly since the 1990s,’’ he said. ‘‘Also, satisfying sexual desire in particular and satisfying individualized desire in general had never been so central’’ to Chinese people’s own sense of being ‘‘a modern person.’’ [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Sinosphere, New York Times, November 5, 2014 /~/]
See Separate Articles SEX IN CHINA: SURVEYS, VIRGINITY AND DRASTIC CHANGES factsanddetails.com SEX AND RELIGION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SEX AND LITERATURE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; SEXUAL ACTIVITY — ORAL, MARITAL AND EXTRA-MARITAL SEX — IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SEXUAL ACTIVITY AMONG CHINESE YOUTH factsanddetails.com ; SEX LAWS AND OFFENDERS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; ADULTERY AND INFIDELITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; SEX TOYS, APHRODISIACS AND SEX IN THE MEDIA IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; ; PROSTITUTION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; PROSTITUTION ISSUES IN CHINA: LAWS, CRACKDOWNS factsanddetails.com ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MARRIAGE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LGBT AND HOMOSEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; HISTORY OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND BISEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SEX EDUCATION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; PORNOGRAPHY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; LI YINHE AND SEX RESEARCH IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; FOOT BINDING factsanddetails.com ; CONCUBINES AND MISTRESSES IN CHINA factsanddetails.com JING PIN MEI, CHINA’S MOST FAMOUS EROTIC NOVEL factsanddetails.com ; TAOISM AND SEX factsanddetails.com
Websites and Sources: USA Today piece usatoday.com ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; 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 China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall ;
World's Oldest Pornography in Xinjiang
The world's oldest pornography is found among 5,500-year-old petroglyphs in Xinjiang in western China. Mary Mycio wrote in Slate.com, “The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs are bas-relief carvings in a massive red-basalt outcropping in the remote Xinjiang region of northwest China. The artwork includes the earliest—and some of the most graphic—depictions of copulation in the world. Chinese archeologist Wang Binghua discovered the petroglyphs in the late 1980s, and Jeannine Davis-Kimball, an expert on Eurasian nomads, was the first Westerner to see them. Though she wrote about the carvings in scholarly journals , they remain obscure. [Source: Mary Mycio, Slate.com, February 14, 2013, For more information see EARLY XINJIANG HISTORY factsanddetails.com]
“The cast of 100 figures presents what is obviously a fertility ritual (or several). They range in size from more than nine feet tall to just a few inches. All perform the same ceremonial pose, holding their arms out and bent at the elbows. The right hand points up and the left hand points down, possibly to indicate earth and sky.
“The few scholars who have studied the petroglyphs think that the larger-than-life hourglass figures that begin the tableau symbolize females. They have stylized triangular torsos, shapely hips and legs, and they wear conical headdresses with wispy decorations. Male images are smaller triangles with stick legs and bare heads. Ithyphallic is archeology-talk for “erect penis,” and nearly all of the males have one. A third set of figures appear to be bisexual. Combining elements of males and females, they are ithyphallic but wear female headwear, a decoration on the chest, and sometimes a mask. They might be shamans.
“The tableau is divided into four fully-developed scenes beginning at a height of 30 feet and progressing downward. In the first scene, nine huge women and two much smaller men dance in a circle, seemingly admonishing their viewers. This is the only scene without ithyphallic men—though to the side, a prone bisexual has an obvious erection. Two symbols near the center look like stallions fighting head to head.
“The second scene is packed with weird happenings. Women and men dance in a frenzy around a large ithyphallic bisexual about to penetrate a small hourglass female with an explicit vulva. His breastplate depicts a female head, with a conical headdress just like his. On the left, a second bisexual in a monkey mask is about to penetrate a small, faceless female. Nearby, a pair of striped animals lies prone amid bows and arrows, while at the other end, a giant two-headed female seems to lead the ritual. Disembodied heads abound, perhaps indicating spectators.
“The next scene is smaller and cruder. A chorus line of infants emerges from a small female being penetrated simultaneously by a male and a bisexual while three more ithyphallic males await their turn. Another figure holds a penis longer than he is tall, pointing it at the sole large woman in the scene. She stands in front of a platform on which a faceless body lies prone, wearing what looks like the striped animals’ fur. The body resembles the females copulating in this and the previous scene. It is the only figure shown with its arms lowered, probably indicating death in a ritual sacrifice. A small dog is also at the center.
“The last full scene contains no obvious women at all, though the floating bodies on the upper right may be female. Ithyphallic males and a bisexual take part in a frenzied dance. One male seems to have his arm around another while a loner near the bottom seems to be masturbating as a parade of tiny infants streams from his erection. It looks a lot like a frat party. There are four additional scenes that seem more like sketches. Two include a pair of dogs and another depicts male and female torsos with multiple heads. The last figure has a very long penis but the body of a woman and seems to be wearing a conical hat. I think of it as the artist, though no artist could have carved such a large, complex, and detailed tableau in a single prehistoric lifetime.
Roots of Chinese Beliefs About Sexuality
Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: “By the end of the Warring States Period (475? — 221 B.C.), after more than 1600 years of dynastic historical influence, many philosophical concepts that would influence Chinese gender, society, and sexuality for the next two and a half millennia had already been firmly established. Except for history's occasional female dowager empress, generally male emperors lived behind palace doors teeming with powerful eunuchs, and male and female suitors, all of whom competed for influence at court. Patrilocal and patrilinial families, where women surrendered their former identities and associations to subordinate themselves to a husband and his family, had become the norm. Men could have one wife, but many concubines. Men dominated affairs outside the home, whereas a woman's highest virtue was achieved through duties within. The concepts of inner and outer, light and dark, and the male and female structured these socio-political relations. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
“By the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.), some of these basic elements had complexified into the meaning now associated with the yin-yang symbol. Yang, as a pictograph, originally represented the sunny side of a hill, and yin the side in shadow. Yin evolved to mean everything from cosmic female power, yielding, and interior, to the receptive, deficient, cold, dark, yanic, earth, and moon; yang came to mean cosmic male force, initiation, exterior, heat, excess, penetration, light, phallic, heaven, and sun. As during sexual intercourse, the receptive partner receives yet supplies the dominant, so too the penetrating yang cannot exist except in relation to receptive yin, and vice-versa. As the moon receives and transmits the sun's rays, so do yin and yang carry on this cosmological dualism throughout time. Thus, gendered elements are seen in the very fabric of the universe.
“This yin-yang cosmology also forms the metaphysical basis in one of China's oldest and most influential texts, the Yi Jing (I Ching), or Book of Changes. The I Ching as a divination system explains worldly action, potential, and ultimately changes itself by quantifying the constant intermingling of heaven and earth as individual male and female elements. These elements are represented as lines, either broken (yin) or unbroken (yang). Three lines form a trigram; two trigrams form a hexagram.
For Information on Yin and Yang and Sexuality, See Separate Article SEX AND RELIGION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com
Chinese Erotic Art
Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: “Ancient archeological sources show that sexual art, toys, and gendered deities were widespread. One of the earliest female deities in popular religion, Xiwangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West, emerged during the Han Dynasty, when other gendered concepts entered art. Dildos of jade, wood, ivory, or plants that swelled when wet have existed for millennia. 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. Ming literati centered in Hangzhou created a flourishing trade in erotic woodblock prints, which survived largely in Japanese collections. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Donna J. Drucker wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: The earliest representations of sex in Chinese art date back to 7000 bce, and sex has been a topic of artistic interest ever since. In prehistoric China, it is likely that people admired natural formations of the female and male sexual organs in caves, ravines, or rocks. Clay vessels with representations of the vulva can be dated to approximately 3000 B.C. Rock cuttings dating roughly to 1500 B.C. represent sexual organs, and in the Shizhong Temple (Yunnan Province) there is still a large carved stone vagina, which stands in the midst of countless Buddha sculptures. [Source: Donna J. Drucker, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
“From the era of the Yellow Emperor (2697-2597 bce; the founder of Taoism) forward, when the legendary Dark and White Maidens wrote their classics in the art of sex in a question-and-answer format with him, erotic drawings accompanied sex-related texts. Though most of the illustrations are no longer extant, later authors mention that texts such as Xuan Nü Jing (Classic of the Dark Maiden) and Su Nü Jing (Classic of the White Maiden), which included long lists of sexual exercises, did include pictures. The genre of erotic art known as spring palace, or couples having sex in springtime when women went out picking mulberries for silkworms, appeared in the first century ce (eastern Han period) on sculpted bricks and continued in paintings on scrolls and silk.
“Medieval erotic art was influenced by courtesan culture and the establishment of the sexual symbolism of bound feet in the tenth century ce Erotic art showed all of the sexual situations, positions, and pairings described in sex-related poems, songs, plays, and stories. These included prostitution, same-sex partners, fellatio, cunnilingus, masturbation, use of dildos, and bestiality. The best-known Ming erotic artists, Tang Yin (1470-1523) and Qiu Ying (b. mid-sixteenth century), painted such scenes on silk scrolls and were among the first to sign their work. Painters and wood-block carvers illustrated sex-related fiction in the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, with Jin Ping Mei(1617; The golden lotus) and Rou Pu Tuan (1634; The carnal prayer mat) by Li Yu (1611-c. 1680) being among the most popular.
“Later Qing erotic artists deviated little from the standards established in the Ming dynasty. They shaped a variety of sexual scenes in bronze and ivory, or painted or enameled porcelain vessels of all sorts in the eighteenth century: chamber pots, perfume burners, goblets, bowls, and snuff bottles. In the nineteenth century, paintings of courtesans on glass and silk-covered boxes with erotic scenes inlaid with carved stone and mother-of-pearl were popular. By the end of the nineteenth century, refinement and attention to classical themes in Chinese erotic art were disappearing as the ability to mass-produce print and three-dimensional objects increased. It began to show such Western influences as European-style clothes, larger breasts, and longer penises. Much erotic art was destroyed after World War II and in the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As access to the Internet has widely increased, however, Chinese artists and art collectors in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are able to hold virtual shows of drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
Sex Life of Early Chinese Emperors
Chinese emperors often had thousands of concubines because they believed that the more sexual partners they had the longer they would live. The Yellow Emperor, the legendary first emperor of China, from whom all other Chinese are believed to have descended, is reputed have become immortal by making love with a thousand young virgins.The last Sui emperor, Sui Yang To (A.D. 581-618), took the throne after murdering his father and older brother. He had a queen, two deputy queens, 6 royal consorts, 72 madames and 3,000 palace maidens but even that wasn't enough to satisfy him sexually. He had a particular thing for teenage virgins and reportedly used a "virgin wheelchair" to capture them. According to a palace historian after the girl was seated "clamps would automatically spring up to hold her arms and spread her legs apart, while the mechanized cushion would place her body in the right position to receive the royal favor." [Source: People's Almanac]
The Emperors had many women to keep them occupied. One emperor in the 11th century had 121 women (the nearest round number of one third of 365, the number of days in a year) at his immediate disposal, including one empress, three consorts, nine spouses, 27 concubines, and 81 assistant concubines.
Some emperors believed they could gain immortality form having sex with as many women as possible but never ejaculating. Emperors also had male consorts. According to legend the Han Dynasty Emperor Ai said he would rather cut off the sleeve of his robe than disturb his male lover who had fallen asleep on it. Some Chinese still refer to homosexuality as “the passion of the sleeve.”
Imperial women also indulged themselves. Empress Wu Ze Tian was a 7th century ruler who was previously a nun and then a concubine and briefly changed the Tang dynasty’s name to Zhou. She had her own harem of men. Shan-Yin, a Chinese princess during the Song Dynasty, had a special bed made that could accommodate 30 men who all made love to her at the same time.
Emperor's Sexual Rotation Schedule
It was believed that organizing the Emperor's sex life into a regimented order was essential to maintaining the well-being of the entire Chinese empire. The great Chinese calendar clocks of the 10th century were not used to keep track of time but rather to decide the schedule, rotation and time for the women who slept with the Emperor. Secretaries kept record of the Emperor's sex life with brushes dipped in imperial vermillion.
In China and some other Asian countries age is determined from the moment of conception not from the moment of birth. The Imperial Chinese believed that women were most likely to conceive on the nights nearest the full moon, when the Yin, or female influence, was strong enough to match the potent Yang, or male force, of the Emperor. It was believed that on these nights children with strong virtues would be produced. As a result the empress and spouses slept with Emperor around the full moon and the lower ranking women, whose main function was to nourish the Emperor's Yang with their Yin, slept with him around the time of the new moon. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]
A rotation described in the Record of the Rites of the Chou dynasty (1120-256 B.C.) was as follows: "The lower-ranking [women] come first, the higher ranking come last. The assistant concubines, eighty-one in number, share the imperial couch nine nights in groups of nine. The nine spouses and the three consorts are allotted one night to each group, and the empress also alone one night. On the fifteenth day of every month the sequence is complete, after which it repeats in reverse order." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]
Some emperors kept the names of their favorite wives, consorts and concubines on jade tablets kept in their bed chambers. The most active emperors had 50 or more of these tablets. When an emperor selected the woman he wanted he turned over the tablet with her name on a teak table. A eunuch then rushed to the woman's chamber, took off her clothes to make sure she wasn't concealing a weapon, wrapped her in gold cloth, carried her through the palace since she could barely walk with her bound feet and deposited her at the foot of the emperor's bed. The eunuch then recorded the date to verify later whether or not the emperor was the father of any children born to the woman.
Sharing the Peach: Chinese Male Homosexual Tradition
Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: In the early Chinese tradition, as with the Greeks and Romans, same-sex sexual behavior did not essentialize a person as "homosexual." Records of male love exist in the Book of Poetry (Shi Jing) and as entries about male favorites in the courts of ten of the eleven Western Han emperors. [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
“References to homosexual male coupling were allusions to historical stories. The earliest such allusion comes from the Zhou Dynasty and concerns the Duke of Ling and his favorite, Mizi Xia. When Mizi Xia sampled an exceptionally sweet peach from the Duke's orchard, he saved half of the peach for Ling. Ling was so moved that he publicly acknowledged his love for Mizi Xia. Thus, male homosexuality became known as "sharing the remaining peach" (yu tao). Another reference comes from the Western Han, where the Emperor Ai (6 B.C.-1A.D.) woke to find his sleeve under his sleeping lover. Rather than wake him, the emperor cut off his sleeve, thus starting a fad of the duan xiu or "cut sleeve" at court. The most popular of these references were used well into the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
“By the Tang and Song Dynasties, there were few references to these imperial male favorites. Love of the "rear chamber" was seen as a threat to marriage obligations and woman's chance of marrying. Like women, male favorites could be a threat to statecraft and could even distract generals from battle. This period also leaves us with the first derogatory references to the male homosexual tradition.
“Homosexual marriage was a frequent theme in Ming (1368-1644) and Yuan Dynasty (1264? — 1368) fiction. In Fujian Province during the Ming Dynasty, homosexual male marriage was an institution. A young male would usually move in with an older male's family and take on all the attributes of a female wife, and he would be treated as a son-in-law. They eventually could adopt males to raise as sons. These marriages usually ended in heterosexual coupling because of filial obligations to continue the bloodline.
“Female homosexuality does not receive the same attention as the male tradition. It is not included in the imperial histories and appeared in no way connected to male homosexuality. Even if a woman were financially and socially independent, which was rare, few escaped marriage or concubinage, except as nuns. The first references to anything resembling modern notions of lesbianism were mostly in the Guangzhou area. These "Golden Orchid Associations" of the Ming Dynasty organized something akin to wedding ceremonies. Couples could adopt female children. One person generally assumed the husband's role and the other the wife's.
“The male homosexual tradition, though trampled by the Neo-Confucianists, who demanded familial obligation, survived to the end of the dynastic period. Modern Chinese live largely without knowledge of this history of permissive elite homosexuality.
Neo-Confucianists and the Evolution of Family Life
Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”: Comparatively very little is known about the structure of the Chinese family before the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when printing was invented and written sources became more widespread. It is known that the male was the undisputed official head of the household. Rank, though varying over time and locality, was generally reckoned based on gender and age. The oldest patriarch directed the family's finances. Younger brothers were subservient to older brothers. Mothers could beat their own sons, even in adulthood. Until the Warring States Period, it was legal for a man to kill his own son. Several generations lived together in a single house. Daughters were "married out." [Source: Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
“Daughters were generally undesirable because of economic and patrilinial considerations. Only males could carry on the family name and daughters required dowries to attract male suitors — or a suitor's parents, as was usually the case. Unwanted daughters were often killed at birth or sold into slavery at age five or six. These trends strengthened with the rise of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy, starting as early as the Tang dynasty when scholar Han Yu (768-824) beginning calling for restraint in "unbridled passions."
Mao-era marriage poster “Gaining strength in the Southern (Later) Song dynasty (1127-1279), neo-Confucianists promulgated an extreme form of the ancient philosophy. From references in the classics that men and women should not freely associate, scholars and officials justified gender segregation in all spheres of life. This required them to overlook almost all references to romantic and sexual love in the poetry of the classics. Under succeeding dynasties, Neo-Confucianism generally gathered cultural currency. Talk of sex became taboo. Foot binding became widespread. Female infanticide became more common. Remarriage became rare as elites erected new monuments to the chaste female and the windowed martyr. Zhu Xi (1130-1200), one of the most influential Neo-Confucian scholars of his day, set the tone of the times in "Reflections on Things at Hand, " when he wrote that "a man with passions has no strength, whereas a man of strength has no passions." The Neo-Confucianists departed from earlier schools with their rigid morality and a belief in the innate goodness of humans. Confucius believed goodness must be cultivated. In general, Neo-Confucianists naturalized gender distinctions, providing less opportunity for per-formative departure from gender roles.
“Zhu Xi's teacher, Sima Guang (1019-1086), taught that, at seven years old, boys and girls should no longer eat together. At eight, girls should not leave inner chambers, and should not engage in song and dance. He taught that remarriage was bad for both men and women alike. Girls should learn women's work, which meant cooking, cleaning, and "instruction in compliance and obedience." Though feminist historians attack Neo-Confucianists as deeply misogynistic, critics like Patricia Buckley Ebrey claim that the Neo-Confucianists' concern with remarriage reflected an extension of preexisting patriarchal concern for female welfare. Remarriage was seen as a threat to the financial stability of the family. These feminists also ascribe too much power to elite philosophers; one of Zhu Xi's disciples actually remarried.
“In this complex time, women held roles as slaves, empresses, mothers, wives, merchants, and beggars, but their general sphere was that of the household. According to Neo-Confucianists, chaste and productive women laid the foundation for a nation. Women had their own work, like weaving, which played as important or more important a role in the economy of late imperial China than did much "male" agricultural work. This Neo-Confucian philosophy, though pervasive, was not omnipresent or totally stifling. In many ways, masculinity was still seen as degrees of femininity. The well-positioned man took on elements of the female to gain favor and show loyalty to his superiors. But a man had the ability to change masters, whereas women were confined to the husbands (and husband's family) they were betrothed to and eventually married. Men, meanwhile, were still free to sleep with whomever they wanted. During Neo-Confucian times, concubines, who had historically been confined to the households of the most elite, became more affordable for the common man. Concubines who had been trained in singing and literary arts could be rented for the day or the hour, thus blurring the distinctions between concubinage and prostitution.
Sex in the Mao Era
For decades the Communist government pretended that pre-martial sex, extramarital sex, prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases were problems that existed in foreign countries but not China. In the Mao era, brothels were shut down; people were fired for having affairs and sent to jail for living with their boyfriend or girlfriend; married couples in communes were forced to live in sexually segregated barracks and were allowed 30-minute conjugal visits once a week. Prostitution and other vices were controlled in part by monitoring people’s housing, appearance and lifestyle. The government outlawed pornography, called recreational sex a bourgeois pastime, abolished sex education classes, and encouraged women to dress in baggy Mao suits rather than "immodest clothing."
In the Mao era, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “ love, let alone sexual pleasure, was seen as a bourgeois predilection that threatened to distract the masses from class struggle, food production and industrialization. “It was just like in Orwell’s ‘1984,’ with antisex youth groups advocating celibacy,” Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe, who spent part of her adolescence digging ditches in the countryside, told the New York Times. “Everyone I knew was a virgin until they got married.” [Source:Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, March 6, 2015]
In 1981 the Communist Party declared young men and women should control the ‘sluice gates of passion: and not have sex until they were married.”Writing a love letter was considered a crime. A small romantic gesture could result in a person being labeled a “bad element” and persecuted along with counter-revolutionaries and rich peasants. During the Cultural Revolution any traditional erotica and pornography found by the Red Guard was destroyed. One Chinese doctor told the New York Times, "For decades sex was totally unmentionable; people who talked about it were persecuted and regarded as hooligans. But in the '80 the subject came up in fits and starts. And today, if a magazine doesn't have sex, is sales will certainly fall."
Liana Zhou and Joshua Wickerham wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”:“Chinese communism and ideology are noteworthy for reshaping sexual beliefs and gender roles in Modern China. The general premise of sexuality in socialist China is that an individual's function is to serve a public or social purpose, and like many aspects of individual activities, sexuality falls under political control. Sexuality is considered a worthy element for healthy development of the young. However, there is no clear boundary between public life and private life; all individual behavior (and sex behavior in particular) must be in accordance with the party's principles and ideologies. Correctness of behavior was part of the general structure of the society. Dialectic materialism, the guiding philosophy and principle, teaches that nature is governed by scientific truth and that the human body is a part of nature; therefore it is important for the youth of a nation to know the facts of life, defined by reproduction. The government tries to regulate medical, pedagogical, social, and political aspects of sexuality since it believes orderly, stable, and familiar relationships are essential to political, social, and economic success. [Source: Liana Zhou and Joshua Wickerham, “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Culture Society History”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Mao's Sexual Activity
Mao with women in 1950
Mao’s own lifestyle contradicted the policy of his government. "As Mao got older," Li wrote, "he became an adherent of Taoist sexual practices which gave him an excuse to pursue sex not only for pleasure but to extend his life. He claimed he needed the waters of yin — or vaginal secretions — to supplement his own declining yang — or male essence, the source of his strength, power and longevity.
Many of the women that Mao slept with were daughters of poor peasants who Li said believed that sleeping with the chairman was the greatest experience of their life. Mao was happiest and most satisfied when he had several young women simultaneously sharing his bed, and he encouraged his sexual partners to introduce him to others. He often told the young women to read the Taoist sex manual “The Plain Girl's Secret Way”, in preparation for their trysts." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]
Mao was very possessive of the women he had sex with. He quarreled with ones that said they planned to marry and once sent a guard to a labor camp after he touched one of the women on the buttocks. Li wrote, “He came to trust women more than men.
"Mao's sexual activity was not confined to women," Li claimed. "The young men who served as attendants were invariably handsome and strong, and one of their responsibilities was to administer a nightly massage as an aid to sleep. Mao insisted that his groin be massaged. In 1964, I saw Mao, naked, grab a young guard and begin fondling him. At first I took such behavior as evidence of a homosexual strain, but later I concluded that it was more an insatiable appetite for any form of sex." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]
See Separate Article MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE AND SEXUAL ACTIVITY factsanddetails.com
Sex in the Post-Mao Era
Benjamin Morgan of AFP wrote in 2003" Since the start of China's market reforms in the late 1970s, brothels masquerading as bars, hair salons and saunas have jostled for customers alongside Karaoke lounges and techno-pumping clubs that are the common haunts of 20-somethings looking to hook up. Ironically, it was communism that provided much of the impetus for China's still nascent sexual revolution, says James Farrer of Sophia University in Tokyo and author of the book "Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai." While Farrer says market economics and foreign influence has played a major role in relaxing China's strictly codified sexual morays, gender equality invoked by the party helped pave the way to greater sexual freedom, especially for women. [Source:Benjamin Morgan, AFP, October 13, 2003]
Sex researcher Liu Dalin agrees that sexual attitudes have changed over the last several years, but says people still have much to learn. "Chinese attitudes toward sex are becoming more and more open. But it's like half an opening — conservative minds have not been completely liberalised, while certain new and open things are leading sexual culture in an unhealthy direction, " he says. "How to lead people towards a natural, scientific and healthy attitude toward sex becomes an important task."
Slogan-stilted as Liu's language may sound it belies a more fundamental truth about sex education in China. "Sex education in middle school is not valuable at all. Both the teachers and students are trying to avoid it, " says Janet Yang, a 22-year-old university student. "I was so conservative when I was in high school, I almost knew nothing about sex then, " says Kitty Sha, a 22-year-old university student, who admits there is plenty of sex going on in Chinese universities. "But sex education is inadequate due to old-fashioned thinking, " Sha adds. Websites, books and movies are their main sources of information about sex, a luxury that only a few years ago they too would not have had, let alone a museum such as Liu's.
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 October 2021