rightAccording 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.

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.”

According to an old Chinese punishment, a couple accused of adultery were beheaded together. If their faces turned towards each other the adultery was confirmed, if the did not an injustice had been done.

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 /~/]

Sex in China USA Today piece ; China Sex Museum ; 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 : China Law blog ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog ; Prostitution warning Homosexuality in China Purple Dragon gay travel specialists Purple Dragon ; China Daily article ; National Institute of Health paper / ; Articles from the 1990s ; Some Sources on gay life in China ; Gay in Rural China ; Gay Scene in Shanghai


World's Oldest Pornography in Xinjiang

Mary Mycio wrote in, “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,, February 14, 2013 >>>]

“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. >>>

World's Oldest Pornography in Xinjiang: a Link to the West?

Mary Mycio wrote in, “While fascinating in themselves, the petroglyphs also reveal a great deal about the earliest human settlement in China’s westernmost region. The intricately carved faces all display the long noses, thin mouths, and defined eye ridges of the Caucasian face. The people in the petroglyphs came from the West. While unprecedented in Central Asia, the iconography echoes images far to the west. Triangular female figures with the arms held like those in the petroglyphs often appear on Copper Age pottery from the Tripolye culture in what is now Ukraine. The dog symbols are also strikingly similar. [Source: Mary Mycio,, February 14, 2013 >>>]

“Could the cultures be related despite a distance of 1,600 miles and an untold number of years? The answer depends on who created the petroglyphs. While Chinese scholars attribute them to nomadic cultures from 1000 B.C., Davis-Kimball points out that nomads generally create portable art and not huge tableaus. The makers of the petroglyphs had to have been a sedentary people, since the elaborate artworks appear to have been carved over a period of centuries. This narrows the potential candidates down considerably. The only time in prehistory when sedentary people are known to have populated the region was during the Bronze Age, the millennium prior to 1000 B.C. >>>

“The oldest and most intriguing bodies from this period came from a 20-foot-high, man-made sand mound about 300 miles south of the petroglyphs. Known as Xiaohe, or Small River Cemetery No. 5 (SRC5), it was found in 1934 but then forgotten. The site is in a remote, restricted desert where China conducted nuclear tests. Rediscovered in 2000, the site had to be completely excavated in the following years to protect it from looters. Under the sand lay five layers of burials, from which 30 well-preserved desiccated corpses were recovered, the oldest dating to 2000 B.C. >>>

“Viktor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the foremost experts on the mummies, writes that SRC5 was “a forest of phalluses and vulvas … blanketed in sexual symbolism.” The torpedoes were phallic symbols marking all the female graves, while the “oars” marking the male burials represented vulvas. Many female burials contained carved phalluses at their sides, and the mound also contained large wooden sculptures with hyperbolized genitalia. “Such overt, pervasive attention to sexual reproduction is extremely rare in the world for a burial ground,” according to Mair. >>>

“DNA from the male corpses shows Western origins, while females trace to both East and West. Mair and other scholars think that the mummy people’s ancestors were horse riders from the Eastern European steppe who migrated to the Altai in Asia around 3500 B.C. After 1,500 years, some of the Altai people’s descendants, herding cattle, horses, camels, sheep, and goats, ventured south into what is now the Xinjiang region. Squeezed between the Tien Shan Mountains and the hot Taklimakan Desert, it is one of the world’s most hostile environments—a place so harsh that the Silk Road would later detour north or south to avoid it. But satellite photographs show ancient waterways in what is now barren desert, allowing those pioneers to survive in green oases in 2000 B.C. >>>

“It must have been a precarious existence, with staggeringly high infant and juvenile mortality. Perhaps that explains the exaggerated attention to sex and procreation at the cemetery and the high status of certain women. The largest phallic post at SRC5 was painted entirely red and stood at the head of an old woman buried under a bright red coffin. Four other women were buried in rich graves that stood apart from the others. >>>

“The fact that the world’s most sexually explicit graveyard was located a few hundred miles from the most sexually explicit petroglyphs can’t have been a coincidence. When I asked Mair if the petroglyphs could have been created by the people who buried their dead in SRC5, he said it was plausible. Perhaps the new immigrants carved the scenes to record their most important rituals for posterity. >>>

“Mair also noted that Caucasian features and a cultural obsession with sex aren’t all that linked the two sites, both of which are in the areas of Bronze Age settlements. Almost every one of the SRC5 mummies—as well as Bronze Age mummies from other locations—was buried with a flamboyant conical hat, made of felt and decorated with feathers. Though stylized in the petroglyphs, the headdresses on the female figures are also conical with wispy decorations that could be feathers. >>>

“The implications are tantalizing. Could the earliest scenes in the tableau represent fertility rituals originally brought from Europe by the migrants’ ancestors in 3500 B.C.? Do the large females represent high-status women like those buried in SRC5’s richest graves? Does the smaller size of the copulating females signify lower rank? If the two sites are indeed linked, why are men bare-headed in the petroglyphs but all wearing hats in the graves? Could they have been the bisexual shamans in the tableau? Or, as one Chinese scholar has suggested, were penises added to some of the female figures later, possibly signifying the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy? And is the iconography really linked to the Tripolye culture in the West or is it just parallel cultural evolution? These are just some of the mysteries surrounding the Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs. Hopefully, now that the political pressures have abated, the site will receive deeper study. But whatever the answers, if any are ever found, the tableau is at the very least a spectacular demonstration of sex as one of the driving forces behind the creation of art. >>>

Sex and 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]

In the 14th century brothels were registered and courtesans paid taxes. Shan-Yin, a Chinese princess during the Sung Dynasty, had a special bed made that could accommodate 30 men who all made love to her at the same time.

Emperor's Sex Life

left 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. See Yellow Emperor Above.

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.

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.

Sex in the Mao Era

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Mao-era marriage poster
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 in 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]

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.

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.”

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."

Mao's Sexual Activity

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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]

Mao's Sex Drive Increases as He Gets Older

Mao's sex drive seem to increase as he got older. In the 1960s, Li said, he often went to bed with three, four or five women simultaneously. When Mao was told he was infertile, he responded, "'So I've become a eunuch, have I?,'" Li wrote, “not understanding that it meant his sperm was abnormal not that his sexual desires were reduced." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

Li later concluded that Mao sometimes suffered from impotence when he was involved in a political struggle, but that he rarely had sexual problems when his political situation was secure. Mao worried that his sexual energy would begin to decline dramatically after he was 60. His doctors used to give him injections of ground deer antlers, a traditional Chinese aphrodisiac.

Mao most constant female companion during his later years was Zhang Yufeng, a beautiful young woman who became Mao's private secretary. In 1970 she began controlling access to the chairman and even Mao's wife Jiang Qing had to go through her. In the years before his death she was the only person who could understand Mao's garbled speech.

One of Mao’s Underage Lovers

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Mao's 1st wife Yao Ka in 1924
Jonathan Mirsky wrote in The Spectator, “In 1997 in Hong Kong one of Mao Zedong’s numerous sexual partners — in this case an underage one — told me her life story. Ms Chen, the young woman with whom Mao began sleeping in 1962, was 14. The Chairman was born in 1893. I was the East Asia editor of the Times, stationed in Hong Kong, when I was introduced to Ms Chen by Jin Zhong, the editor of Kaifang [‘Open’] magazine, a journal devoted to politics across the border. He told me she was worried about what might happen to her when China took over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997. Could I find out from the British or the Americans if they would get her out? By the time I met Ms Chen, then 57, she was no longer the pretty slip of a girl in the pictures she showed me of her in the Chinese air force singing and dancing troupe which had entertained Mao and his senior colleagues in the Chairman’s enclave in Beijing’s Forbidden City. [Source: Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator, September 29, 2013 ==]

“This was Ms Chen’s story: in 1962, age 14, she was already in what Dr Li terms the ‘cultural work troupe of the air force’. She showed me happy-snaps of her with her friends, all in uniform, their caps perched on the backs of their heads. The girls were excited, to put it mildly, at the prospect of entertaining Mao, the Great Helmsman, Teacher and Red Red Sun in Our Hearts. At first their responsibilities included singing and dancing for Mao and his coterie, and then dancing with them. Mao, Ms Chen told me, danced as if on rails, pushing his partner straight ahead across the room and back again. At some point, she discovered, Mao would invite a girl into his bedroom, ‘to make him his tea’. Then there would be sex. She had plenty to say about the Great Helmsman’s virility and stamina. ==

‘Imagine… what it meant for a young girl,’ wrote Dr Li of those who did their bit for the Chairman, ‘to be called into Mao’s chambers to serve his pleasure… he was happiest and most satisfied with several young women simultaneously sharing his bed… “He is great at everything — simply intoxicating,” one of the young women confessed to me one day, referring to Mao’s sexual prowess.’ [The Private Life of Chairman Mao, pp. 357-58]

“Mao was Ms Chen’s only partner in the Forbidden City; another Air Force girl was the favourite of Premier Zhou Enlai who, Ms Chen claimed, sometimes telephoned the girl at the troupe’s residence. After five years, Jiang Qing insisted that Ms Chen be banished to the north-east, to a lesser job. Mao, she claimed, took her on his knee and wept, but said he could do nothing. After some years in exile, she was summoned back to Beijing for a brief stopover where Mao, again weeping, said he could do nothing for her and was sending her back to Nanking where her marriage had been arranged. ==

“In 1971, now at home, she told her parents about the real Mao. Until then they had been proud that their daughter’s troupe had entertained the Chairman. When her father, a Party member, heard the details, despite the entreaties of his family he wrote Mao an outraged letter and posted it. A kindhearted man at the local post office brought the letter back. It had been opened and Ms Chen’s father was warned that sending such a letter was risking extreme retribution. The Cultural Revolution was now in full swing and insulting Mao could lead to death. Ms Chen had a child, divorced, and fled to Hong Kong. “While she was eating her oysters she begged me to go to the American Consulate-General to find out if they would help her escape before the handover a few months later. The next day the Consul-General, who had met Ms Chen, showed me a thick file on her. He said that the Americans and the British had investigated Ms Chen’s background and her story rang true. The British would allow her into the UK. ==

“Ms Chen knew about Dr Li’s book. That was nothing, she scoffed. He knew a lot about Mao’s girls but his knowledge stopped at the bedroom door. She recalled everything about what happened on that wide bed with books down one side. She expected $1 million for her story, especially if I helped her to write it. I imagined what a year or two with Ms Chen and her story would be like and declined, but I did telephone the editor at a major US publishing house, who said he would gladly publish such a book, particularly if I helped write it, as Anne F. Thurston had helped Dr Li. He mentioned a substantial advance, but not one with six noughts. I told this to Ms Chen and we parted amicably. She came to Britain and I have never seen her again.

Why tell this story now? Because the editor of Kaifang, who introduced me to Mao’s underage girl in 1997, noticed an account of her in the autobiography of Szeto Wah, a recently deceased champion of democracy in Hong Kong. He thought the story was worth re-telling, and that now, finally, it was safe for Ms Chen to do so. Kaifang’s October headline, next to a picture of the teenage Ms Chen, reads: ‘Top Leaders, Including Zhou and Deng, Enjoyed Sex. Mao’s Sexual Perversions in Senility.’ In the end, the only person who emerges well from this corrupt and corrupting story is Ms Chen’s furious father.

Revolution of the Heart

In a review of the book Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 by Haiyan Lee, Charles Laughlin of the University of Virginia wrote: “Haiyan Lee's study of literary discourses about love in modern China is one of the most engaging and broad-reaching books written about modern Chinese culture in recent years. It crystallizes important works published over the past several decades on the issues of human relationships, cultural and personal identity, and revolution and romanticism under one coherent theme--the discourse of love.

Works that hold a high place in her analysis include: Ban Wang's The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China (Stanford, 1997), Jianmei Liu's Revolution Plus Love: Literary History, Women's Bodies, and Thematic Repetition in Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction (Hawai'i, 2003), and Jing Tsu's Failure, Nationalism, and Literature: The Making of Modern Chinese Identity, 1895-1937 (Stanford, 2005).

Revolution of the Heart won the Joseph Levenson Prize for a monograph about modern China in 2009, attesting to its quality and impact. Laughlin wrote: “Revolution of the Heart begins long before the dysfunctional marriage of culture and revolution around the late 1920s and early 1930s and is thus more focused on love than on "revolution" as a cultural phenomenon. Nevertheless, the book culminates in a discussion of the Chinese revolution and its aftermath in terms of love and emotional expression, which is the crux of its unique contribution to modern Chinese cultural studies. Lee retraces the genealogy of modern Chinese love discourse through three overlapping phases, which she calls the Confucian, enlightenment, and revolutionary "structures of feeling."

Lee takes pains to clarify that she is reconstructing and historicizing love as a moral discourse, which overlaps with but is not coextensive with discourses of desire...Lee accounts for this marginalization of desire and sexuality in terms of the focus of her argument (it is love, not desire), but the result is that where desire is conveyed less explicitly, it falls outside the purview of her analysis.

An example of this isolation of love from desire occurs in the section on the enlightenment structure of feeling is the analysis of Feng Yuanjun's "Gejue," in which Lee points out that the heroine Junhua's mother sequesters her because she assumes that Junhua had sex with Shizhen as they traveled together, whereas the crux of the generation gap is that the young man and woman's love is "noble and pure"--i.e., unsullied by sexual gratification. What they really desire--liberty and autonomy--is more threatening than immediate sexual gratification. But in a key passage Lee discusses, Junhua and Shizhen undress each other and sleep together, a scene this is meant to prove the nobility of their love. As Lee puts it, "As they huddle together in bed, sex is both the closest and furthest thing on their minds."

Book: Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 by Haiyan Lee (Stanford University Press, 2007)

Academic View on the Origin of Maoist Views on Love and Sex

In a review of the book Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 by Haiyan Lee, Charles Laughlin of the University of Virginia wrote: Lee’s discussion of the Confucian structure of feeling, and its connection through the role of the Ernü yingxiong zhuan (“Tales of heroic sons and daughters”) model in the development of the revolutionary structure of feeling, helps explain the denigration in many quarters toward "earthly love" as antithetical to a "healthy" (read "public-spirited") modern identity. The Ernü yingxiong zhuan and similar early modern works differ from other kinds of traditional and modern fiction in tending to elide sexual tension from the depiction of young men and women interacting with one another.

This begins to answer questions that have puzzled me for some time: When/where/how did the desexualization that characterizes modern Chinese culture from the 1930s through the Cultural Revolution get started? Are revolutionary narratives meant to subliminally consummate desires, or suppress their arousal? Are these considerations even relevant to revolutionary stories? Lee's contribution to this to view love and revolution as supplementary, rather than revolutionary zeal as sublimated love.

Lee introduces the "logic of supplement" as a preferable alternative to the structure of sublimation. Reading Hu Chenbing's play Ai de geming (Revolution of love), Lee writes: Although I agree that the process of sublimation is certainly at work, the term does not capture the persistently ambivalent standing of love in revolutionary literature. The supplementary logic enables us to discern the double-speak of "revolution + romance": on the one hand, love must be recognizable in the conventions of romantic love stories--to wit, the revolutionary lovers must still be erotic beings, rather than robotic sloganeers . . . On the other hand, love must be denied of its centrality or claim to transcendence. . . . In short, as the internal supplement to revolution, love is simultaneously affirmed and disavowed, it is coopted as an indispensable ally and repudiated as an intransigent rival.”

But Lee also demonstrates, on the one hand, that the Ernü yingxiong zhuan as a literary model probably contributed not a little to the monotony of revolutionary literature and, on the other hand, shows that many important cultural figures in the Republican period appeared to advocate the unfolding of sexuality and sexual discourse in modern China. In chapter 4, Lee goes in depth into the 1920s discourse on love and sexuality, including Zhang Jingsheng's "four rules of love" in response to a female college student leaving her betrothed in favor of a professor, special issues of Women's Magazine on love, and conservative, radical, and enlightenment voices appearing in books and series edited by Wang Pingling, Zhou Jianren, and including Pan Guangdan. In a suggestive but unusually confusing statement Lee says that "it is ironic but logical that May Fourth romanticism, at least in its non-Freudian moments, should denigrate 'earthly love' along with the pursuit of wealth . . ." This raises a number of questions: what are May Fourth romanticism's "Freudian moments"? Are they atypical or typical of May Fourth romanticism? Why is this denigration "ironic" if sexual desire is actually not primary?

Academic View on Love and Sex in the Maoist Era

Turning to the revolutionary and socialist periods, Lee presents the early "love plus revolution" convention as an awkward negotiation between the ideal of love emerging from the enlightenment structure of feeling and the need for social and historical engagement to reign supreme in the world of youthful passion. Criticism from the late 1920s and early 1930s on "love plus revolution" was largely negative and focused on its formulaic aspects rather than the cracks and fissures that emerged in literary practice, and Lee seems to follow the critical assessments in their assumption of the incompatibility of revolution and love. Moving into the socialist period, she rightfully points to the Ernü yingxiong zhuan/Xin ernü yingxiong zhuan model as the apparent "solution" to this problem; most socialist treatments of young people and their romantic involvements cleave to the unproblematized subsumption of the interests of love to those of revolution.

But Lee reads Xin ernü yingxiong zhuan almost satirically, focusing on a peasant couple's awkward utterances about each other as indicative of a lack of passion/desire, or of the author's lack of interest in the couple, and highlighting the "tenderness" and attention to romance and love the novel lacks . The inflection of satire in Lee's description of socialist realism's "effortless," "perfect" solution to the love vs. revolution problem strips them of any possibility of complexity or ambiguity. In this Lee joins the long list of commentators on socialist realism in reinforcing the self-fulfilling prophecy of its unreadability. We still await critics willing to wade through the sea of (presumed) insipid material to explore the contradictions and ambiguities that saturate it. Lee's unwillingness to read against the author's stated or perceived intentions, the blandishments of socialist realist "theory," or the perfunctory interpretations of supportive or unsympathetic commentators can only lead to the confirmation of conventional wisdom about such literature, or earlier revolutionary literature, for that matter. This is regrettable, because Lee's overarching argument about the vagaries of love in modern Chinese culture creates unprecedented potential for unfolding its at times surging presence not far beneath the surface of social realist literature.

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 July 2015

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