Guest Post: On Sex Education in China’s Tang Dynasty Era

What was sexuality and sex education really like during China’s Tang Dynasty Era? Weina Dai Randel researched this topic while writing her duology about China’s Empress Wu (The Moon in the Palace and the forthcoming The Empress of Bright Moon). I’ve asked her to share her insights (as well as a few blush-worthy moments!) in this lovely guest post.

Do you have something you’d like to see published here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to get your writing featured on the blog.

P.S.: If you’re new to Weina’s writing, don’t miss my interview with her from last month about the first book in her duology, The Moon in the Palace. I’ve called it a Tang Dynasty Cinderella story and highly recommend it to anyone reading this blog. 

P.P.S: The Empress of Bright Moon, the second book in Weina’s duology, will be officially released April 5, 2016 on, where your purchase helps support this site.Empress of Bright Moon —–

Chinese people have a reputation of being reserved, and talking about coupling was not recommended or encouraged even in the family, even today. But on the other hand, Confucian scholars believed it was vital to have as many progenies as possible, and it was common to see a man with ten or fifteen children. So that tells us, they were doing it, definitely doing it, behind the screen or the closed doors.

When I researched this topic, what I found astounded me. Ancient Chinese people were not shy or reserved at all, they were very passionate and open about sex.

To have sex was a beautiful thing, and they believed that the intimate encounter could promote mental and physical health and that it was important for the peace of the household. When you think about it, it has to be so since ancient Chinese men usually had five or six wives, so not every wife could spend the night with the husband every week. So it was possible the wives would need to fight to share a night with the husband, and of course, that also meant there would be many nights without the husband.

Ancient Chinese were very creative about educating the women, by the way. You would find explicit sex scenes playing out in sequence on fans, bamboo slats, silk handkerchiefs, ceramic statues or ceramic statues shaped as men and women coupling, and even on the walls, vases, and shoes. The scenes often described vivid lovemaking that demonstrated excellent painting skills and detailed descriptions of positions.

Viewing the erotic paintings on silk was a more decent way of sex education, believe it or not. It was a secret tradition among palace women and the nobles as well. Often, such paintings were shared within a closed circle and with discretion.

During research I found the book titled 春梦遗叶, literally, it means Spring Dreams, Forgotten Leaves, but the English title is named Dreams of Spring. It’s actually a collection of Erotic Art in China. I requested it through Interlibrary Loan since I was still at school, and when I received it, the librarian took a look at the cover and her face turned red. Later, I bought the book and studied it. Let me tell you the scenes on those paintings were not simply showing two beautiful women having a bath. It was more than that, and I was so shocked to see the content and the details.

This is the cover of the book, which inspired me to put it in The Moon in the Palace. What the book contained is similar to a scene I depicted in The Moon in the Palace, but instead of lovemaking, I intended that scene to be a moment of self discovery and Mei’s sexual awakening. Here’s the cover of the book, which is only a modest, yes, very modest erotic picture that the book has:Dreams of Spring Cover (1)

What else is in the book? Many pictures. I’m afraid I can’t describe them without giggling, but I can tell you the relationship between the Crown Prince and the flutist was inspired by the paintings.

Since having male heir was very important, it also devoted abundant attention on how to conceive, not just children, but sons. I was shocked again – there are so many conventional wisdoms and secret recipes for conceiving a son! If you want to hear more about this, it has to do with the way of coupling, the time of coupling, the food you eat before coupling, the moon’s phase on the night of coupling, etc. It was so fascinating. Unfortunately I couldn’t use any of them since this was not the focus, but the information did prove to be useful for the second book The Empress of Bright Moon.

You can find these examples of ancient erotic art in many places in China nowadays, and they would pop up at some shopping places that you would never expect.

Two months ago when I was strolling with my family in the shopping district near Yu Garden in Shanghai, we passed a stall selling many paintings, fans, statues. My daughter, a nine-year-old, picked up a fan and asked me, “What’s this, mom?” I leaned over. Oh lord, the fan contained nine scenes which revealed the famous sex styles – the Nine Ways.

My husband and I were so embarrassed. We dropped the fan and quickly fled.

Weina Dai Randel is the author of The Moon in The Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, a duology about Empress Wu, the only woman in Chinese history who reigned as emperor.The Empress of Bright Moon will be officially released April 5, 2016 on, where your purchase helps support this site.

Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

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7 Replies to “Guest Post: On Sex Education in China’s Tang Dynasty Era”

  1. What an interesting post! I’m wondering who created these paintings. Was that something “women in the know” created to give on to the younger generations, or was it something men created to tell women what they wanted from them sexually?

    1. Ruth, the paintings I found were works by some well-known male painters. One was named Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) or Zhao Zi Ang, also known for his poetry and calligraphy. 🙂

      It didn’t seem like they were scrolls handed by “women in the know” to the younger generations, like The Moon in the Palace.

  2. Ha, this does not surprise me at all. Not after my many conversations with my overly frank Chinese in-laws! My husband grew up in Hawaii and his friends of Japanese descent all commented on the, um, “earthiness” of Chinese conversations. Especially as weddings drew near.

    It’s always nice to see how advance the Tang dynasty was — looks like lesbians were okay, but perhaps not gay men?

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