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 Amazon.com, 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 Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this site.

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The “Room Thing” And Other Indirect Chinese References to Sex

(photo by Sukanto Debnath)

I’ll never forget the way my Chinese mother-in-law described the impetus for my sister-in-law’s divorce, a divorce that eventually paved the way for her to marry John’s brother. “Her ex-husband became fond of another woman.”

She used the word hào, to like or be fond of. Yet the tone of her voice made the sentence sound much more like a juicy piece of village gossip, and made me realize that, chances are, there was fondling that came along with that fondness. That, in fact, it was my mother-in-law’s way of saying this man had a sexual affair with someone else.

My husband giggled the other night when I brought it up, because even he could hear the salaciousness in such a simple word. “She was being hánxù,” or implicit. Implying something that, chances are, I wouldn’t have thought to hide behind other words. Continue reading “The “Room Thing” And Other Indirect Chinese References to Sex”

Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Men, Sex and Prostitution

A still from a sex scene in the movie, "Lust, Caution."
After her recent dating experiences in China, a woman wonders, should she expect Chinese men to have higher numbers of sexual partners and/or experience with prostitutes? (photo, a still of a sex scene from "Lust, Caution," from http://www.guardian.co.uk)

Anonymous asks:

I read your piece about dating pasts and Chinese men, but I have been having the opposite experience. I have dated some Chinese men in China. On each occasion as I became closer with the respective guy I was dating at the time, discussion of sexual history came up. Each had a fairly sizable number of partners (into double digits) and/or they had had sex with a prostitute. All other things considered, these were nice guys who treated me respectfully and didn’t seem to be players. I appreciated their truthfulness, but their sexual history combined with often poor sexual health practices (I blame poor sex-ed) kept me from becoming physically involved with any of them. My questions are these:

Are the men I’m meeting just outliers, or are higher numbers of  sexual partners increasingly common among Chinese men in their 20s?

Could Westernization partially account for the higher number of partners?

Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Men, Sex and Prostitution”