Saturday, December 20, 2014

SEXUALITY IN CHINESE MEDICINE - PART 1

This article is a discussion of sexuality in Chinese medicine.  The first part will deal with the social conditions of women in ancient China.  This is drawn primarily from an important book by R. H. Van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1961.

The second part will discuss Daoist sexuality and the role of the extraordinary vessels in sexuality.

The topics discussed are:

1. A brief historical overview of sexual customs in ancient China
2. Daoist sexual practices
3. Differences between men’s and women’s sexuality from the point of view of Chinese medicine
4. Sexuality and extraordinary vessels
5. Sexuality and emotional problems in ancient china

          HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF SEXUALITY IN ANCIENT CHINA

SHANG DYNASTY (1600-1100 BC)
Old myths and legends credit women with special magical powers and represent women as the guardian of the arcana of sex and repository of all sexual knowledge.  All texts on sexual relations introduce a woman as the great initiator and man as the ignorant pupil.

It should be noted that the term wu (shaman) referred to women shamans.  Men shamans were called xi.

ZHOU DYNASTY (1100-221 BC)
The three major strands of Chinese philosophy, i.e. Confucianism, Daoism and Yin-Yang School, developed during the Warring States Period (576-221 BC).

The strictly patriarchal system of the Zhou and subsequent dynasties reversed the position that  women occupied during the Shang dynasty.  The Confucianists especially extol man as the undisputed leader and head of the family, as strong and active, symbol of light and superior to woman who is weak and passive, symbol of darkness.

Yet, all the centuries of Confucianist doctrine could not succeed in eliminating the mother image from the Chinese subconscious.  Throughout the history of Chinese thought and religion one finds a persistent counter-current, later consciously canalized in Daoism, that praises negative as superior to positive, Yin to Yang, inactivity to activity.

The Dao De Jing in fact frequently refers to the “feminine principle”, to yielding (which is Yin as opposed to Yang) and to the power of water always flowing to the lowest pace but being capabe of eroding the strongest structures.  

Daoist terms for sex organs such as deep vale (for uterus) or mysterious gate (for vulva) derive from the ancient conception of woman as the Earth-Womb.  The Earth was thought to harbour cosmic vital essence (see also Native Americans; kiwa).  The Zhou rulers would enter underground rooms or caves for celebrating important events.

The association of Woman-Womb-Earth-Creative Power is older than that of Man-Phallus-Heaven-Creative Power.  Perhaps the former association dates back to the times when people had not yet recognized that the coitus is the unique cause of the woman’s conceiving.

The ruling class believed itself to possess a great amount of De, inherited from their ancestors and passed on to their offspring.  This De formed the link between the ancestors and their descendants, it connected the dead with the living.  The living had to sacrifice regularly to the ancestors, for if these sacrifices were broken off the de of the ancestors would diminish and they would become malevolent gui, with disastrous results for their living offspring. De here is the De as in Dao De Jing.  De is usually translated as "Virtue" but, according to most sinologists it is also "Power".   Thus the Dao De Jing would be the "Classic of the Dao and its Power".  

Hence it was every man’s sacred duty to his ancestors and also to himself to produce male children who would continue the sacrifices in the ancestral hall (hence the preference for male children which continues to the present day).  The ancestors on their side took part in the life of the living, they kept a benevolent watch over them and the living had to keep them informed of all their doings.  The hun as an ancestral spirit is fed by the sacrifices of the descendants on earth.  Ancestor cult was the cornerstone of Chinese life until recently and even now.

Since the king has a maximum of De, he needs a large number of female partners to nourish and perpetuate it through sexual intercourse.  The king has 1 queen (hou), 3 consorts (fu ren), 9 wives of the second rank (bin), 27 wives of the third rank (shi fu), and 81 concubines (yu ji).
Special court ladies, called nu shi, regulated and supervised the sexual relations of the king and his wives.

They saw to it that the king had sex with them on the correct calendar days and with the frequency established by the Rites for each rank.  They kept careful note of the sexual unions with special red writing brushes called tong guan; hence throughout the later ages descriptions of the sex life of the ruler are designated in Chinese literature as tong shi, i.e. “Records made with the Red Brush”.

The general rule was the women of the lower ranks should be copulated with before those of high rank, and more frequently. The king cohabited with the queen only once a month.  This rule is based on the belief that during the sexual union the man’s vital force is fed and strengthened by that of the woman, supposed to reside in the vaginal secretions.

Thus the king copulated with the queen only after his potency has been increased to its maximum by the frequent previous unions with the women of lower rank, and when there was consequently the best chance of the queen conceiving a strong and intelligent heir to the throne.

Only the consorts of the higher ranks were allowed to spend the whole night with the king.  The concubines had to leave the bedroom before dawn.  An old poem in the Book of Odes (Shi Jing) describes the resentment of the concubines at these unequal rights.  It says:

Twinkling, twinkling those small stars
humbly following Scorpio and Hydra in the East
Thus modestly we walk through the dark
while night still reigns in the palace.
Women’s fates are different indeed!
Twinkling, twinkling those small stars,
like those in Orion, in the Pleiads.
Modestly we walk through the dark,
carrying our own quilts and coverlets.
Women’s fates are different indeed!

The title of the poem, “Small Stars” (Xiao Xing), has become a common literary term for “concubine”.

The girls of the common people had a much fuller and freer sex life than their sisters of the upper classes.  Marriages of the common people were arranged and celebrated during spring meetings and festivals.  With the advent of spring, the rural communities organised spring festivals where the young men and women performed dances together and sung songs, nearly all of which bore relation to fertility cults and were often of a frankly erotic character.

During these festivals each young man selected and courted a girl and had sex with her.  These relationships continued throughout the summer and autumn and were regularised before families moved back to the winter quarters.  Probably the main criterion was whether or not the girl had become pregnant.  Both the man and the woman had the freedom to accept or not the other and to change their mind afterwards.  Thus, it can be seen that the sexual customs of common people were much freer than those of the ruling classes.  Some poems from the Book of Odes bear this out:

The rivers Chen and Wei
see their waters rising!
Boys and girls
carry armfuls of orchids
The girls ask: ‘Did you look there?’
The boys answer: ‘We are just back,
but shall we go again?
For on the other bank of the Wei,
There is a lovely field!’
The boys and girls
there assemble for their sporting
and a peony is the gauge.

Going out through the east city gate
I see girls as numerous as clouds.
But although they are as numerous as the clouds
there is none that captivates my heart.
But she of the white robe and grey headdress,
She alone gives joy to my heart
Going out by the gate tower
I see many girls as fair as flowers.
But although they are as numerous as the clouds
there is none that captivates my heart.
But she of the white robe and grey headdress,
She alone gives joy to my heart.

One poem complains of double morality applying to men and women:
Alas, young women,
do not take your pleasure with men!
If a man takes his pleasure
little does it matter who talks about it.
But if a woman takes her pleasure,
She cannot afford to be talked about

Another poem talks about nightly visits by a lover to his girl:
I beg you , master Zhong,
don’t climb into our quarters,
don’t break our willow trees!
It’s not that I cherish those,
but I fear my father and mother.
I do love you, Zhong,
but what my father and mother say,
I certainly must fear.
I beg you master Zhong,
don’t climb over our wall.
don’t break our mulberry trees!
It’s not that I cherish those,
but I fear my cousins.
I do love you, Zhong,
but what my cousins say,
I certainly must fear.
I beg you, master Zhong,
don’t climb into our garden,
don’t break our tan trees!
It’s not that I cherish those,
but I fear the gossip of the people.
I do love you, Zhong,
but the people’s gossip,
I certainly fear.

This poem is interesting for its use of the word “love”, always absent from Daoist sex manuals and also because of the girl’s fear of people’s gossip, i.e. she is worried about what other people will say: nothing has changed in China!

Widows were called wei wang ren, meaning “persons waiting only for death”, a term still used in Japan bibojin.

Probably the first record of Chinese doctor indicating excess sex as a cause of disease is from 540 BC.  In 540 BC the prince of Jin had fallen ill and various cures did not help.  A physician was called in and he attributed the prince’s illness to excessive sexual intercourse.

He said: “Woman complements the male force (yang) and should be cohabitated with during the night.  If one goes to excess in his sexual intercourse with her, an internal fever will develop and the mind becomes affected.  You do not practise moderation in the sexual act, engaging in it even during daytime: how could you avoid becoming ill?”1

The latter half of the Zhou dynasty saw the beginning of the Confucian philosophy and ethics. Confucius assigned a lower place to women.  The Confucianist School states that women are absolutely and unconditionally inferior to men.  A woman’s first and foremost duty is to serve and obey her husband and his parents, to look well after the household, and bear healthy children.  Her biological function is emphasised and her emotional life given secondary consideration.

Daoism has been much more considerate to women and has given much more thought to her physical and emotional needs than Confucianism ever did.  In fact, the general principle of Daoist sex was that both partners should share in the benefits accruing from the sexual discipline.

Later on, Buddhism too assigned a higher place to women and it is significant that the Indian bodhisattva Avalokitesvara became a female deity in China (Kuan Yin).

SUI DYNASTY (590-618)
The main reason why handbooks of sex continued to enjoy such wide popularity with both Confucianists and Daoists was that those textbooks of sex answered a real need.  Without their guidance, the head of a large family could hardly have managed his numerous womenfolk without becoming a nervous wreck.

All the sex handbooks lay great stress on the necessity of a man understanding the sexual needs and sexual behaviour of women.  They teach the householder the fundamental differences in pre- and post-orgasm experiences of man and woman, using the simile of Water and Fire.

The texts warn a man again and again not to force himself on one of his women to engage in the sexual act if both partners are not in complete emotional harmony.  The texts stress the importance of making the woman reach orgasm during every coitus.  Incidentally, the description of the 5 signs of a woman’s sexual arousal described in the ancient texts agrees in all details with that given in A C Kinsey’s “Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female” (see below).

Early sexual manuals never refer to oral sex, fellatio, cunnilingus, or anal intercourse. Sadism and masochism were practically non-existent until the Qing dynasty.  Male homosexuality was particularly common during the Song dynasty but not during other dynasties.  Female homosexuality was quite common and viewed with tolerance: this was due to the living conditions of wives and concubines in the women’s quarters.

Lesbians used to stimulate each other’s genitals, cunnilingus and sexual toys.  One described in the texts was made from a short, ribbed stick of wood or ivory with two silk bands attached to the middle: each silk band was tied round each woman’s waist and the stick inserted in each other’s vagina.

A Ming text says that country women used the plant Suo Yang Herba Cynomorii songarici as a sexual toy which they inserted in their vagina and which swelled as soon as it came into contact with the Yin juices.  It was also used internally as an aphrodisiac and the text says that it is better than Rou Cong Rong Herba Cistanchis deserticolae.



TANG DYNASTY (618-907)
Sun Si Miao had a section on sexual hygiene in his book Qian Jin Yao Fang.  Three innovations by Sun Si Miao:

1) He attached great importance to a man reaching the age of 40 which he considers a turning point in a man’s sexual life and his general physical condition;

2) For the first time Sun Si Miao advises the pressing of different points to stop ejaculation (instead of Ren-1) and he advises pressing the point Ping Yi, one inch above the right nipple and also a point called San Yang Xue (“Point of the Three Yang”), 8 inches above the external malleolus, with moxa.

3)  Sun Si Miao states that the process of making sperm return to the brain results in union of the male and female principles in the brain of the practitioner (symbolised by a red sun and a yellow moon, symbols probably imported from India).

SONG DYNASTY (960-1279)
During the Song dynasty Confucianism became established as the dominant philosophy and religion, but only by absorbing elements of Daoism and Buddhism, hence the name Neo-Confucianism.

During this time, sexual relations became to be restricted by the numerous stringent rules in the classics and free association of men and women frowned upon.  The Confucianists re-interpreted all the old classics in the light of their philosophy not without a lot of distortion.

Zhu Xi (1130-1200), for example, stressed the inferiority of women and the strict separation of the sexes, and forbade all manifestations of love or sex outside the intimacy of the wedded couch.  This bigoted attitude manifests itself especially in his commentaries on the love songs of the Book of Odes, which he explains as political allegories, which, of course, they are not.


YUAN DYNASTY (1279-1368)
During the Yuan dynasty China was a country occupied by invaders.  Confronted with Mongol soldiers billeted near them, Chinese men began to encourage their women to remain in their quarters and now began to appreciate more the Confucianist rule for the seclusion of women.  It is possible that it was during this period that the germs of Chinese prudery came into existence, and the beginnings of their tendency to keep their sexual life a secret from all outsiders.

MING DYNASTY (1368-1644)
Whereas men in general were interested in Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism alike, women favoured nearly exclusively Buddhism.  The Buddhist creed of universal love and compassion, preaching equality of all beings, answered women’s spiritual needs, while the dazzling ceremonies centering around beautiful female deities like Kuan Yin, who helps women in distress and grants children to the childless, lent colour to their rather monotonous daily life.

Buddhist nuns, who by virtue of their sex, had free access to the women’s quarters, were the favourite counsellors of the ladies of the household.  Buddhist nuns gave the ladies of the household advice in personal problems and  generally acted as counsellors of a sort.  Public opinion regarded nuns and nunneries with disfavour.  The idea alone that women abandoned their sacred duty of propagating the family and went to live in self-contained communities where they were not subject to the control of their male relatives, was abhorrent to the Confucianists.

Writers of Ming novels and short stories were mostly Confucianist literati who had ipso facto a prejudice against everything Buddhist.  Buddhist monks and nuns were their favour black sheep. Therefore, when reading this kind of literature one should guard against making generalizations and take the scathing denouncements of the moral turpitude of nuns with a generous pinch of salt.

Nuns were suspected of having entered religion only to practise unnatural vices.  There is an element of truth in this suspicion as many girls became nuns not out of devotion but for various other reasons: sometimes parents forced them to become nuns to ingratiate the ancestors spirits, sometimes girls became nuns to avoid an arranged marriage, sometimes concubines became nuns to escape sadistic husbands or mother-in-laws and sometimes purely because of lesbian tendencies.

The principles of handbooks on sex were still applied but the sex manuals did not circulate freely any longer.

A Ming dynasty sex manual makes some interesting observations on women’s psychology in ancient China.  It says that women’s lives were monotonous and that sex was their only diversion ad interest.  He says:  “Wives and concubines are daily occupied with the control of all trifling household chores.  Except for attending to their hairdress and their face powder and rouge and engaging in music and card-games, they really have nothing to gladden their hearts but sexual intercourse.  Therefore it is the duty of every enlightened householder to acquire a thorough knowledge of the Art of the Bedchamber, so that he can give complete satisfaction to his womenfolk every time he copulates with one of them.”2

Therefore women’s sexual life was more important to them than to the men as men had many other outside interests that women could not have: this is a new idea never before expressed in sex manuals.  The same text then makes the point that a man’s skill in the sexual act means more to most women than his youth or charm; and also that sexual frustration makes women quarrelsome and difficult to handle.

In fact, the author says: “East of the street lives a young and vigorous man of imposing mien; his women quarrel from morning till night and do not heed him.  West of the street lives a greybeard who walks with a stoop; his women do their utmost to serve him obediently.  How can this be explained?  The answer is that the latter knows the subtle secrets of the Art of the Bedchamber, while the former is ignorant of it.”3

In the second half of the Ming dynasty the Daoist sexual arts became more and more a secret tradition.

END NOTES

1.  R. H. Van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1961, p. 34.

2.  Ibid., p. 269.

3.  Ibid., p. 269.

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