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social sciences

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During this period, males became particularly visible as prostitutes, as boys replaced courtesans. Zhu Yuanzhang (ruled 1368-1398), founder of the Ming dynasty, established prudish Neo-Confucianism as state orthodoxy. Officials were, thus, forbidden to patronize female prostitutes or brothels, so many of them turned to young men instead.

Early Manchu emperors forbade women on stage, so female parts were played by transvestite teenagers. This practice so linked the thespian arts with female impersonation and pederasty that it is impossible to understand Qing dynasty theater without knowledge of its gay context.

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During the Qing era, brothel culture flourished, with "young gentlemen" (xianggong)--high-class male "courtesans"--summoned to noble houses for recitals and banquets, poems, and "flowery honor rolls" (huabang), a parody of the lists of examination laureates. For less sophisticated patrons, ordinary hustlers plied their trade around barber shops.

Scholars and the rich often employed boy servants to care for their libraries, paintings, or lutes; and they frequently also provided sexual services. On prints and paintings, catamites are frequently depicted following their masters in mountain strolls. Officials often employed male secretaries, confidantes, or court ushers, who may also have been expected to perform sexually. Some also married "male concubines" or nanqie.

At the same time, however, evidence survives that same-sex love among social equals, especially among students or scholars, also flourished.

At the very top of the social ladder, Emperor Qianlong (ruled 1736-1795) famously fell in love when he was 65 with Heshen, a 25-year-old Gentleman of the Guard. The emperor lavished the young man with honors, including an appointment as prime minister. However, Heshen shared the fate of Dong Xian. When Qianlong died in 1799, his reigning son immediately forced his father's favorite to commit suicide, and seized the huge fortune he had embezzled.

Other Qing emperors, such as Xianfeng (ruled 1851-1861) and Tongzhi (ruled 1862-1874), were less extravagant in their love for boys. The Last Emperor, Puyi (ruled 1909-1911), had a very special interest in his pages and eunuchs.

During the late Ming and the Qing dynasties a tradition of "gay" writing developed. In addition to a renewed use of a set of historical allusions and the inclusion of special chapters on male-male love in some collections of historical anecdotes, there began a tradition of "gay"-themed Ming operas, such as The Shared Tangerine (Fengan, now lost) revolving around Mi Zixia's story, Lord Longyang Weeps on His Fishes to Gain Favor (Longyangjun qi yu gu chong), and The Male Empress (Nan wanghou, before 1623), dealing with Han Zigao, catamite to Emperor Wen (ruled 560-566) of the Chen Dynasty.

In addition, three collections of vernacular short stories were printed in the 1630s and 1640s: Anecdotes about Catamites (Longyang yishi), Military Cap into Hairpin (Bian er chai), and Amorous Nature with a Licentious Character (Yichun xiangzhi).

In 1849, Chen Sen published the first "gay" novel: A Precious Mirror for Ranking Flowers (Pinhua baojian). The book centers on the love of scholars for female impersonators in Beijing under Qianlong.

The earliest work with a historical bent is The Cut Sleeve (Duanxiupian), a collection of anecdotes from the fifth century B. C. E. to the eighteenth century C. E. It was compiled by a pseudonymous author sometime in the nineteenth century.

If this period appears quite tolerant of male-male love, it also witnesses the advent of a form of homophobia. Part of the elite reacted against a perceived laxity of morals at the end of the Ming dynasty. Consequently, in an effort to win the allegiance of scholars, the Qing pursued a strict moral agenda that attempted to limit sex to marriage. They instituted censorship aimed at suppressing licentious literature.

At this time, there developed a syncretic brand of popular morality, based on the concept of karma and combining elements of Buddhism, Taoïsm, and popular Confucianism. The result was a puritanism that still dominates Chinese "morality." It condemned, among other "vices," whoring, pederasty, and the keeping of catamites or too many concubines.

Some authors deemed sexual passivity subversive of established gender and social hierarchies, and depicted it as a badge of subservience and prostitution. As a result, passivity and effeminate catamites were subjected to ridicule, gossip, and even blackmail.

Under this new way of thinking, male-male love was regarded as at best a lamentable substitute for heterosexuality in men-only communities; and the taste for boys was characterized as queer, dirty, and verging on the unnatural, especially if one refused to marry because of it. In contrast, heterosexuality was characterized as an obvious union of yin and yang.

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