glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

For the first time, during the mid-Ming period, sodomy was criminalized. A pre-1526 amendment to the Ming Code compared anal penetration to forcing garbage into someone's mouth, and punished sodomy with 100 bamboo cane strokes. The Qing Code punished it in its chapter on fornication, under a series of articles dealing with adultery, abduction, and rape with or without violence, resulting in death or not. The same scale of punishments applied to homosexual and heterosexual offences.

The code punished consensual sodomy with 100 strokes and wearing the cangue (a set of two heavy wooden boards fitting around the convict's neck) for one month, though it is not clear that this part of the code was actually enforced; boy lovers do not seem to have lived in fear of the courts. Lesbian activity was not criminalized in either the Ming or Qing codes.

Sponsor Message.

Chinese Sapphism: First Century B. C. E. to the Republic (1911-1949)

The earliest mentions of lesbian love date back to the Former Han (206 B. C. E.-8 C. E.). In the imperial palace, several hundred women, including the empress, court ladies, and servants lived together with only one "whole" man: the Emperor. Empress Chen's biography (Chapter 97a in the History of the Former Han) recounts how she, after being rejected by Emperor Wu (ruled 140-87 B. C. E.) for not having borne a son, hires a shamaness to chant incantations and brew love potions to regain the royal favor, and falls in love with her.

The biography of Empress Zhao Feiyan (died 1 C. E., see Chapter 97b in the History of the Former Han) uses the term "duishi" in describing two ladies-in-waiting, Cao Gong and Dao Fang, who "shared their meals." A second-century commentary explains: "Duishi refers to ladies of honor pairing together like husband and wife; they are very jealous of one another." The phrase duishi has been interpreted as referring to reciprocal cunnilingus, and has become a standard allusion to love.

Double-headed dildoes have been unearthed in Han princely tombs, and confirm the existence of lesbianism in those days. Love between women in the imperial palaces is recorded at least until the Ming, according to chapter 6 of Events of the Wanli (1573-1619) Era Picked Up in the Wilds (Wanli yehuo bian) by Shen Defu (1578-1642). A lesbian poem is recorded in New Songs from a Jade Terrace. The Memoir on the Music Academy (Jiaofangji), written between 742 and 907, mentions lesbian unions modeled after marriage or adoptive sisterhood. Tang dynasty Taoist nuns exchanged love poems.

Sapphism was encouraged in the women's quarters to contribute to good relations between wives.

Under the Ming, written and pictorial sources depicting lesbianism multiplied. Many works of pictorial erotica from this period include lesbian or bisexual content; most naughty novels feature young women experimenting with each other.

Women's sexual practices included frottage (which was called "grinding beans [to make] tofu," or mo doufu), cunnilingus, and mutual masturbation. They also used bronze, wood, and ivory phallic instruments, which were denoted by such names as "dumb husband" (bu yu xiansheng), "Master Horn" (jiao xiansheng), or "Cantonese love" (Guangdong renshi).

Courtesans, stepmothers, daughters-in-law, and actresses--especially in women-only opera styles like Shaoxing Yueju--frequently fell in love. Pitying the Sweet Companion (Lian xiangban) a play by Li Yu (1611-1679), tells how a wife falls in love with a girl, and has her husband take the younger woman as a concubine to create a happy ménage à trois.

A lesbian group centered around a seraglio's madame was known in early republican Shanghai as the "Mirror polishers' clique" (mojingdang). In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, women in the Pearl River delta resorted to an egalitarian form of social organization in order to resist heterosexual marriage. They pooled their assets, swore solemn oaths of sisterhood before gods' altars, and lived together in common homes in groups of as many as ten women or as couples. When forced into marriage, they rejected or left their husbands.

Transgender in Ancient China

The history of the transgendered in China has not yet been adequately researched. Sources do not link such phenomena as cross dressing, whether occasional or customary, sex change, or . Although there was an integration (and, in the thespian arts, even institutionalization) of transgender into mainstream culture, gender nonconformity was also regarded as subversive of "natural" hierarchies and boundaries. For example, sex change was often seen as an omen of political disorder.

The earliest mention of female-to-male cross dressing is probably when Duke Ling (ruled 581-554 B. C. E.) of Qi had his ladies-in-waiting wear men's attire. In imitation, other women in the country followed suit.

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8   next page>  
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation




This Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.