Sex Manuals, China

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Sex Manuals, China

Throughout ancient Chinese history, sex was considered a natural and essential aspect of life; in fact, the Chinese words for sex and nature are the same, xing. Sex manuals reflect this general concept, as well as different religious beliefs, particularly Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism; sex manuals convey sex customs, philosophies, and sex techniques. The best-known manual is Su Nu Jin (The manual of lady purity)—of around the third century ce—in which the characters the Emperor and the Plain Girl discuss sexual benefits. Chinese sex manuals are unique in that they are often interwoven with teachings about philosophies, medicines, and the natural world and focus on health and longevity concerns. This category traditionally includes texts with or without explicit illustrations, and works of fiction or nonfiction that function as manuals. For example, a novel with explicit sexual narratives is often considered a sex manual.

Two famous works of Chinese erotic literature are Su E Pian (The lady of the moon), and Jing Ping Mei (The golden lotus), both of the seventeenth century. The former recounts forty-three lovemaking styles practiced by an imperial official and his consort in gardens and in the woods, with each tree or flower suggesting a new way for pleasuring each other. Jing Ping Mei offers a vivid account of the numerous sexual affairs of the fictitious Xi Men Qin, of his pleasures and of his perils.

Almost all Chinese sex manuals focus on the balance of yin and yang, two essential and opposing forces in the universe—embodied by female and male bodies, according to Taoism. The ultimate balance of yin and yang, through the sexual acts between the male and female, results in better health and longevity for both parties, though the benefits the male receives are often the primary concern.

Other Chinese sex manuals include Yu Fang Mi Jue (The secrets of the jade room), and Yu Fang Zhi Yao (Important guidelines of the jade room), covering topics such as foreplay, conception (usually of male offspring), sexual positions, and sexual energies; they incorporate sex into a general framework of the universe, presenting sex as a way to reach the harmonic balance of yin and yang. Sexual pleasures are derived from the physical unions of individuals, sometimes through multiple partners. Men are instructed to satisfy a woman to orgasm but to refrain from ejaculating. Marriage or social relationships are not necessary for a sexual union to occur.

After the socialist movement in 1949, traditional sex manuals were destroyed or denounced and disappeared until the 1980s, when they reappeared as part of the new national policy on family planning. One of the first published Chinese sex manuals was written by Ruan Fang Fu, titled Xing De Shou Che (Handbook of sex knowledge) (1985), introducing sex terms and opening discussions on sexual conduct; it sold more than 1 million copies. From the 1990s sex manuals have been popular on the streets and the bookstores. These are translations of sex manuals published in Europe and North America, as well as instructions for specific age or gender groups—adolescents, newlyweds, and seniors—on sexual development, marriage, sexual disease prevention, marital harmony, and most important, contraception. When the act of sexual intercourse itself is covered, the manuals specify that it occurs between married, heterosexual couples.


Chou, Eric. 1971. The Dragon and the Phoenix: Love, Sex, and the Chinese. London: Joseph.

                                        Liana Hong Zhou