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Van Gulik, Robert 1910–1967

Van Gulik, Robert
1910–1967

Robert Hans van Gulik was a highly educated orientalist, diplomat, musician (he played the guqin), and writer. Van Gulik studied law and oriental language at Leiden University in Holland and received his doctorate degree for a dissertation on the horse cult in Northeast Asia. He served as a diplomat in the Dutch Foreign Service and was stationed in Tokyo and in Chongqing and Nanjing, China, among other places; his last job was the ambassador to Japan. He loved Chinese culture and translated a well-known Chinese ancient detective novel, Judge Dee at Work.

Van Gulik's book Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society from ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D. marks the starting point of the research on ancient Chinese sex culture and issues. Not only did van Gulik study the characteristics of Chinese ancient sex culture from historical, sociological, and anthropological aspects, he also compared Chinese culture with the cultures of India and Japan. His book covers the institutions of concubinage and prostitution. Gulik considered the ancient Chinese to have a highly developed culture and attitude about sex. He wrote: "The ancient Chinese had indeed no reason for hiding their sexual life. Their handbooks of sex prove clearly that their sexual habits were healthy and normal-at any rate by the norms of the polygamic system that has prevailed in China from the oldest known times till recent years" (1990, p. xii). In order to write Sexual Life in Ancient China, van Gulik collected enormous amounts of literature and information and cited many articles. The book remains the best study of ancient Chinese sex culture.

Van Gulik also wrote a book entitled Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period: With an Essay on Chinese Sex Life from the Han to the Ch'ing dynasty, B.C. 206–A.D. 1644, based on a set of erotic paintings from the Ming dynasty. Published in three volumes in 1951, only fifty copies of the work were produced in a hand-painting method on wax paper. It was not for sale, but was donated to renowned university libraries, museums, and research institutes worldwide for research purposes. Volume 1 (Mi Xi Tu Kao) is the main body written in English, Volume 2 (Mi Shu Shi Zhong) is written in Chinese and is a collection of nine ancient Chinese works of sex literature, and Volume 3 (Hua Ying Jin Zhen) is the erotic paintings from the Ming dynasty that van Gulik collected.

Sexual Life in Ancient China was translated to Chinese by professor Li Ling at Peking University in 1986 and published by Shanghai People's Press in mainland China in 1990.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

van Gulik, Robert Hans. 1990. Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society from ca.1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D., Chinese edition, trans. Li Ling. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press. (Orig. pub. 1961.)

van Gulik, Robert Hans. 1992. Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period: With an Essay on Chinese Sex Life from the Han to the Ch'ing dynasty, B.C. 206–A.D. 1644, translated by Yang Quan yi. Canton: Guangdong People's Press. (Orig. pub. 1951.)

                                          Xiaonian Ma

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