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The Culture of Sex in Ancient China

Paul Rakita Goldin

Publication Year: 2002

The subject of sex was central to early Chinese thought. Discussed openly and seriously as a fundamental topic of human speculation, it was an important source of imagery and terminology that informed the classical Chinese conception of social and political relationships. This sophisticated and long-standing tradition, however, has been all but neglected by modern historians. In The Culture of Sex in Ancient China, Paul Rakita Goldin addresses central issues in the history of Chinese attitudes toward sex and gender from 500 B.C. to A.D. 400. A survey of major pre-imperial sources, including some of the most revered and influential texts in the Chinese tradition, reveals the use of the image of copulation as a metaphor for various human relations, such as those between a worshiper and his or her deity or a ruler and his subjects. In his examination of early Confucian views of women, Goldin notes that, while contradictions and ambiguities existed in the articulation of these views, women were nevertheless regarded as full participants in the Confucian project of self-transformation. He goes on to show how assumptions concerning the relationship of sexual behavior to political activity (assumptions reinforced by the habitual use of various literary tropes discussed earlier in the book) led to increasing attempts to regulate sexual behavior throughout the Han dynasty. Following the fall of the Han, this ideology was rejected by the aristocracy, who continually resisted claims of sovereignty made by impotent emperors in a succession of short-lived dynasties. Erudite and immensely entertaining, this study of intellectual conceptions of sex and sexuality in China will be welcomed by students and scholars of early China and by those with an interest in the comparative development of ancient cultures.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

Portions of this book were originally read as public lectures. Chapter2 was presented as “The View of Women in Early Confucianism” at the annual conference of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, Washington, D.C., December 29, 1998; at Stan-ford University, February 8, 1999; and at the University of California,...

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Introduction: The Aims of This Book

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pp. 1-7

This is a study of intellectual conceptions of sex and sexuality in China from roughly 500 B.C. to A.D. 400. Ancient Chinese writers dis-cussed sex openly and seriously as one of the most important topics of human speculation. This sophisticated and long-standing ...

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1. Imagery of Copulation

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pp. 8-47

Some of the oldest and most problematic love poems in the Chinese tradition are those contained in the anthology called Canon of Odes (Shih-ching), one of the most venerable collections in the Confucian...

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2. Women and Sex Roles

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pp. 48-74

It has become something of a scholarly commonplace to criticize traditional Chinese thought—and especially traditional Confucian thought—for its repressive and deprecating stereotypes of women.1...

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3. Sex, Politics, and Ritualization in the Early Empire

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pp. 75-110

The career of the historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145?–86? B.C.) took a fateful turn in 99 B.C. His contemporary Li Ling (d. 74 B.C.) was a general who had had great success in fighting the Hsiungnu...

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Epilogue: Privacy and Other Revolutionary Notions at the End of the Han

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pp. 111-122

The last century of Han rule saw a dismal succession of ineffectual emperors and a national bureaucracy paralyzed by factionalism and resentful of what it perceived as the inappropriate rise in the power of...


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pp. 123-192


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pp. 193-224


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pp. 225-231

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About the Author

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p. 232

PAUL RAKITA GOLDIN, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, teaches Chinese history and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Rituals of the Way: The Philosophy of Xunzi (1999) and numerous articles...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864651
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824051

Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 53978267
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Culture of Sex in Ancient China

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Subject Headings

  • Sex and history -- China.
  • Sex in literature.
  • Chinese literature -- To 221 B.C. -- History and criticism.
  • Sex -- China -- History -- To 1500.
  • Chinese literature -- 221 B.C.-960 A.D. -- History and criticism.
  • China -- Civilization -- To 221 B.C.
  • China -- Civilization -- 221 B.C.-960 A.D.
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