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Spring Palace paintings – Chinese Erotic Art

Rooted in Antiquity – the first known examples of Chinese erotic art and texts date back over two thousand years – erotic art is an integral part of China’s cultural heritage. Erotic art reached its apogee concurrently with the rise of the rich mercantile cities of southern China from the 10th century on, when Suchow, Hangchow, and Quangchow were among the most sophisticated places in the world. Its heyday was in the late Ming period (1368-1644), a time when artists signed their works without fear of reprisal from the censors, and government policy promoted the development of art and science. Leading Chinese artists have contributed to the genre, which at the present time has succumbed to the inculcated morality of western puritanism. 

The paintings and drawings were made under the pretext of providing instruction for shy or inexperienced young people, though one is left wondering who might have been the intended recipients of male love art. Beyond instructing, or titillating, Chinese erotica are a source of great aesthetic pleasure too. Beauty and harmony are paramount, and supplementary details have a deeper symbolic meaning: the lotus blossom, for instance, stands for purity and a gnarled tree-trunk for health and longevity. As with all art, its expression ranges from the sophisticate to the crude, in its effort to satisfy the tastes and the purses of the upper class as well as the common man.

1.So pervasive has been the influence of Christian morality, that official pronouncements now attribute the practice of male love to western influence, papering over two thousand and more years of imperial history. Even the scientific establishment is tainted by bias. Only in 2001 did the Chinese Psychiatric Association finally remove male love from its list of mental illnesses.


Bret Hinsch, Passions of the Cut Sleeve; U. of California Press, Berkely 1990.

Rev. Yimen, Dreams of Spring; Pepin Press, Amsterdam 1997.

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