When I first began to study Chinese language and literature in the late 1960s the Maoist regime suppressed all display of sexual life and art, and China had the reputation of being a severely puritanical society.  Indeed, one of my Chinese lecturers at the time, himself the son of the head of the Chinese judicial system during the time of Chiang Kai-shek, declared in class that "we Chinese have no sex."  Not good news for university students!  I soon discovered Robert van Gulik's pioneering exploration of Chinese sexual culture, Sexual Life in Ancient China, and realised that Chinese society had another, often well-hidden side to it.  Chinese erotica thus became a sort of metaphor for the complexity of Chinese society, and a piquant reminder that in China things are not always what they seem.  Since the early 1980s I have collected Chinese erotica in a fairly systematic way, and today have a collection of over one thousand pieces, ranging from porcelain dating back to the late Ming and early Qing period through to porcelain figurines and DVDs produced in the 21 st Century.  The following is just a very small selection of some of the pieces I have gathered.

Ménage e trois, porcelain, made in Jingdezhen, the classical location for the production of porcelain in China, during the 1990s.

Contemporary figurines coupling on a brown mat.   The female has small, bound feet, which denotes a conscious attempt to reproduce something resembling traditional erotica.

Two more examples of couples produced in Jingdezhen during the 1990s

Contemporary porcelain plate illustrated with a full-bosomed young woman who is clearly enjoying her own beauty and sense of sexual appeal.

A Chinese wine jug featuring a topless woman and her lover.

An example of a 20th Century Chinese hip flask that could be used by a prostitute while entertaining customers.

A contemporary blue and white vase featuring a female nude, a theme that was very unusual in traditional Chinese art, which focused on sexual activity itself rather than the beauty of the female form.

A contemporary snuff bottle, providing an example of the contemporary Chinese discovery of the beauty of the female body.

An early 20th Century painting on wood of two couples engaged in sexual activity in a bucolic, garden setting.

An early 20th Century painting on a fan that introduces a scenario rarely founded in Chinese sexual culture, namely a woman in bondage and being enjoyed by two males. Another woman, who is wearing the same ribbons in her hair denoting that she is either a relative or co-worker of the woman tied to the tree, is engaged in sexual congress with a third male.

Early 20th Century glass paintings illustrating the variety of positions Chinese adopted when engaging in sexual activity.

A pair of candle holders dating back to the 1930s or 1940s, and displaying the characteristics of the art deco style that was gaining popularity in Shanghai and China's other major coastal cities.

A Tantric Buddhist statue of a Buddhist deity having sex with his celestial consort, giving a further dimension to the concept of nirvana...


© John Byron - 2019