LIFE

The Odd World Of Ancient Chinese Erotica (NSFW?)

The Chinese establishment thoroughly crushed any kind of carnal expression decades ago. But a recent exhibition of ancient erotica shows their seedy past.

China isn’t the first country that would spring to mind if you were thinking of a nation of sexually charged citizens. But a collection of ancient erotica from China seems set to break that notion. I suppose when it boils down to it, we’re all animals that mate so it’s no surprise that any group of people has a collection of smut somewhere hidden away.

China’s collection has been more secretly guarded than others though. Sex is a massively taboo subject and these sorts of things are for behind closed doors and under beds.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - Bertholet

These oddly compelling works come from the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) and Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and have seen the light of day thanks to a Dutch collector – Ferdinand Bertholet (pictured above). Bertholet hopes his recent exhibition in Hong Kong will reconnect China to its sexually liberal past. I’m not sure that one Dutch man can open the free love flood gates of an entire country, but at least he’s giving it a go.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - spring art palace

Ancient Chinese Erotica - pillow book

Ancient Chinese Erotica - late 19th C

According to Bertholet, sex was historically a large part of the Taoist way of life and played a big role in Chinese culture and imagery. Then came the decade of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 and it was unceremoniously swept under the carpet.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - happiness

This cultural revolution in China led to the suppression of Taoism and Confucianism, temples and the arts were all neutered. Sexual expression was completely quashed and Chinese citizens were expected to wear sexually neutral clothing. It all sounds pretty depressing.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - erotic pillow book

Ancient Chinese Erotica - early 20th C

Even today the enforced prudish nature of Chinese culture holds on hard. An exhibition of this type would still be pretty tricky to open in mainland China, but they could just about get away with it in Hong Kong.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - 19th C

There’s a new generation of Chinese people that are eager to reconnect with the past and to basically chill out a bit, but their desire to ease up is still stifled by decades of oppression.

Ancient Chinese Erotica - 4 panels

This last image is a Japanese one. Culture over there hasn’t crushed the erotic spirit quite as thoroughly and it’s such an awesome picture I thought I’d show you any way.  It’s by a chap called Hokusai (1760-1849), he’s a famous Japanese artist and this is one of his most famous pieces:

Ancient Chinese Erotica - Japanese Octopus

Well, that was pretty weird wasn’t it?


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