Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Ballad of Hua Mulan

This poem was composed in the fifth or sixth century CE. At the time, China was divided between north and south. The rulers of the northern dynasties were from non-Han ethnic groups, most of them from Turkic peoples such as the Toba (Tuoba, also known as Xianbei), whose Northern Wei dynasty ruled most of northern China from 386–534. This background explains why the character Mulan refers to the Son of Heaven as “Khan” — the title given to rulers among the pastoral nomadic people of the north, including the Xianbei — one of the many reasons why the images conveyed in the movie “Mulan” of a stereotypically Confucian Chinese civilization fighting against the barbaric “Huns” to the north are inaccurate.

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,
Mulan weaves, facing the door.
You don’t hear the shuttle’s sound,
You only hear Daughter’s sighs.
They ask Daughter who’s in her heart,
They ask Daughter who’s on her mind.
“No one is on Daughter’s heart,
No one is on Daughter’s mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there’s Father’s name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mulan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father’s place.

In the East Market she buys a spirited horse,
In the West Market she buys a saddle,
In the South Market she buys a bridle,
In the North Market she buys a long whip.
At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother,
In the evening camps on the Yellow River’s bank.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears the Yellow River’s flowing water cry tsien tsien.

At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River,
In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears Mount Yen’s nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu.
She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war,
She crosses passes and mountains like flying.
Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots,
Chilly light shines on iron armor.
Generals die in a hundred battles,
Stout soldiers return after ten years.

On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,
The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall.
He gives out promotions in twelve ranks
And prizes of a hundred thousand and more.
The Khan asks her what she desires.
“Mulan has no use for a minister’s post.
I wish to ride a swift mount
To take me back to my home.”

When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming
They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other.
When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming
She fixes her rouge, facing the door.
When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming
He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep.
“I open the door to my east chamber,
I sit on my couch in the west room,
I take off my wartime gown
And put on my old-time clothes.”
Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair,
Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder
She goes out the door and sees her comrades.
Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed.
Traveling together for twelve years
They didn’t know Mulan was a girl.
“The he-hare’s feet go hop and skip,
The she-hare’s eyes are muddled and fuddled.
Two hares running side by side close to the ground,
How can they tell if I am he or she?”

The Bistro at the Bijou

I am going to break with my Asian Homosexuality posts for a quick post tonight.  As I was getting ready for bed tonight, I was checking my email and came across a post by LargeTony at his new blog The Third Leg.  I will give you a short excerpt from the post, you can read the whole thing by using the link in this post.

Regular readers might remember me talking, back last summer, about a Tennessee state senator named Stacey Campfield from down in Knoxville. You know, the never-married late 30′s/early 40′s state senator, who is sponsoring a “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
Well, it turns out that over the weekend he was refused service by the owner of a Knoxville restaurant because of his recent ignorant comments that HIV originated from “gay men having sex with monkeys” and that it is “virtually impossible” to become infected through hetero sex.

 I went to the link and read the story from Tony’s post, and that led me to reading the comments people left.  Now, I think as long as someone does not refuse service for race, religion, or sex, then every owner by law has the right to refuse service to anyone.  Martha Boggs, the owner of The Bistro at the Bijou and refused service to the state senator, is, in my opinion, perfectly within her rights to do so.  I probably would have done the same thing.  I do not tolerate fools or bigots lightly, you could as any of my students about that.  As I was reading the comments which range from full support for Mrs. Boggs to slanderous slop, I have to share one comment that I read that goes to a whole new level of misunderstanding that I just couldn’t leave alone, and since there were already over 500 comments on the article I decided to blog about it instead of posting a comment of my own.  Here is the remark that really bothered me:

Number69 writes:

in response to Tea_Time:
Leave it to ignorant southerner to revamp…”we reserve the right to refuse service” slogan straight out of the 1960’s…
If the food isn’t that great to spur business…try controversy!!

This lady (owner) must be to young to remember when a group of black kids sat at a counter in downtown Kvle and the police came in and made them leave. It all goes back to the fact that there is no link to the civil rights movement and homosexuals. Sorry gay kids, but you never marched with dogs on you, fire houses nocking you down and waves of crazy white crackers blowing up your churches. Truth be told the NAACP should picket the heck out of the bistro first thing tomorrow. NAACP won the RIGHT for folks to eat where they want and they should defend that right. Bistro is not a bad place to eat for lunch..after 5 the drunk lawyers get a bit on the loud side and it is certainly no place for a family to take their child.

 I have put in bold what I find most problematic for me in this comment (I find the whole comment to be problematic, but this really bothered me).  For the commenter, who I doubt will ever read this, gay people did march with dogs on them, because they marched beside African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.  For the same reason, they had fire hoses knocking them down.  Gay people may not have had churches blown up, but we were thrown out of churches.  Furthermore, we were burned at the stake, put to death in numerous different ways, imprisoned, and tortured for our homosexuality.  There is most definitely a link between the Civil Rights Movement and homosexuals, just as there is a link with all movements for equality.  Gays have been persecuted throughout history.  We are still persecuted today.  Bigots like Campfield , bigots like Santorum, bigots like all the people who condemn us for who we are.  I find great sadness in bigotry.  I merely wish that all people could follow the example of the Golden Rule and treat others as they want to be treated.  Maybe Mrs. Boggs did not do this, but if I were an ignorant bigot, I would hope that someone would tell me.

Tennessee is not alone with the problems of having bigoted politicians.  We have them in Alabama too.  Former Chief Justice Roy Moore is running for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice again (after he had been removed from office for violating a federal court order.)  Moore is the so-called “Ten Commandments Judge” who snuck a (tacky and ludicrous) marble monument of the Ten Commandments into the Alabama Judicial Building in the middle of the night.  When he was ordered to remove it, and it should have been removed for its tackiness alone, he refused and was forced out of office.  Moore is the same judge who wrote the Alabama Supreme Court opinion that took custody from a lesbian mother, simply because she was lesbian, and gave custody to the abusive father.  Okay, I have bitched about Moore enough, but it does piss me off every time I see one of his campaign signs.

I got a little off topic there, sorry.  It is after midnight and time for me to go to bed.

Back to our regularly scheduled program in the morning…

The Legend of Hua Mulan

The name Hua Mulan has been synonymous with the word “heroine” for hundreds of years in Chinese society and culture. Disney’s 1998 animated film, “Mulan,” brought her name to a wider audience.

A historical figure famous for disguising herself as a man is Hua Mulan. Her name has long been synonymous with the word “heroine”, yet opinions differ as to whether this is her real name. According to Annals of the Ming, her surname is Zhu, while the Annals of the Qing say it is Wei. Xu Wei offers yet another alternative when, in his play, Mulan Joins the Army for Her Father, he gives her the surname Hua. Others using The Ballad of Mulan as their guide have attributed her surname to be Mu.

There is also some confusion concerning her place of origin and the era in which she lived. She is said by some to have come from the Wan County in Hebei, others believed she came from the Shangqiu province in Henan and a third opinion is that she was native of the Liang prefecture in Gansu. One thing seems certain though. Hua Mulan was from the region known as the Central Plains.

Cheng Dachang of the Song Dynasty recorded that Hua Mulan lived during the Sui and the Tang Dynasties. Song Xiangfeng of the Qing Dynasty asserted that she was of Sui origins (AD 581-618) while Yao Ying, also of the Qing Dynasty, believed she was from the time of the Six Dynasties. No record of her achievements appears in official history books prior to the Song times. Stories circulated in China’s Central Plains indicate that she must have lived before the Tang Dynasty.

Both history books and legends do at least agree on one thing – her accomplishments. It is said that Hua Mulan’s father received an order to serve in the army. He had fought before but, by this time, was old and infirm. Hua Mulan knew it was out of the question for her father to go and her only brother was much too young. She decided to disguise herself as a man and take her father’s place.

China’s most famous woman warrior lived and fought in the fifth century AD. Her father was conscripted to go to war, but he was too sick to fight, so Hua Mu-Lan offered to go in his place. Her father rejected the offer, but she insisted. She suggested they have a sword fight and if she won, she’d go. Mu-Lan won the fight.
China’s most famous woman warrior lived and fought in the fifth century AD. Her father was conscripted to go to war, but he was too sick to fight, so Hua Mu-Lan offered to go in his place. Her father rejected the offer, but she insisted. She suggested they have a sword fight and if she won, she’d go. Mu-Lan won the fight.

She cut her hair, put on her father’s armor and joined the emperor’s troops using her father’s name. For over ten years, she fought as a man without her true identity being discovered.  The troops fought in many bloody campaigns before they obtained permission to return home. Her bravery at the front lines and extraordinary fighting skill so impressed her general that he offered this soldier his daughter’s hand in marriage. Somehow, the marriage never took place and Mu-Lan returned home and became herself again. Hua Mulan was summoned to the court by the emperor, who wished to appoint her to high office as a reward for her outstanding service. Hua Mulan declined his offer and accepted a fine horse instead.

Only later, when her former comrades in arms went to visit her, did they learn that she was a woman.  The story of Hua Mulan is well known and has provided much inspiration for poetry, essays, operas and paintings.

A play written in her honor, the Mu-Lan Play ends with the following lines:

She had much fighting ability, and could act the leader. Her body passed through one hundred battles, always at the front, and compared to the fiercest soldiers, she was still better.


One of the earliest forms of meditation was the ancient Chinese meditation, and includes Taoist meditation, wuji qigong and Chi Gun. Chinese meditation has been practiced for many years and it has been found highly effective, even today, for relaxing the mind and body and bringing people to a state of rumination. While it can be practiced both sitting or standing, this type of meditation lends itself to bringing the mind to a time on contemplation and reflection.

While Chinese meditation has been popular in the East for thousands of years, it is only in the past 10-20 years that it has begun to rise in popularity in the West. Chinese meditation focuses on harmonizing the body, the breathing, and the mind, until the entire being is in a state of meditation by deliberation. If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.  Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.

Understanding meditation

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.

Benefits of meditation

Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions.

The emotional benefits of meditation include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions

Meditation and illness

Meditation also might be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress. While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it’s not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.

Types of meditation

  • Guided meditation. Sometimes called guided imagery or visualization, with this method of meditation you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures. You may be led through this process by a guide or teacher.
  • Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation, you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
  • Mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. You broaden your conscious awareness. You focus on what you experience during meditation, such as the flow of your breath. You can observe your thoughts and emotions but let them pass without judgment.
  • Qi gong. This practice generally combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance. Qi gong (CHEE-gung) is part of traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Tai chi. This is a form of gentle Chinese martial arts. In tai chi (TIE-chee), you perform a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
  • Transcendental meditation. You use a mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase repeatedly silently, to narrow your conscious awareness and eliminate all thoughts from your mind. You focus exclusively on your mantra to achieve a state of perfect stillness and consciousness.
  • Yoga. You perform a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you’re encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment.

Elements of meditation

  • Focused attention. Focusing your attention is generally one of the most important elements of meditation. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the many distractions that cause stress and worry. You can focus your attention on such things as a specific object, an image, a mantra, or even your breathing.
  • Relaxed breathing. This technique involves deep, even-paced breathing using the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.
  • A quiet setting. If you’re a beginner, practicing meditation may be easier if you’re in a quiet spot with few distractions — no television, radios or cellphones. As you get more skilled at meditation, you may be able to do it anywhere, especially in high-stress situations where you benefit the most from meditation, such as a traffic jam, a stressful work meeting or a long line at the grocery store.
  • A comfortable position. You can practice meditation whether you’re sitting, lying down, walking or in other positions or activities. Just try to be comfortable so that you can get the most out of your meditation.

Everyday ways to practice meditation

  • Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
  • Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
  • Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. 
  • Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking — in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When you use this method, slow down the pace of walking so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
  • Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. 
  • Read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. You also can listen to sacred music, spoken words or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.
  • Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of love and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the object.

Building your meditation skills

Don’t judge your meditation skills, which may only increase your stress. Meditation takes practice. Keep in mind, for instance, that it’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.

Experiment, and you’ll likely find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy doing. Adapt meditation to your needs at the moment. Remember, there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate. What matters is that meditation helps you with stress reduction and feeling better overall.

Moment of Zen: Resting

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

As is traditionally depicted, a certain group of seven scholar/musician/poets wishing to escape the intrigues, corruption and stifling atmosphere of court life during the politically fraught Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history habitually gathered in the obscurity of a bamboo grove near the house of Xi Kang in Shanyang (now in Henan province). Here they enjoyed practicing their works, and enjoying the simple, rustic life, always with too much Chinese alcoholic beverage (sometimes referred to as “wine”). This was contrasted with the theoretically and Confucian certified honorable and joyful duty of serving ones country; but, which at this time would have actually meant living (at least briefly) a life of attempting to perform governmental service amid the deadly dangerous political quagmires of the seats of power and changes of government. Rather than attempt to stay loyal to Wei through the rise of Jin by their active, personal involvement, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove instead stressed the enjoyment of ale, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature — together with political avoidance.

The complexity of homosexual relationships inevitably led to the creation of poetic works immortalizing conflicting sentiments. Ruan Ji is usually mentioned first among the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. The other sages were Xi Kang his lover, Shan Tao, Liu Ling, Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong. They created an image of wise men enjoying life rather uninhibitedly, realizing the old dream of a Daoist concord of free men who are gifted with hidden wisdom “to be together, not being together” and “act jointly, not acting jointly”. The wine goblet, which became a symbol of being accustomed to “contemplating many wonders” pertaining to Daoism, united them even more than any principles. Ruan Ji talked in his works about “remote” things but about the “Bamboo Groove” he remained silent, although the group became the main focus of his searches for free and frank friendship.  Ruan Ji was one of the most famous poets to apply his brush to a homosexual theme. This work, one of several dealing with homosexuality from the “Jade Terrace,” a collection of love poetry, beautifully illustrates the stock imagery on which men of his time could draw in conceptualizing and describing love for another man.

In days of old there were many blossom boys —
An Ling and Long Yang.
Young peach and plum blossoms,
Dazzling with glorious brightness.
Joyful as nine springtimes;
Pliant as if bowed by autumn frost.
Roving glances gave rise to beautiful seductions;
Speech and laughter expelled fragrance.
Hand in hand they shared love’s rapture,
Sharing coverlcts and bedclothes.

Couples of birds in flight,
Paired wings soaring.
Cinnabar and green pigments record a vow:
“I’ll never forget you for all eternity. “

Westerners and Homosexuality in Asian

Recently, I was discussing with a close friend of mine, who happens to be of Chinese descent, about homosexuality in China. He told me that one of the interesting cultural views about homosexuality in Asia is that some non-western cultures, such as China, sometimes demonize homosexuality as an import of the West, and thus attack it from a nationalistic view. It happens in Asia and Africa -has mental contortionist’s outlook that seems bizarre by our standards — but basically, it’s if you like to be the receptive partner, then you are gay; but if you are a guy who is the active partner, then you are not considered gay.

What I found most interesting about this exchange is that in most non-western cultures, homosexuality is seen as an import from the West. The truth is that it is not the homosexuality that is an import from the West, but the homophobia that is the imported idea.

Early western observers, such as the Jesuit Matthew Ricci long noted the acceptance of homosexuality in China, but could do little to change it. In modern China, however, homosexuality is looked down on. Part of the reason for this was the huge impact made by the West from the 19th century on. After the impact of Buddhism, Western Science is the outside cultural force with the most impact on Chinese culture. Until recent years the full weight of this science depicted homosexuality as abnormal and evil.

Here is one British official’s view from 1806 [from John Barrow, Travels in China, (London: 1806)]:

The commission of this detestable and unnatural act is attended with so little sense of shame, or feelings of delicacy that many of the first officers of the state seemed to make no hesitation in publicly avowing it. Each of these officers is constantly attended by his pipe-bearer, who is generally a handsome boy, from fourteen to eighteen yaers of age, and is always well dressed.

Europeans, and the British especially (during the 19th century, the British were a major influence in China), brought the unnatural idea that homosexuality is wrong.  The eurocentric view of the world saw their way as the only legitimate way.  Countries which have been greatly influenced or ruled by the the British Empire currently have some of the harshest anti-sodomy laws.

An interesting caveat to this discussion is that in Vietnam, which had been a French colony, homosexual men are seen as good luck charms.  I found this out from a friend of mine who is from Vietnam and used to each year invite all of her friends over for a traditional Tet (Vietnamese Chinese New Year) dinner.  She was always particular fond of me because she knew I was gay and believed that by being there, I would bring good luck and great fortune to her family.  I think it worked.  Her husband who I went to graduate school with now has a prestigious job at a well-respected university’s Vietnam studies center.

Homosexuality in the Zhou Period

Discussion of homosexual behavior in Chinese literature referred back to three classic tales of love from the Zhou period, the Story of Mizi Xia, the Story of Pan Zhang, and the Story of Lord Long Yang.

The Story of Mizi Xia

As recorded in the Legalist philosophical work, Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), 78-79).

In ancient times Mizi Xia won favor [chang] with the ruler of Wei. According to the laws of the state of Wei, anyone who secretly made use of the ruler’s carriage was punished by having his feet amputated. When Mizi Xia’s mother fell ill, someone slipped into the palace at night to report this to Mizi Xia. Mizi Xia forged an order from the ruler, got into the ruler’s carriage, and went to see her, but when the ruler heard of it, he only praised him, saying, “How filial! For the sake of his mother he forgot all about the danger of having his feet cut off!” Another day Mizi Xia was strolling with the ruler in an orchard and, biting into a peach and finding it sweet, he stopped eating and gave the remaining half to the ruler to enjoy. “How sincere is your love for me!” exclaimed the ruler. “You forgot your own appetite and think only of giving me good things to eat!” Later, however, when Mizi Xia’s looks had faded and the ruler’s passion for him had cooled, he was accused at committing some crime against his lord. “After all,” said the ruler, “he once stole my carriage, and another time he gave me a half-eaten peach to eat!” Mizi Xia was acting no diffrently from the way he always had; the fact that he was praised in the early days and accused of crime later on, was because the ruler’s love had turned hate.

If you gain the ruler’s love, your wisdom will be appreciated; you will enjoy his favor as well; but if he hates you, not only will your wisdom be rejected, but you will be regarded as a criminal and thrust aside…. The beast called the dragon can be tamed and trained to the point where you may ride on its back. But on the underside of its throat it has scales a foot in diameter that curl back from the body, and anyone who chances to brush against them is sure to die. The ruler of men too has his bristling scales.”

The Story of Pan Zhang

When Pan Zhang was young he had a beautiful [mei] appearance and bearing, and so people of that time were exceedingly fond of him. Wang Zhongxian of the state of Chu heard of his reputation and came to request his writings. Thereafter Wang Zhongxian wanted to study together with him. They fell in love at first sight and were as affectionate as husband and wife, sharing the same coverlet and pillow with unbounded intimacy for one another.

Afterwards they died together and everyone mourned them. When they were buried together at Lofu Mountain, on the peak a tree with long branches and leafy twigs suddenly grew. All of these embraced one another! At the time people considered this a miracle. It was called the “Shared Pillow Tree.”‘

The Story of Lord Long Yang

The King of Wei and Lord Long Yang shared a boat while fishing. Lord Long Yang began to cry, so the King asked why he wept. “Because I caught a fish.”

“But why does that make you cry?” the king asked.

Lord Long Yang replied, “When I caught the fish, at first I was extremely pleased. But afterward I sought a larger fish, so I wanted to throw back the first fish I had caught. Because of this eveil act I will be expelled from your bed!”

“There are innumerable beauties in the world. Upon hearing of my receiving your favor, surely they will lift up the hems of their robes so that they can hasten to you. I am a previously caught fish! I will also be thrown back! How can I keep from crying?”

Because of this incident the King of Wei announced to the world “Anyone who dares speak of other beauties will be executed along with his whole family”.

The Gay Love Letters of Bo Juyi to Yuan Zhen and others

There is a very ancient and honorable homosexual literary tradition in China, and gay love poems are contained in the country’s earliest surviving anthology. Most gay men fulfilled their kinship interests (still the major factor in Chinese life today) by getting married, but they also maintained romantic homosexual affairs. The two major tropes for homosexual love – “sharing peaches”, and “the passion of the cut sleeve” – come from the story of Mizi Xia who gave a half-eaten peach to his lover Duke Ling of Wei (534–493 BC), and the story of how the Emperor Ai (reigned 6 BC to 1 AD) cut off his sleeve rather than wake his sleeping favorite Dong Xian. These ancient images demonstrate that male-to-male love rather than just sex was important for establishing a specifically gay identity, and how imaginative metaphors are at least as important as pejortive labels. For two hundred years the Han Dynasty was ruled by ten openly bisexual emperors, and detailed biographies were written about their favorites. During the Tang Dynasty, more records survive describing gay life and romantic friendship outside of imperial circles. The Chinese poet Bo Juyi (772–846) was one of the scholar-officials who served in the vast Chinese civil service, and became Governor of Suchow in 825. His fellow bureaucrats often were sent to provincial towns in the widespread empire, and he exchanged with them poems or verse-letters which are full of the expressions of romantic love. To his friend Qian Hui he sent a poetic souvenir of one winter night they spent together. His friend Yu Shunzhi sent him a bolt of patterned purple silk as a token of remembrance, and Bo Juyi replied how he would make this gift a symbol of their friendship. His greatest love was his fellow student Yuan Zhen (779–831). They were both Collators of Texts in the Palace Library at the northern imperial city of Ch’ang-an, and they exchanged intimate poetry for several decades when different careers separated them and Yuan Zhen was sent to the eastern city of Lo-yang. Bo Juyi wrote to his beloved,

Who knows my heart as I think of you?
It’s a captive falcon and a caged crane.

Even after a long separation – they both became commissioners in different provinces, and it could take almost a year for their letters to reach one another – Bo Juyi would sometimes dream that they were still together:

Awakening, I suspected you were at my side,
reached for you but there was nothingness.

Both poets got married; Yuan Zhen loved his wife but she died after only a few years; Bo Juyi’s wife “read no books” and he seems to have had no special intimacy with her; he built a cottage near a monastery where he would go to be alone. In his poem “Night Rain” (812) Bo Juyi speaks of his longing for Yuan Zhen:

There is one that I love in a far, far land;
There is something that harrows me, tied in the depths of my heart.
So Far is the land that I cannot visit him;
I can only gaze in longing, day on day.
So deep the sorrow that it cannot be torn away;
Never a night but I brood on it, hour, by hour.

In 814 Bo Juyi sent Yuan Zhan a sum of money equivalent to half a year’s salary,

Not that I thought you were bent on food and clothes,
But only because I felt tenderly towards you.

They were reunited briefly in 819, when both carved a poem on the rock outside a cave; they met again in 821–2 and in 829. The two men had made a pact to live together as Taoist recluses in their retirement, but Yuan Zhen died after a sudden illness before this plan could be put into effect. Bo Juyi wrote two formal dirges to recite at his beloved’s funeral and three songs for the pall-bearers to sing.

BO JUYI TO QIAN HUI     [early ninth century]

Night deep – the memorial draft finished;
mist and moon intense piercing cold.
About to lie down, I warm the last remnant of the wine;
we face before the lamp and drink.
Drawing up the green silk coverlets,
placing our pillows side by side;
like spending more than a hundred nights,
to sleep together with you here.


Thousand leagues, friend’s heart cordial;
one strand, fragrant silk purple resplendent.
Breaking the seal, it glistens
with a rose hue of the sun at eve –
The pattern fills in the width
of a breeze arising on autumnal waters.
About to cut it to make a mattress,
pitying the breaking of the leaves;
about to cut it to make a bag,
pitying the dividing of the flowers.
It is bettter to sew it,
making a coverlet of joined delight;
I think of you as if I’m with you,
day or night.


Since I left home to seek official state
Seven years I have lived in Ch’ang-an.
What have I gained? Only you, Yuan;
So hard it is to bind friendship fast. . . .
We did not go up together for Examination;
We were not serving in the same Department of State.
The bond that joined us lay deeper than outward things;
The rivers of our souls spring from the same well!


Other people too have friends that they love;
But ours was a love such as few friends have known.
You were all my sustenance; it mattered more
To see you daily than to get my morning food.
And if there was a single day when we did not meet
I would sit listless, my mind in a tangle of gloom.
To think we are now thousands of miles apart,
Lost like clouds, each drifting on his far way!
Those clouds on high, where many winds blow,
What is their chance of ever meeting again?
And if in open heaven the beings of the air
Are driven and thwarted, what of Man below?


Last night the clouds scattered everywhere,
for a thousand leagues the same moon color.
At dawn’s coming I saw you in dreams;
it must be you were thinking of me.
In my dream I grasped your hand,
asked you what your thoughts were.
You said you thought of me with pain,
had no one to send a letter through.

When I awoke, I still had not spoken in reply.
a knock-on-the-door sound, rap rap!
Saying, “A messenger from Shangzhou,”
he delivered a letter of yours.
From the pillow I rose sudden and startled,
putting on my clothes topsy-turvy.
I opened the seal, saw the hand-letter,
one sheet, thirteen lines.

SOURCE: Trans. Howard S. Levy, Translations from Po Chü-i’s Collected Works, 4 vols. (repr. New York, 1971); and Arthur Walley, The Life and Times of Po Chü-i (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1949).

恭禧發財 (Gong Hey Fat Choy) Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year 2012 began today, Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, and will usher in the Year of the Dragon. Celebrations have been held for the two weeks leading up to Jan. 23 as revelers from Hong Kong to San Francisco geared up for the most important holiday in the Chinese cultural tradition. However, the event has become a multicultural affair, celebrated many nationalities.  The Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, thus I have decided that it is the perfect time to publish a series of posts about homosexuality and Asia from historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Chinese New Year is symbolized by a new animal zodiac, determined by a 12-year cycle. Last year was the Year of the Rabbit. But 2012 welcomes a more commanding beast — the Dragon.

Who is the Dragon?

The Dragon is anything but a formidable foe in Chinese culture. Unlike the demon that gets slayed in Western literature, the Dragon is a symbol of good fortune and intense power in Eastern culture. In Chinese tradition, the Dragon is regarded as a divine beast.

According to Sung dynasty manuscripts, the Dragon is described as having the “head of an ox or donkey, eyes of a shrimp, horns of a deer, body of a serpent covered with fish scales, and a feet of a phoenix,” and it usually clutches a pearl, meant to symbolize its supernatural powers.

The Year of the Dragon is one of the most revered years of the Chinese New Year calendar, and those born under the sign are regarded as innovative, passionate people who are colorful, confident and fearless.

The Manila Bulletin cites that the Dragon is sometimes called a “karmic sign.” The Dragon is larger than life and its appearance means that big things are to come. The Year of the Dragon is a flowing river, not a stagnant lake, so things happen quickly earlier in the year. The Dragon marks progression, perseverance and auspiciousness. It may also bring about unpredictable events.


The five Chinese elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. The Dragon is made of Earth, Water and Wood. The Chinese New Year 2012 will primarily be a water year. This could mean riches and abundance or it could mean natural disaster.

Hong Kong astrologer Alion Yeo said the world should prepare for storms and floods. “Expect to see a lot of flooding in areas like Thailand and Southeast China,” he said. “Indonesia, Pakistan, India and places in China like Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou are particularly disaster-prone. They are likely to experience frequent earthquakes.”

Earth elements prosper from Water. So if an individual has a strong Earth-related sign, then he or she will have the opportunity to make money in 2012. This year can also be prosperous for those with Metal and Wood-related signs. However, Wood signs must mind their words and actions as an unsavory reputation looms this year.

Water is not a good omen for Fire signs, as Fire fears water. Fire signs must be mindful of their personal safety, conservation efforts and exhibiting patience in 2012. However, female Fire signs could see blossoming social relationships in the Year of the Dragon, including romantic ones.

Gong Xi Fa Cai: wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.