Debaters of the bedchamber: China reexamines ancient sexual practices
Brooklyn College-CUNY, US
Douglas Wile is professor emeritus of Brooklyn College-City University of New York. His research in the fields of Chinese intellectual history and cultural studies focuses on sexology, martial arts, traditional medicine, and self-cultivation practices. His major work in Chinese sexology is Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics, Including Women’s Solo Meditation Texts (1992).
This article takes note of the revival of interest in China in the ancient art of the bedchamber (fangzhongshu). We survey traditional Chinese sex culture, the textual sources of the bedchamber arts, the development of sexology as an academic discipline, and a synopsis of the theory and practice of the art of the bedchamber itself. We present the various views, pro and con, regarding these practices as they are being debated today in academic journals, advice columns, talk shows, and online forums. Finally, we review the roles of Western scholars in reviving the topic in China and Chinese masters in transmitting the art to the West. Formally an aspect of elite culture, like poetry and calligraphy, the art of the bedchamber has reemerged today in the context of cultural nationalism and an exploration of Chinese identity. Moreover, universal literacy and media penetration have democratized the discourse to include the voices of women and ordinary citizens.