China didn’t always suffer from a prudish attitude towards human sexuality, in fact up until the Tang Dynasty where Confucianism’s more reserved approach took hold; the country was very open indeed.
Erotica abounds in early Chinese history, there’s even a vase from around 3,000 B.C. with some extremely explicit pictures of a lady’s unmentionables on the outside. “Wedding Tiles” which were paintings made on silk of erotic or pornographic nature were traditionally used to educate newlyweds prior to the wedding night. In fact there’s a tile or two from the Eastern Han period (23 – 220 A.D./C.E.) that shows a couple enthusiastically going at it while another gentleman watches, and so do a tree full of monkeys – in the same tiles.
Rumour has it that Chinese hospitality in the North of China, used to include an invite to share the bed of the householder’s wife. In the hope that outsiders would bring a family new blood and improve their future. Marco Polo refers to this custom too in his notebooks, and that wasn’t all that far back in history.
However there’s no denying that of all the Chinese in the pre-communist era, those who had the most sex and the most interesting intimate lives were royalty. Emperors would have thousands of concubines, based on a belief that the more a man made love (some sources claim that this meant – without climaxing). The Yellow Emperor, who was the first emperor of China in Legend, is said to have gained immortality through sex with a thousand nubile virgins.
Sui Yang To (581-618 A.D./C.E.) wasn’t satisfied with a harem of 3,080 women and is said to have had a hankering for teenage virgins, which he placed in a “wheelchair” when he had captured them. This contraption would hold her arms and legs apart, and had a mechanized cushion that enabled her to be placed in position to “gain the royal favour”.
Another emperor in the 11th century is reported to have had 121 women at his beck and call too, as this meant he had enough for 1/3rd of a year without repeating himself.
It’s not just women who were “lucky” enough to gain royal attention, the Emperor Ai (Han Dynasty) was said to chop his robes to pieces rather than wake up a boyfriend who’d fallen asleep on it. In fact this coined a Chinese euphemism for gay love – “the passion of the sleeve”.
And the Empress Wu Zetian, back in the 7th century got in on the act too and built herself a harem of ready and willing young men.
So as you can see, China hasn’t always been shy in *ahem* coming forward about sexuality, you just had to be royal to participate.