Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty

By Robin R. Wang | Go to book overview

27
CLASSIC OF THE WHITE GIRL, OR THE ART OF THE BEDCHAMBER

(Sunüjing)

Sunüjing is considered to be one of the earliest Chinese books on sex and sexual ity. Assumed to be compiled somewhere between the later Han and the Three Kingdom period (27–260 C.E.), it is a medical manual that teaches the principles of sex, or what the Chinese call “the art of the bedchamber (fangshu).” Traditionally, the book is said to be influenced by Daoist philosophy, particularly in its understanding of the cyclic movement of nature, yin/yang polarities, the five-element theory, and the connection of qi energy to the well-being of the human body in general.

The book is presented in a dialogue format in which Huangdi, the legendary Yellow Emperor, is receiving advice on sexual techniques from his chief female advisor, Sunü (whose name literally means the White Girl). According to an earlier mythological account, Sunü is an immortal being who lives in the land of immortality (xianjie) where she has obtained the secret knowledge of immortality that is based on absorb ing the “vital energy” of “virgin men (tongnan).”

Three things need to be noted about the Sunüjing. First, the book connects the art of lovemaking to the principle of yin and yang represented by ancient Chinese cosmology. Second, the book follows the Chinese tradition that sees sexuality as part of the natural rhythms of life, and as such treats the issue of sexuality within the framework of the general physiological well-being of human beings. Third, the book emphasizes the role of women or feminine energy in the maintenance of health and balance of men or masculine energy. Although one can argue that the Sunüjing is a book intended to be read by men rather than women, the book implies a number of ideas about women that deserve attention.

Ellen Zhang

Translated by Ellen Zhang.

-191-

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