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Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Chinese Emperor and the Cut Sleeve.

For most of Chinese history, male love and sexual relations between men have been celebrated in history and in literature, especially where they involved rulers, poets or scholars. In a highly literate society, careful historical records were kept. With an openness about recording sexual escapades unheard of in the West, these were faithfully recorded and preserved. From the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), three celebrated stories of male loves demonstrate an unselfconscious acceptance of male love that has characterised China throughout most of its subsequent history.

The story of the Cut Sleeve relates to the young Emperor Ai, who ruled from 6 BCE to 1 CE.

According to the Han historian Ban Gu, the emperor once sought to rise when his lover Dong Xian had fallen asleep on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb him, he cut off his sleeve and appeared in public in this mutilated state. Thereafter, reputedly, his courtiers adopted similar abbreviations of clothing to celebrate the love affair.
Two related stories were those of the Shared Peach, and of Long yang and the Fish.

These three stories are repeatedly invoked in Chinese literary and historical works. For two thousand years homosexual love was regularly referred to as "the love of shared peach", or the "cut sleeve", and a favoured lover as a "Long Yang." An important anthology of stories and anecdotes was published in late imperial days was titled simply "Duan xiu pian (Records of the cut sleeve)

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