Monday, January 14, 2008

Homosexual History in China: Emperor Ai and Dong Xian's Passion of the Cut Sleeve


The Passions of the Cut Sleeve

China, much in the news lately, has a rich and glorious history of gay love that isn't necessarily something you learn in school or that China's tourism industry is pushing.

Despite this, one of China's most wonderful gifts to the world is the beautiful story of "The Passions of the Cut Sleeve."

It is a story of the Han dynasty's Emperor Ai and his favorite, Dong Xian
Dong Xian had fallen asleep across the Emperor’s sleeve. When the Emperor wanted to get up, he cut off the sleeve rather than wake his friend.

And the Emperor and his lover come up in history again, in answer to the question:

What was the Greatest Gift to A Same-Sex Lover Ever?

The answer:
The Chinese empire. During his reign, Emperor Ai (r. 6 B.C. - A.D. 1), the last adult emperor of the Han dynasty, rewarded his beloved, Dong Xian, with a large fortune and a series of high offices. And on his deathbed, over his councillors' objections, Ai gave Dong Xian the imperial seals, intending for him to succeed him.
The story doesn't end so well, though
Lacking sufficient support, Dong Xian was soon forced to kill himself, and the Han dynasty was left to be overthown.
But, it's still an amazing tale that reverberates through time - in fact, the legend of the Emperor cutting off his sleeve so as not to wake his beloved became the source for one of the actual terms used in Chinese to express love between men: The Passions of the Cut Sleeve, which in Mandarin looks like this:


How cool is that?

The top quote is from a neat website called "Androphile Gay History." Check it out!
The bottom two quotes are from pg. 13 of Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher's "The First Gay Pope and Other Records."

What about China today? For a fascinating take on the recent (2006) place China finds itself vis-a-vis Gay Rights and it's own Gay Population, check out this commentary from the Advocate!

"Why gay rights are good for China"By Andrew M. Potts


Check out this Time Magazine article for the January 2008 update on Gay Rights in China!
How timely!



1 comment:

J Ashland said...

This is certainly a thought-provoking story, especially since I know how elaborate and expensive those sleeves can be.