TWO WORDS ON PEDERASTY IN CHINA BY J.-J. MATIGNON, 1899
Jean-Jacques Matignon (1866-1928) was a French military physician attached to the French legation in Peking from 1894 to 1901, during which time he travelled widely and studied local customs. This formed the basis for a large number of books about both the Far East and medicine. One of these, Superstitions, Crime et Misère en Chine, first published in Lyon and Paris in 1899, was a series of articles and lectures on varied topics, including one on pp. 255-80 entitled “Deux mots sur la pederastie”, translated here as “Two Words on Pederasty”.
No translation of this book into English has ever been published, so the following is this website’s. Note that the word “passive” used here is the least unsatisfactory translation found for the rare French word pédéré. More precisely it means the boy or youth pedicated or available for pedication in pederastic sex. See the fuller discussion of its meaning, with historical examples given, in Grecques, les moeurs du hanneton?: histoire du mot pédérastie et ses derives et ses dérivés en langue française by Jean-Claude Féray (Quintes-Feuilles, 2004). “Céleste” is translated here as “Chinese” such being the sense (pertaining to the Celestial Empire) in which it is always used by Matignon.
All the footnotes are Matignon's.
Two words on pederasty
Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim.
One of my old friends, who knows the Chinese well, thanks to long experience of the inhabitants of the Flowery Land, established, one evening after dinner, as an axiom that "every Chinese who respects himself practises, has practised or practised pederasty."
Although this joke is very paradoxical at first glance, it must be admitted to contain a great deal of truth, and the number of Chinese "who respect themselves" is considerable. Pederasty is, indeed, extremely widespread in the Middle Kingdom. All classes of society engage in it, and all ages, young and old, are fond of it.
Moreover, here is a gesture that can be used to corroborate my opinion about the frequency of this aberration of the sexual instinct. I have many a time seen Chinese people, slightly taken with drink and feeling libidinous ideas, seize a comrade by the waist and sketch anal coitus on him; and the comrade does not seem at all offended. Singular fact. The gesture does not shock a Chinese. But the expression”Tsao-pi-ni” - word for word: I pedicate you - is considered a big insult and even a humiliating thing. It is, however, in daily use among the Chinese, who, in order to show their anger against somebody, verbally pedicate not only him, but, what is much more insulting, his ancestors.
It is difficult to find a single cause for the great development of this vice. It has been said that among the Greeks pederasty was a result of the admiration which the Hellenic race professed for beautiful forms, for the aesthetics of a beautiful body. The Greek woman lost her shape very quickly and the citizen of Athens who was returning from the Olympic Games or discus-throwing, could only discern an unfavourable comparison between the lines of his wife and those of the athlete he had applauded in the arena. It is this feeling of his compatriots that Sokrates defines in Plato’s treatise on Friendship, when, speaking of the love of Hippothales for Lysis, a young ephebe of fifteen, he exclaims: "Ah! How worthy are the beautiful loves of a young man! "And the wise Sokrates was a connoisseur.
I hardly believe that it is aesthetic feeling for form that drives the Chinese to practice pederasty commonly. Perhaps one could rather find a cause in the refined and almost unhealthy sensuality that characterises Orientals.
Pederasty is in China what it was in Rome, purely material, not idealised, purified by aesthetic feeling, the love of visual form. In Greece, it was between free people, between friends. In China, it is almost always on an employee, a servant, a professional that anal coitus is practised: pederasty in the Flowery Land is little more than financial satisfaction of a desire.
However, there is every reason to suppose that some Chinese, intellectually refined, seek in pederasty the satisfaction of the senses and the spirit. The Chinese woman is little cultured, ignorant even, whatever her condition, honest woman or prostitute. But the Chinese often has a poetic soul: he loves poetry, music, the fine sentences of the philosophers, things as he cannot find among the fair sex of the Middle Kingdom. Also, if his means allow it, he frequents the world of high masculine gallantry, where he is sure to meet young passives with, not a higher diploma, the thing does not exist in China, but sufficient literary background to enable them to join well in competition at the level of secondary school graduation or even a Chinese degree. I shall speak about it again soon.
Sodomy is quite common among young people, and in most cases, these are, as for the elderly, venal loves. However, it is quite often the natural complement of a good friendship. It has two advantages: it is economical and it is safe; you choose your friends and you do not catch the pox. So, when in the street, you meet two young, well-dressed Chinese walking together and holding each other by the ends of their plaits, a gesture that in China is the equivalent of our "arm in arm", you will, six times out of ten, be right to suppose that their friendship does not stick to the strict limits of austere Platonism.
The lack of women is, in some cases, the main cause of sodomy in a particular region. This is what is happening in Java, for example. The Dutch government has not allowed Chinese coolies to be followed by their wives on some parts of the island. The Chinese, in groups of twelve to fifteen individuals, designate one of their own, either by lot or by election, who will fulfill the role of woman for the community, and whose duties will extend from the care of the cooking to the satisfaction of the many amorous desires of his compatriots. Dutch authority once tried to react against this habit. The Chinese refused to obey, massacred some officials of the colony and finally, they were let be.
The same thing happened in some parts of Mongolia where the Chinese were allowed to come to work. The Mongol Princes fearing, if the Chinese brought women, a too rapid population increase and thus an invasion of their territory, forbade the entry of Chinese females into their states. The Mongolian women, who are, however, the most hospitable supreme contempt for the Sons of Heaven, and do not wish to have any relations with them. The Chinese were forced to do in Mongolia what their nationals had done in Java; but the Mongol Princes did not, in the name of morality, mount any opposition.
Pederasty is something that does not seem extraordinary to the Chinese, who indulge in it and easily go along with it. Those of my comrades, besides, who served with the Battalions of Africa in Upper Tonkin, saw how easily the "Joyful" found it to satisfy their African tastes on the Chinese porters employed by the occupation army.
Public opinion is completely indifferent to this kind of distraction, and morality is not at all disturbed by it: since it pleases the operator and the patient is consenting, everything is for the best; Chinese law does not like to deal with too intimate matters. Pederasty is even considered a thing in good taste, an expensive whim and therefore a civilised pleasure. Because I must admit that the Chinese are as snobbish as the inhabitants of old Europe who appreciate things - and also men – in direct relation to the expenses they necessitate. Practicing pederasty is an expensive luxury like eating swallows’ nests or hundred-year-old eggs; it is also the indispensable complement of all good meals, during which the guests are largely provided, volentes nolentes, with aphrodisiacs or so-called stimulants of the sexual feeling, with which Chinese cooking and pharmacopoeia are particularly well supplied.
Although much practiced and even respected by the Chinese, pederasty is something not willingly spoken of in China. One might wish that the discretion observed by its adherents were a little imitated by our officials in Indo-China, who too often make this vice the object of conversation at the table or in their circle. I have known an old Chinese, Mr. Ocean! - who had practised pederasty and to whom I am indebted for most of the information that I could gather on this interesting question. The first time I asked him if he had from time to time amused himself, following the words of Petronius, "in going to meet yesterday’s lunch" with one of his fellows, he defended himself at first with indignation; then his defense softened, little by little, and he finished, smiling, by acknowledging his weakness, regretting bitterly that his age, his physical and especially financial means, no longer allowed him to continue this kind of distraction.
The Chinese is very discreet in everything related to pederasty. He does it in secret, very different in that from the decadent Romans who, like the Amillus of Martial, devoted themselves to their vice ostentatiously.
Reclusis foribus grandes percidis, Amille,
Et te deprendi quum facis ista, cupis.
Public opinion, to my knowledge at least, makes only one reproach of pederasty; it accuses it of having a dreadful effect on the view.
* * *
Pederasty has been sung by several poets. It has fueled the eloquence of many storytellers. The famous Persian poet Hafiz has dedicated one of his most beautiful poems to extoling the merits of a young passive. In China, Li-taé-pou has tried on the same subject and his works are, so to speak, classics. There are plenty of pornographic writings mentioning sodomy, and among them the famous Tsin-pî-meï, a big old book, illustrated with highly libidinous engravings, many of which relate to this particular branch of love. It is a work of the most profound and disgusting immorality, treating of coitus with mother, sister, of pederasty with brothers, father, grandfather. This book, which is very expensive - 300 to 400 francs - can not, under penalty of death, be owned, written in Chinese, by a Son of Heaven; but he may, without inconvenience, have in his library the edition in the Manchu language. In spite of this prohibition, the Tsin-pi-mei is widely diffused; many Chinese buy it and "pass it under the coat", as La Bruyère puts it, to friends who cannot afford it.
Another book of the same kind that every Chinese man has read or owned is the Ping-Houa-pao-tien, word by word the "precious mirror of identical flowers", that is to say, love between individuals of the same sex. It deals first and foremost with pederasty; Sappho has made few pupils among the Chinese.
Finally, for a centime, one can obtain in the street, small pamphlets containing tales, popular stories, which very often have as background a subject related to sodomy.
The earliest mention of pederasty in China goes back to the Han dynasty, 200 years before Jesus Christ: an Emperor fell in love with one of his ministers and showered him with honours. But there is every reason to suppose that, many centuries before history officially recorded in its annals these masculine loves of sovereign, pederasty should have flourished in the Middle Kingdom.
* * *
The names by which pederasty is designated are very numerous, and some have a certain stamp of originality. Thus, the term "lou-t'ze" is often used and means "stove", whence, for the act of pederasty, the expression "t'ran lou-t'ze" is to say, "push a rod (iron) into the stove" to stir the coal. The most commonly used word is "t'rou-tse", which means "rabbit", a qualifier that is perfectly offensive and humiliating for the person to whom it is applied. The name of "Sian-Kòn", "young gentleman", is used especially for refined passives, with whom we are going to busy ourselves.
* * *
There are, in fact, at least two very distinct categories to be established among the representatives of male prostitution. In the first are only those who, from their childhood, were specially brought up, trained for this purpose, both physically and intellectually. This is the top of the basket, the pinnacle of male prostitution.
In the second category are placed all kinds of subjects, young and old, children taken by force, actors, porters, rickshaw pullers, thugs and also individuals of the first category to whom age, illness or misfortune have robbed of charms and success.
This first category of prostitutes is very interesting, because of its organization and the recruitment of its staff. It is composed of young subjects, sold by their parents at the age of four or five, and often stolen by industrialists who work as suppliers for prostitution. The theft of children, male and female, is a well-known fact in China, and in Tientsin, for example, every year, at the beginning of the summer, when the boats leave, by the Grand Canal, to go to the South looking for rice, the disappearances of children are reported every day. These are loaded onto junks and sold, during the trip or on arrival, to bawdy houses or individuals. The authorities are even launching proclamations at this time urging parents to watch over their children with care.
The young subjects are from the age of five, in general, subjected to a physical and intellectual training, which should make them fit to play their role. This preparation is long, because it is hardly until about thirteen or fourteen years that they are judged to be ready and put in circulation. Needless to say, long before this time, their owner could not resist the pleasure of removing their anal virginity.
First, they are given a regular massage of the gluteal region, to make the buttocks beautiful: then, little by little, the anus is habituated by the passage of dilators of progressively increasing volume. This last operation is always painful, the child does not lend himself to it well, and for this fact receives blows. I was assured that some pimps, more humane than the majority of their peers, to avoid the pain of these beginnings, got their victims to take a drug other than the opium, which not only facilitated the dilation of the sphincters, but which caused anesthesia. Although I have never been happy enough to procure this beneficent medicine, this would not make it less well known. The use of it would even be frequent among certain minor mandarins of the Treasury, who eat it and can in this way quite easily make disappear in their rectums silver ingots, which thus escape the most minute investigations performed on them when they leave their offices. Although the fact has been certified to me by several Chinese, I do not record it without reservations, asking myself if this tolerance of the rectums of the aforementioned officials should be attributed to the hypothetical drug or to pederasty, to which many of them lend themselves.
At the same time that the path below is prepared, care of the spirit is not neglected. The children receive a certain instruction: they are taught singing, music, to say and compose poetry, drawing, beautiful writing and old characters. They know by heart a stock of fine words, how to pun, have the talent to deploy a few maxims of Confucius, or the sayings of the Sung dynasty. These are all little charms of which the Chinese are very fond.
* * *
It is the best of manners for a rich Chinese who offers lunch to his friends, to bring these "young gentlemen" to the restaurant. Recovery boys know a number of topics and know where to go to procure for their Sian-Kôn customers to whom they come to offer the charms of their spirits, and not always of their bodies. For with them often arrives a "t'cha-kà-cul" (pimp) who opposes, in general, any serious and too hasty consumption. It is necessary that the Chinese who have dined well know, for the moment at least, to be satisfied with what our ancients called the "small sufferances", caresses, light touchings, all things which are already very expensive, because the rich Chinese, when they have fun, spend money as extravagantly as our most elegant clubmen of high living. The rest will come only late, very late even, after a long and expensive courtship.
Because, even with money, one does not attain straightaway the favours of "Sian-Kôn"; I mean of those who are in the higher category. It is because they are aware of their value and hold the sugared almond high to suitors who send gifts, fruits, cakes, money, dig their memories to write some very noisy and empty thoughts in very old characters; and all this often for a negative result. One can even see Chinese ruin themselves for these "young gentlemen" without being able to reach the goal so desired.
Many of these high-class "horizontals" have a rich protector who installs them sumptuously "in their furniture", pays them all their most expensive fantasies. For they are capricious and whimsical like the ladies whose place they take. The good kind wants the protector to find in his "boyfriend" a woman and marry him.
The costume of these "gentlemen" is always very luxurious and preferably lined with pink silk. They rarely go on foot and hardly go out except by car. They are very careful of their person, wash, perfume themselves a lot and even have the delicacy to depilate the anal area, which naturally has, in the Chinese, very little hair. They almost forget their sex and identify themselves so much with their role so much that they end up taking themselves for women, whose gait, gestures, facial expression and even voice they adopt.
The names of these refined "Sian-Kôn" are known to the "Peking which parties” just as those of our women of the demi-monde are on the turf of gallantry in Paris or London.
Their glory is most ephemeral. For four years, five years at most, they hold the upper hand; from the twentieth year, they are already less appreciated. But they still find rich protectors. Later they set themselves up on their own, or enter a trading house as clerks, making there the happiness of the boss, the employees and even some customers, able to satisfy at moderate prices their vice and their self-esteem, for there remains always a certain halo of glory attached to the name of a formerly known "Sian-Kôn". Many of them continue or take up the acting profession. They are sure to find numerous clients in the theatre and, moreover, for a time, they receive a pension on the side supplied by the contractor who had once prepared and launched them in circulation.
This category of which I have just spoken is a tiny minority in the legion of Chinese passives; it is the aristocracy of male loves, accessible only to a chosen few.
Below these high-flying "kept boys", I shall place the "little gentlemen in the bedroom", well placed and quite cultured, but, for various reasons, not having the success of the first; a simple question of luck more than intrinsic value. They are very accessible to gifts, pastries and bits of poetry. It is this milieu that above all the wealthy bourgeois and the honest merchant frequent.
Well below these comes the second category of passives, this one quite inferior, in which are classified those gathered in the street and the theatre, coming from everywhere, children taken by force, whether having undergone prior preparation or not, beggars, porters, all dirty people, stinking, often rich in vermin and eminently contagious. For while syphilis and blennorrhagia are exceptional among high-class passives, they are, on the contrary, very widespread in this second category of prostitutes.
* * *
Where do these interesting characters meet? Some come out very little, live in the most complete luxury and, provided with everything, receive only a few intimates with whom they make mostly poetry and witty expressions. Others, also equipped with a comfortable set-up, are much more welcoming and hospitable than the first, while still being choosy in terms of customers. They receive at home people who have fun at dinners and make house calls.
But the vast majority of pederasts find their objects mostly in public houses known to all, through clandestine pimps and barbers, at the theatre and lastly on the street, where the professionals know how to make themselves known through particular gestures in day-time, and through particular whistles in the evening.
Curiosity, purely sociological, has led me twice to houses of prostitution where there are little boys; first by day, then by night, thinking that I would be less disgusted, and after each session I came out deeply sickened by what I had seen, as debasement and perversion. These establishments are at Tientsin and Europeans are admitted without difficulty, because many, I was told - something I hesitated to believe! - are frequent customers of these dens, a hundred times more despicable than the foulest houses of our seaports. Peking is also well provided with these "tang-ming-eul" (public houses) but it is difficult for Europeans to get in there. The male establishments are distinguished from women's houses mostly by the shape of the lantern at the door, which is made of glass and not paper and on which there is an allegorical but understandable inscription. The children met there, at least those whom I saw, are dirty and ill-kept. On the arrival of a client, they sing some fashionable tune in a perfectly unpleasant falsetto voice, offer you a pipe of tobacco or opium, come even to sit on your lap, tell you some very coarse stories, and wait until you want to appeal to their goodwill. In one Tientsin house, out of five children presented to us, two had amazing mucous patches at the corners of their mouths, visible from a distance; it is possible that by submitting the other three to a reasonably serious examination, I would have had a good chance of finding traces of syphilis on them too.
Many of these brothels are mixed. There are boys between the ages of ten and twelve, and girls, often younger, on whom the Chinese engage in all kinds of despicable acts. Public opinion seems not to be moved by it, and the proximity of one of these establishments does not disturb the neighbours, who willingly give you information about them. I remember that having left, in the day-time, with Mr. L--, one of my good friends, to visit a Tientsin "tang-ming-eul", led by a Chinese officer in a European consulate, we found ourselves hesitating at a crossroads on the right direction to follow. A carpenter, seeing our embarrassment, approached politely and said to us: "These noble old men are doubtless looking for the house of little boys? Let them take the first street on the left. "
In these establishments, the children are well fed, but badly treated by both the owner and the client. The intercourse is often painful; the little boy tries to escape from it, to the great anger of the pederast, who scolds him, strikes him, wanting it for his money.
For the price is quite high; at least double what one pays in women's houses. Those in Peking, for example, seem to be priced by the police according to the category to which they belong, and the prices vary between 5 francs, 1 franc and 25 centimes.
Little boys' establishments do not pay taxes. They exist only out of pure tolerance by the police who close their eyes on the condition that their paws are greased. Also, the customer pays indirectly the bribes paid by the tenants to the authorities. On entering the house, he must discuss his price with the owner, and always, in equivalent category, he will have to give a higher sum than in a house of women.
Male prostitution is much practised in a clandestine way in dark houses maintained by shady pimps.
Some hairdressing shops have also made a specialty of it. A certain number of them are very well known in Peking, Mr. Ocean told me, or rather were, because the police have been watching them very actively for some time; he has nevertheless told me of one, situated in a much frequented temple, where haircuts and love between men are done.
At the theatre, the "hooking up" is much practised by the "Sian-Kôn". You are hardly installed in what serves there as a box, than you see discreetly enter two or three little boys, who approach little by little, rub against you, make you a few compliments and throw you looks both tender and incendiary that our professionals at the Folies-Bergère would not disown. These children are generally well dressed, nice enough in figure and clean. Their behaviour can expose to a singular mistake to singular misunderstanding the European unused to Chinese customs. One day, an old gentleman, a minister of a friendly, but not allied, power was at the theater in Tientsin, freshly landed in the Middle Kingdom. Two or three of these boys entered his box and came to lean against him. The good man, thinking no ill, began to caress them paternally, patting their cheeks, taking them by the chin, to the great despair of his interpreter and the even greater amazement of the spectators, astonished to see the cynicism and shamelessness with which this "foreign devil" openly displayed his weakness for pederasty. The excellent man was very upset when, on leaving the theatre, he learned of the disastrous effect of his behaviour on the Chinese, who must surely, at the present moment, take that representative of a European Majesty for a perfect pederast.
There are no women on the Chinese stage. Their roles are taken by men, generally young, who have a real talent for mimicry and manage to imitate perfectly their slightest gestures and comportments from the balancing of their bodies in unstable equilibrium on deformed feet to the tone of their voices. The figure of the actors, skillfully made up, is often quite pleasant and the most beautiful woman’s head that I have seen in China is surely that of a "Sian-Kôn" who played an elegant, young mandarin.
The actors, when they are not too old and they have talent, are well appreciated by pederasts. In the same way that a beautiful woman on the stage gives rise to sometimes libidinous thoughts in the most austere bourgeois, all good Chinese look likewise with a lustful eye at a young actor. "Oh! the little actors”, an old Chinese said to me, almost blushing; “It's very pretty! ... But it's very expensive! ... "
We have seen the young "Sian-Kôn" in fashion and the actor rated on the turf of male gallantry hold the high ground only for a relatively short period of time. From twenty or twenty-two years old, considered already too old, they fall into the vulgar domain of common and cheap prostitution, unless they enter as secretaries the home of some rich merchant or high official who will still pay them handsomely for the various services they may render to them. Many of these passives know how to stay in place for a long time, even though age has made them lose their charms. Their owner keeps them, as one does here with an old mistress: habit is sometimes so powerful! On the death of their protector they are often reduced to destitution, unless he has provided for their future. But one never sees the passive delight three reigns, like Diane de Poitiers, or pass himself from father to son as was done in Rome, according to Martial, who, in one of his epigrams, explains to miserly Titullus that on the evening of his death, his desolate son will sleep nevertheless with his concubine.
Quoque tristis filius, velis nolis,
Cum conciibino nocte dormiet prima.
* * *
Pederasty has official consecration in China. There are, in fact, passives for the Emperor. All this has long been planned and regulated by the Ministry of Rites. But I doubt very much that the Son of Heaven who is now on the throne makes frequent use of it. Be that as it may, a special palace, the Xan-Fou (the Palace of the South), located outside the Imperial City, is assigned to the residence of these official male concubines. Does it currently contain many officials in this category? I do not know; but what I can certify is that the mandarins charged with the surveillance of this establishment must be paid as if it contained them.
These passives, if they exist, must presumably be eunuchs, like all the employees of the palace. Their castrated quality even allows them to achieve easily one of the requirements of the Chinese, with all the good "Sian-Kôn": the absence of erection at the time of anal coitus. It is, indeed, the best kind in the passive that the rubbing on the prostate does not lead to an erection. Also to hide it in case it occurs, the passive takes the precaution of using a handkerchief to fix his penis along his thigh.
* * *
The few considerations into which I have gone have no other purpose than to observe the frequency of pederasty amongst the Chinese. The Chinese indulge in it on a large scale: it is what they do. But they are discreet in this matter; they do not show off their depraved taste; if only their modesty on this subject was observed by many of our nationals in the Far East. And if I had to award the palm - a delicate and difficult thing - to the most deserving, that is to say the least ignoble, pederasts of China and Europe - for they are legion also in our western countries - perhaps I would award it to the Sons of Heaven. Amongst these, indeed, pederasty has never come out of the male domain. Unlike many Westerners, they never practice it on women, considering this last method as quite dangerous for them.
 Archives d'Anthropologie criminelle (15 Janvier 1899).
 I will, however, point out, on this subject, that the Annamese, who in so many ways is reminiscent of the Chinese, do not know pederasty, and that it has been imported principally into Tonkin by the European.
 These eggs are preserved in lime for years. In the long run, the sulphides contained in the yellow are released, give to the albumin a greenish colouration, then this one coagulates and takes the appearance of jelly of meat. It is a very popular dish and also excellent: the taste is reminiscent of lobster meat.
 Pederasty is very much practiced in Tonkin by our nationals: this sad habit, together with the yet more widespread one of smoking opium, is not made to give the Annamese a high idea of their protectors. In the big cities, in Haiphong among others, there are houses of prostitution where our officials go, after dinner, to attend pornographic sessions between little boys or little girls. In Hanoi, it is not unusual to be hung up at night, on the main promenade around the lake, by little boys speaking French - and what a French, my God! - "Mr. Captain! come to my place - me a good smutty boy! "is the sentence of invitation. The governor generals justly troubled by it have taken severe police measures, but their efforts have never been crowned entirely with success. The best remedy for these regrettable habits would be to send as much as possible married agents to Indo-China: the moral level of the colony could only gain.
 Martial, book 7, epig. 62.
 A copy in Chinese is in the National Library [of France].
 The external genital organs are not depilated amongst Chinese women, as amongst Arab women. The system of body hair is very little developed. Only Chinese Mohammedan women are depilated. The Mohammedans are about 40 to 45 million in China.
 I urge those wishing to have some information about Chinese theatre and its functioning to read the interesting article that my friend Marcel Monnier has dedicated to it in his Tour d’Asie.
 According to Buret, La Médecine chez les Romains avant l’ère chrétienne (Janus, May-June 1897).