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three pairs of lovers with space



Gustaaf Schlegel (1840-1903) was a Dutch sinologist who began to study Chinese at the age of nine and stayed in China at various times between 1857 and 1862. Presented here is what he had to say about pederasty in China in his Iets over de Prostitutie in China (Something on Prostitution in China) published in Batavia, the Dutch East Indies, in 1866. The introductory pages says the purpose of this short work is to address a neglected subject which is important because the same moral corruption at every level of Chinese society is destroying China that once caused the fall of the Roman Empire.[1]

The translation of all but the very first paragraph is by Dr. Jacobus X… in his Untrodden Fields of Anthropology,[2] and apparently based on La Prostitution en Chine, the French translation by Dr. C. S. of Brussels, published J. Lemonnyer (Rouen 1880).


Prostitution in China

Having explained why the miserable prospects of the baby girls of poor parents led to infanticide, …

The debauchery against nature of the Chinese of the north is also opposed to a great multiplication of wives. In Canton, where this disgusting vice is rarer, the cases of infanticide are also rarer. [p. 21]

Dr. Gustaaf Schlegel as Professor of Chinese at Leyden University, by Thérèse Schwartze

A description of Chinese erotic literature (pp. 24-26). Although this is general, rather than about just Greek love, it applies to it too, and Dr. Jacobus X… saw fit to include it in his account of Chinese pederasty in his Untrodden Fields of Anthropology (1898).

In China, erotic books and engravings are largely employed as sexual excitants. Innumerable quantities of these are to be met with; nearly all of these light works, novels, anecdotes, etc., are full of expressions of so cynical a nature that it is almost impossible to choose among them.

The Roman poets in their molles libri still made use of metaphors and periphrases, whereas in the Tschoen koeng tse (erotic poems) history is brought forward for the sole purpose of describing the most scandalous affairs in the vilest language.

The governing authorities allow these books to circulate without any restriction. They have, as well as the priests, fulminated against these immoral books in the public papers, and their authors have even sometimes been severely punished; the priests do not fail to preach that the authors of these obscene books will remain burning in hell as long as their works are still in existence on earth; and yet, notwithstanding, every day the most infamous plays are performed, at which women as well as men assist, and printers continue to publish novels daily more and more filthy.

It has happened that Governor-Generals of provinces have caused entire editions together with their plates of impression, after having purchased them, to be burned; but such cases are very rare, for the governors are generally themselves the very first to buy these impure works. The erotic plates and engravings surpass in richness, variety and in infamy, the most lubric imaginations, and meet with more sale than the books, for all the world can see, but it is not every one that can read. This trade must be very lucrative, for there exist in Canton studios where nothing but these Tschoen koen hoa are painted. In this city it is not only men who paint these pictures, but the Chinese themselves admit that in the town of Soe-Tscheo, in the province of Kiang-Han,[3] young girls of from 11 to 14 years of age are employed at the same work, because they have a lighter hand, and know how to give these pictures a more agreeable colouring.

Lastly, in certain parts of China, they manufacture little articulated and movable puppets, in porcelain or in ivory, extremely obscene, known under the name of Tschoeu koeng siang, and at Emoi under that of Tschoen kiang ang a.

In the face of such universal depravity, the moral tone of the women must necessarily be at a very low level. But nevertheless it is not nearly so bad as might be imagined, and the Chinese women are most of them far more modest than were the ancient Roman dames.


The following section (pp. 38-46) begins with a description of pederasty in China and concludes the book with a denunciation of Chinese sexual immorality that presumably applies to the heterosexual “debauchery” earlier described as well as to the pederasty. The translation of this section is taken from the same source as the foregoing.

A man enjoying an erotic dalliance with two boys, seated on the bank of a pond with lilies, beneath a willow tree. 19th century

In the neighbouring town of Tschang tscheoe, the number of female prostitutes is relatively small, whereas on the contrary the town swarms with individuals addicted to passions contrary to nature, to such an extent that it is said:

Tsiang tsioe kaan a thoen, Emoei tsa bo soe. (In urbe Tchang tcheou catamiti, in urbe Emoi meretrices.)[4]

Nearly all the people there practise this vice, not in secret, but openly. At Canton there exists one word only to designate Amasii;[5] it is the word Khai taai which is considered to be a grave and ignominious insult, whereas the dialect of Fokïe is very rich in expressions to designate these children and their trade.

Like the Romans who had their Pathici, their Ephebi, Gemelti, Catamiti, Amasii, the Chinese have their sio kia a, little boys, sio kia tsia, pretty little boys, tshat sia kia, young brigands, ka thang a, little basins for the feet, etc. For obscene manoeuvres they have numerous expressions, of which we may cite the following: Ke Kaam (ut gallus facere coitum), ka ka tsiah (mordere dorsum),[6] kia soa lo (in viam montis ire),[7] ho laam hong (puerorum voluptatis frui),[8] to saai thang (volutare in sterculinio).[9]

One only of their expressions would seem to indicate the shameful nature of the act: that is Gik thien so hing (to act contrary to the course of nature). Besides, the following proverb shows how small is the number: it ta, dzie bong, sa i si pi (de omnibus vitüs masturbatio vilissimum, tum polutio nocturna, paederastia tandem necnon meretricium). Although they consider solitary pleasures to be the worst and the most immoral, yet children and grown up people are much addicted to them. It is to this unfortunate habit that may be attributed the laziness and cowardice of the greater part of the Chinese, particularly in the province of Fokie. They devote themselves only to tranquil occupations such as agriculture and commerce, and avoid all work at all violent, as also the profession of arms. The absence of this vice which weakens the body, kills moral energy, renders Canton Chinamen far more energetic. That is why all works requiring physical strength in the Dutch colonies are done by Chinese coolies from Canton. That is why also the Canton districts supply such a large contingent of labourers to the colonial mines, and that its inhabitants are far more enterprising and less effeminate than the Chinese of the other provinces. It is doubtless for the same reason that the Canton Chinese who accompanied the Anglo-French expedition to Pekin, and who were known by the name of the Bamboo rifles, behaved so valiantly. In the midst of showers of bullets, they carried off the wounded and brought ammunition to the troops, while with the greatest coolness they greeted each murderous volley with shouts of joy.

It is this shameful self-abuse that renders all China men, excepting those of Canton, cowardly, effeminate, perfidious and false. We see the same effects produced upon Europeans who give themselves up to these shameful practices, and we notice that among the Chinese the same causes produce similar effects. It is not rare to meet in the province of Fokïe with young men of from 20 to 25 years old completely ruined in health and suffering from continual spermatorrhoea. Such is the condition of that province. Let us now glance at the northern provinces, as far as they are known to Europeans; let us hasten to quit as speedily as possible these details of debauchery, and finish our task. In these provinces the vice against nature prevails in the highest degree. The Anglo-French expedition found there a debauchery so immense and so abominable, that it is no wonder that a handful of Europeans could drive into flight the innumerable armies opposed to them by China.

Canton in ca. 1853

In Canton we find that this vice prevails mostly among the governing officials, who, during their frequent journeys, find it more convenient to be followed by young boys than by women, but it is there held in abomination. In the province of Fokïe we find the Amasii, domestic slaves; but in Pekin the same individuals seem to form a regular and quite natural class; the English and French troops found there real establishments where young boys of from 11 to 12 years old are trained to the service of masculine prostitution. They are all dressed up as girls and they are taught all the coquetries of the opposite sex; these precocious debauchees are incompletely castrated at the age of from 14 to 15 years, unhappy creatures neither men nor women. If later on they are received into these establishments the castration is completed. When not attached to regular establishments, they are to be found, as in ancient Rome, at the Barbers (tonsores). There, the client, while being shaved, is surrounded by a crowd of young boys of whom it may be said with Donza, one of the commentators of Petronius: Quorum frequenti opera non in tondenda barba, pilisque vellendis modo aut barba rasitanda, sed vero et pygiacis sacris sinedice, ne nefarie dicam, de nocte administrates utebantur.

The Chinamen of Pekin are not ashamed to be seen in public with their Gitons,[10] and in the theatres one may see the richest Chinese with their amasii standing behind their chair.

The bestial orgies to which they abandon themselves can find no analogies but in the history of the ancient Romans. Concerning Chinese debauchery it is interesting to quote Barrow, who, in his Travels says:

The practice of a vice so abominable and so contrary to nature seems there (in China) to be so little accompanied by shame or even restraint, that the principal officers of State make no difficulty in admitting their practice of it. One of these officers had always near to his person an individual called the pipe-bearer, who was generally a well-built youth of from 14 to 18 years of age, very richly dressed. These youths were pointed out to us by gestures and signs which it was not difficult to understand. The two Muhammadans I have previously mentioned, and who. lived in the IXth century had also made this remark. I also find in the relation of the voyage of Hüttner, who was a member of the suite of the British embassy in Tartary, speaking of Gehol, he says: ‘In one of the palaces I found, among other works of art, two marble statues of young men, admirably executed. Their hands and feet were tied and their attitude left no doubt that the vice special to the Greeks was also in honour among the Chinese. It was an old eunuch who laughing showed them to us.’

Immorality is still greater among the Tartar and Mongol races. Among these, as with all pastoral races, all kinds of debauchery against nature prevail, and their influence has spread all over China. That is why this vice is more prevalent in the Northern provinces and diminishes as one goes Southward. At Canton it disappears almost entirely, and is practised only by the Mandarins who are Mandchoos, or who, if they are Chinese, have been spoiled by a more or less prolonged stay in the North. But how long will this province resist the invasion of this abominable plague, and the example of the ruling officials will it not deprave the people, as it has already done in other provinces?

We have nearly reached the end of our enterprise. We have lifted the veil that obscured part of the Chinese character, and we have endeavoured in a few sketches to point the immorality reigning in China. If these sketches may appear too strong to some of our readers, let them bear in mind that an enterprise of this nature is extremely difficult, and that here and there energetic terms must quite necessarily be employed to show things as they are. No one can complain if we cut to the quick into an unhealthy wound, however repugnant the spectacle may be. We ask for the same indulgence towards our work.

May the above lines come beneath the eyes of the Tartar chiefs and show to the adversaries of the Tai phing rebellion how greatly reform is necessary in China.

It is only by an immense immigration of foreign elements, and by the opening out of China to other nations, that it will be possible to cure the horrible canker that is eating up that country.

The then reigning Manchu boy Emperor of China, Tonzhi, whose regime Schlegel wished to see overthrown

Occidental civilization will come to the help of this nation, so remarkable in other points of view. But for that purpose, the work must not be confided to people, nearly as unpolished, ignorant, or fanatical as those whom they pretend to correct. It requires energetic and educated men, who know and can apply the remedy to the sore where it exists.

The Mandchoo dynasty must be thrown down unmercifully, and with it will disappear the seeds of immorality which it sows around it.

That is to what tends the revolt of the Taï phing however cruel or infamous the means they employ. Gentle means are of no avail. One must not apply palliatives to the sores of this great rotten body; the knife must cut down right to the quick, to remove the gangrened portions, in order that the rest may grow again and return to vigorous health. The Phoenix of the fable resuscitates only after having been consumed by fire; China also will never rise again until all that opposes her resurrection has been uprooted and destroyed.


[1] This was long a favoured theme of Christian polemicists, who ignored the inconvenient fact that the Roman Empire fell well after it had converted to Christianity and had implemented a harsh persecution of those who did not conform to the new Christian sexual morality.

[2] Dr. Jacobus X…, Untrodden Fields of Anthropology: Observations on the Esoteric Manners and Customs of Semi-civilised Peoples, Being a Record by a French-Army Surgeon of Thirty Years’ Experience in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania, expanded English edition, Charles Carrington, Paris, 1898, Part I, Chapter VII.

[3] Presumably meaning, in Pinyin, Suzhou in Jiangsu Province.

[4] In the city of Zhangzhou catamites, in the city of Amoy female prostitutes.

[5] (Male) lovers.

[6] To press into the back.

[7] To go the way of the mounts.

[8] To enjoy the pleasure of boys.

[9] To wallow in the lavatory.

[10] Giton, a beautiful loved-boy, was one of the main characters in Petronius’s Satyricon.




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