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Monday, March 11, 2013

Cultural Conservatism and Sexual Immorality

There is a liberal delusion that only religious conservatives/fundamentalists are uptight or restrictive about sexuality issues.

In reality, there are many people who are culturally conservative and who are motivated by non-religious factors to control or restrict sexuality.

Take this sign, which seems to have been put up by a Buddhist association:

"Love and Respect Our Parents tops all virtues
Sexual Misconduct is the root of all evils"

(better pictures)

As of July 2012, this sign hung on Sim Lim Tower. As of Dec 2012, there was an identical sign facing Geylang from the other end (around Sims Road or Geylang Road).

"[On Sima Qian] Castration, on the other hand, was traditionally reserved specifically for sex crimes. The Great Commentary to the Exalted Documents (Shang-shu ta-chuan 尚书大传, attributed to Fu Sheng 伏胜, fl. third—second centuries B.C.), for example, states that castration (kung 宮) is the punishment for “those men and women who have intercourse without morality” 男女不以義交者. One of the oldest explanations of kung comes in the Comprehensive Discussions in the White Tiger Hall (Po-hu t’ung 白虎堂), which explain that kung is the punishment for yin 淫, i.e., “licentiousness” or “promiscuity.”

女子淫,执置宫中, 不得出也。 丈夫淫, 割去其势也
When a woman is licentious, she is to be seized and held inside a room, and not allowed to leave. When a man is licentious, his genitals are to be cut off...

It is hard to escape the thought that Ssu-ma Ch’ien was punished as though he had committed a sex crime—that the court must have perceived his crime, in other words, to have had some underlying sexual dimension.

Part of the solution to this puzzle can be found in the story of Empress Dowager Lu 吕太后 (d. 180 B.C.)—the wife of Liu Pang 刘邦 (247—195 B.C.), the founder of the Han dynasty—and her son, Emperor Hsiao-hui 孝惠帝 (r. 194—188 B.c.). Empress Dowager Lu was the bitter rival of Lady Ch’i *** a concubine whom her husband had taken soon after having embarked on his meteoric rise from commoner to Emperor of China. Each consort had a son who was a potential successor to the throne. Empress Dowager Lu had a “humane and weak’ (仁弱 boy who was to become the future Emperor Hui; Lady Ch’i, a boy named Ju-i 如意 whom the emperor considered to be more like himself. Lin Pang wished to designate Ju-i his heir apparent, but several influential officials interceded and persuaded him to keep that dignity in the hands of Empress Dowager Lu’s gentle son.

When Liu Pang died in 195 B.C., Empress Dowager Lu got her wish and saw her son crowned emperor. Her resentment of Lady Ch’i was so great, however, that she had her rival imprisoned and her rival’s son poisoned. even though neither still posed a threat to her plans. Then she took care of Lady Ch’i once and for all.

The Empress Dowager then cut off Lady Ch’i’s hands and feet, removed her eves, burned her ears, gave her a potion to make her mute, and caused her to live in a pigsty, calling her Human Swine. When she had lived there for several days, she summoned Hsiao-hui to observe the Human Swine. Hsiao-hui saw her, and asked; then he was given to know that this was Ladiy Ch’i. Then he cried greatly, whereupon he became sick; for more than a year, he could not get up. He sent someone to plead with his mother, saying: “This is not the action of a human being. I am the Empress Dowager’s son, but to the end I will not be able to rule the world.” From this point on. Hsiao-hui drank daily and indulged in licentious pleasures. He paid no attention to government; that is why he was sickly.

The poor Emperor’s reaction to seeing his father’s consort brutally mistreated was so severe that he was unable to continue ruling. He withdrew from court and left all political affairs to his inhuman mother. (We remember that he was first introduced to us as “humane and weak” 仁弱) How, then, did he spend his days if he would not “rule the world” 治天下? He “drank daily and indulged in licentious pleasures” 日饮为淫乐. He was affirming that excessive sexual activity is the opposite of maintaining order and government.

The idea is not entirely new to us. We remember, for example, the connection between sexual activity and political machination forged by Han Fei in his essay on the sybaritic palace women (chapter 1). The woman who copulated the most, that thinker argued, naturally gained the most power and therefore constituted the most serious threat to the ruler’s absolute authority. After the unification of China and the founding of the empire under the First Emperor of Ch’in 秦始皇帝 (r. 221—210 B.C.), it became even more critical for the ruler to take into account Han Fei’s manner of thinking, for now every subject in the empire was a potential usurper. With so much more to lose than any ruler before him, the First Emperor took the monetous step of having a code of proper sexual conduct inscribed in stone atop the famous Mount Kuei-chi 会稽...

The First Emperor takes up the issue of sexual relations between his subjects, insisting that he will tolerate no immorality in this regard, either.

饰省宣义 Those who conceal their transgressions while proclaiming their own morality
有子而嫁 are [widows] who have a son and still remarry.
倍死不贞 They rebel against the dead and are not chaste.
防隔内外 I separate and divide the inner and outer (i.e., males’ and females’ quarters].
禁止淫佚 I prohibit and stop licentiousness and dissipation.
男女絜诚 Men and women will be pure and faithful.
夫为寄猳 If a husband becomes a sojourning boar [i.e., an adulterer],
杀之无罪 one can kill him with impunity.
男秉义程 This is the path to making men maintain morality.
妻为逃嫁 If a wife absconds and marries [someone else],
子不得母 her sons will not be allowed to consider her as their mother.
咸化廉清 Everyone will be made modest and pure.

... the First Emperor discloses his belief that his subjects’ most consequential moral and political acts are their sexual acts. He makes no specific prescriptions beyond the vague warning that they "maintain morality” 宣义 and be “modest and pure” 廉清. In accordance with the same principle of unity, the First Emperor condemns clandestine sexual relations among the populace. Husbands and wives must be faithful to each other, for the integrity of the glorious new era depends on the sexual morality of the emperor’s subjects. It is important to note that in this regard the First Emperor’s sexual code is not sexist: men and women must both be chaste. The only difference is that widowed mothers have an explicit obligation to remain faithful to their deceased husbands, while the emperor makes no similar demand of widowers, whether childless or not. As we shall see, later formulations of ideal sexual relations would be far less equitable in the requirements that they placed on men and women."

--- The Culture of Sex in Ancient China / Paul Rakita Goldin
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