Ancient Chinese same-sex unions

It was during one of our stays in Taiwan that we learnt about the existence of a Chinese equivalent of the adelphopoiesis for male partners in China, during the 明 Ming dynasty, quite similar to the Southern French Occitan affrèrement or like the actual religious Byzantine αδελφοποίησις – under supervision of the Greek Church – but here, largely accepted for couple of men at least, in the 福建 Fujian province. Continental 福建 Fujian province has historical and cultural links with Taiwan’s populating and Chinese settlements. Although it has not suffered from the Manchu dynasty restraints that came after it, the 明 Ming era had inherited a strongly centralised empire in which morals had already evolved under the intrusive action of Neo-Confucianism, and influenced by a certain amount of foreign ideologies: Buddhism, Nestorianism, Manichaeism and Islam, for the previous ones; but above all, European Christianity imported by the Jesuits, all having introduced some homophobic features, at least in their philosophy and morals, into a traditional China who never knew, in its most ancient and pure nature, any systematic rejection of sexual preferences. 福建 Fujian was then the last province where what could be called nowadays a gay marriage was actually a thing, before Westernisation of China – during the Manchu dynasty of 清 Qing, then in a more brutal way with the rise of the Republic – lead to the complete ban on this type of contract.

At that point of history, 19th century’s British colonial settlers – famous for their Victorian social and moral hypocrisy – and 16th and 17th century’s Catholic missionaries who used to complain about the obnoxious and liberal sexual ways of local Chinese people, could congratulate themselves before this victorious moral conversion while other Western, Christian and Marxist imperialistic elements were going to ravage Chinese cultures.

However, the official affrèrement equivalent in 福建 Fujian stayed on until the end of 明 Ming dynasty and this simple historical fact gives an idea of the social and legal opportunities which were offered, at least by default, on Chinese territories in more ancient times. 明 Ming era was indeed, already far from classical times of China, when, under the imperial boot of the 漢 Han dynasty or under the 晉 Jin dynasty, exclusive love between two men was considered as the most natural relation, if not sometimes, as a higher taste and a noble choice.

Anyway, in the 21st century we have to come to Taiwan again to hear about a Chinese affrèrement, far before the new Taiwanese laws on same sex marriage. This says so much about the mutual impoverishment of the modern historical consideration between identitarian post-Qing China and Westernised ideological globalism which has been reshaping the world’s comprehension of the last three centuries, in the least intelligent and the most dualistic way.

Jean-Sébastien Desnanot


清 Qing Dynasty (18th – 19th centuries). Silk painting.

Source: Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana

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