One scholar who has had a lot of influence on my teaching on Early China is Mark Edward Lewis. I sometimes assign Sanctioned Violence in Early China, and if I had the courage I would assign Writing and Authority. The thing I like about his work is that not only does he know literally everything about everything, his work centers around figuring out what the categories of early Chinese thought were. It is a commonplace that the Han dynasty distinctions between the 100 schools of philosophy are to some extent false divisions forced on a much more complex history. Lewis takes this further and tries to uncover what the categories of thought were in Han and pre-Han China. Part of this, particularly in Writing and Authority, is the importance of patterns. There are patterns that govern the changes in the universe, human affairs and the body, and understanding and adjusting and adjusting to these patterns is what knowledge is all about. (Lewis explains all this a lot better than I do.)
One aspect of this is the sage, the person who has learned to be a master of patterns. There are lots of different aspects of this, one of which is medicine. One’s body is of course governed by the same patterns as everything else and thus being a doctor, preserving one’s health and attaining immortality through alchemy and ruling the empire all involve the same sort of knowledge. Those with a proper knowledge of patterns can avoid all sorts of nasty things and can also draw power from the universe. A good example of this is sex, as explained in the 素女經 (Sunu jing) The Classic of the White Girl.1
Huangdi asks Sunu “I am feeling a lack of energy and a disharmony in my body. I am sad and apprehensive. What shall I do about this?”
Sunu replies: “Men are likely to make a mistake during lovemaking. Women conquer men as water conquers fire. Those who know the art of lovemaking are like those who know how to mix the five flavors in a cooking pot to produce a good meal, and like those who know the way of yin and yang and enjoy the five pleasures. Those who are ignorant of this are die young, without enjoying the pleasures of life…. A man must know how to control his emissions and also take medicine. He cannot enjoy life if he is ignorant of the art of love. Men and women are like Heaven and Earth, whose eternal nature lies in their unity…Those who understand the principle of yin and yang will experience immortality.”
A nice equation of different forms of knowledge of patterns. Sex, medicine, and cooking. If you ever wondered why so many famous Chinese writers and statesmen were good cooks, this is why.
Huangdi asks: “What will happen if one abstains from sex?”
Sunu replies: “That is absolutely out of the question. Yin and yang have their alternations as does everything in nature. Human beings should follow the rhythms of yin and yang just as they follow the rhythms of the seasons…”
Again the patterns of the universe and the body are the same. Also, one can’t really absent oneself from the world.
Huangdi asks: “What are the essential elements that bring about a harmonious union of yin and yang?”
Sunu replies: “For a man, the essential element is to avoid weakening his strength: for a woman what is important is orgasm. Those who do not follow this method will decline into weakness. The function of female sexual sensibility is to keep the balance of one’s energies, to calm one’s heart, to strengthen one’s will, and finally to clarify one’s mind”
“The person concerned should experience a deep sense of well-being, without feeling heat and cold, hunger and satiety, thus the body enjoys is pleasure in peace. The aim of this method is orgasm for the woman, and preservation of energies for the man.”
‘preservation of energies’ means not giving up your yang essense. The woman does have an orgasm, and thus does give up yin essence. It’s really a creepy sort of sexual vampirism. The educated man can get energy out of the universe. In this case it is out of another person, which makes it exploitative.
Huangdi asks: “Lately even when I have a strong desire for sex, my ‘jade stalk’ does not rise. I am so embarrassed that my face is covered with shame and beads of sweat. Yet my desire is so strong, I have no choice but to seek the assistance of my hand. How should I do it?”
Sunu replies: “Your question is a common one. When a man wishes to have a sexual relationship, he must observe traditional preliminaries. First the breathing needs to be harmonized, and then the ‘jade stalk’ is aroused according to the principle of ‘five consistencies’, while sensations flow through the nine parts. As for a woman, the five colors are to be noted. Upon the change of color, the man collects saliva from the woman’s mouth, which it turn in transformed and fills marrow of his bones as well the internal organs of is body. The man must obey the ‘seven deficiencies’ follow the ‘eight benefits’ and observe the ‘five constancies.’ In doing so, the disorder will be cured as energy strengthens the body. When his internal organs are harmonized his face will shine. Should desire come, the ‘jade stalk’ that has been strengthened becomes erect. Where then is the shame? ”
Huangdi asks “How can one tell if a woman is experiencing orgasm?”
There is a long section on how to tell if a woman is having an orgasm, but frankly the modern method (asking her) is a lot easier. But being able to read the signs properly is how you can tell how the exchange of energy between you and the universe is going. It’s a nice little reading that I think I will use in my Early China class next fall.
1 Translation from Robin R. Wang Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture Hackett, 2003