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Records of Same-Sex Love and Lust in Chinese History and Tradition

Homosexual behavior has been observed in animals as different as fruit flies and sheep. It is therefore hardly surprising that homosexuality has been observed in human societies all over the world. Chinese civilization is no exception. Its 4000-year history and rich literary tradition has yielded extensive records of homosexual behavior between individuals of all social classes.

We present here a a small sample of of homosexual relationships mentioned in the non-fiction literature - such as historical annals and records of traditions - written in Imperial China. The relationships mentioned in these writings range from the sublime to the profane. In homosexual pairings, as in heterosexual pairings, dedicated lifelong bonds exist alongside relationships driven by opportunism and lust.

1. Same-sex couplings among commoners

1.1. Woman-woman marriage-like ceremony in the Golden Orchid Society of Guangdong (Canton)

"A Record of the Customs of All China" by Hu Pu'an, first published in 2 volumes in 1773-1774, contains the following account of Golden Orchid Associations, women-only associations that practiced marriage-like ceremonies among its members. This custom was practiced by women in the Canton (Guangdong) province of China:1

The practice of the Golden Orchid Oath is known by the common name of "Heart-to-heart Friends" and also called "Making Friends". It is not known when this custom started... If two parties have mutual intentions towards each other, one party would prepare peanut candy, honey dates and other things as an offering of honor, to express (her) intentions. If the other party accepts, she makes a promise to indicate her assent. A refusal of the gift indicates a "no".

At the time of executing (their) vow, if the parties have (sufficient) resources, they will invite many friends over to drink through the night. And these friends also come in droves to congratulate them. After the writing (of the contract), (the parties) are practically each other's shadow in sitting, lying down, rising, and living. Even Liang Hong and Meng Guang could not have surpassed their joy.2 Once the vow is established, if (one or more of the parties) have a change of mind, and are thought to have turned (her/their) backs on (her/their) oath, the female collective would rally as a punishing army, often beating and humiliating (the offender/s); it is almost their custom (to do so).



Golden Orchid members still existed in immigrant Chinese communities (including Singapore) into the earlier half of the 20th century. (Most members are probably deceased by the 21st century) Not all association members pair up with another member. Many women just live as part of the female collective. Some Golden Orchid members are heterosexually married in name, but spend most of their lives away from their husbands.3

  1. 金兰契 The Golden Orchid Oath:

  2. Liang Hong and Meng Guang were a famous husband-and-wife from the Eastern Han era. They are traditionally regarded as an example of the ideal husband/wife relationship. The fact that Hu Pu'an compares the Golden Orchid woman-woman couple favorably against them suggests that he sees the Golden Orchid pair-bonding as equivalent to marriage.

    Liang Hong was a reclusive scholar of high morals and great talent. He supported himself as a swineherd while conducting his studies. Many rich and powerful families admired his character and wanted him for a son-in-law, but he refused them. In the same county lived a woman named Meng Guang. She was dark, fat and ugly. In addition, Meng Guang was surpassingly strong - she could lift a stone mortar with one hand. Up to the age of 30, she still refused marriage. When parents asked her why, she stated firmly that she only wanted to marry a man of Liang Hong's calibre. When Liang Hong heard of this, he was very surprised, and married her. They went on to live a poor but happy life as hermits in the mountains.

    See "梁鸿高逸 Liang Hong's outstanding and high-minded character"

  3. 自梳女与不落家 "Self-combing" women and the "never-home" wife:

    中国写真:最后的自梳女 一生未嫁不恨男人 China Portrait: The Last "Self-combing" women - unmarried for life but without hatred for men:


1.2. Man-man marriage in Fujian (Hokkien)

The Ming dynasty author Shen Defu wrote in "Miscellaneous Musings of the Humble Broom Bookroom":1

Recently, the "oath sons" phenomenon is catching on. The situation is usually such: some strong adult males have a strong sex drive, so they spend a great deal of money to marry extremely good-looking youths. They establish the bond of the quilt and the coverlet with them. Those arrangements in which the 'father' lives apart and houses several youths in various secondary lodgings are foremost in disorder and sin. I heard this practice started with pirates, as in: The Ocean forbids the presence of women in the crew. Ships with women would be sunk. So they replace (women) with male favorites; and they honor the great and strong (pirates) by addressing (them) as "oath father" ...

The Fujianese take male-male eroticism very seriously. Regardless of his social standing, each man bonds with another man of his own social class; the older one is known as the "sworn older brother" and the younger one is known as the "sworn younger brother". When the older brother enters the home of the younger, the younger brother's parents love him as a son-in-law. In the future, when the younger brother starts a business or marries a wife, the older brother helps pay for the expenses. Those who love each other thus still lie together as spouses after the age of 30.

沈德符 《敝帚斋余谈》:

近乃有称契儿者,则壮夫好淫,辄以多金娶姿首韶秀者,与沟衾裯之好,以父自居,列诸少年于小舍,最为乱逆之尤。闻其事肇于海寇云,大海禁妇人在师中,有之辄遭覆溺,故以男宠代之,而尊豪刚遂称“契父”。 ...


Unlike the woman-woman traditional unions, men's traditional unions were not intended to be lifelong bonds exclusive of heterosexual marriage.

  1. 从皇帝到庶民的男风 Male-male eroticism from the emperors to the commoners


2. Same-sex affairs in the ruling class

2.1. Lord An Ling and King Xuan of Chu

An excerpt from Book of the Warring States:1

Jiang Yi spoke to Lord An Ling, saying "You have no land and no blood kin (in the Kingdom of Chu) and yet you have a high position and a generous income. On seeing you, there is none in this kingdom who does not tidy his/her clothes and adjust his/her cap and bow down to you. Why is this so?" An Ling replied, "The king has promoted me beyond what I deserve. Without (his favor), I would not be where I am."

Jiang Yi spoke, "Those who make friends with money will lose their friends when their money runs out. As for those who build relationships using their beauty - when the flower wilts, love will cease. This is why female sexual favorites never stay long enough to wear out their sleeping mats, and favored courtiers don't stay around long enough for their chariots to need repair. Today, you hold power in this country, but yet you have nothing with which to tie the king to you. I am worried for your well-being." Lord An Ling asked, "Then what should I do?"

Jiang Yi said, "I hope you will request to follow the king in death. Use your body as a sacrifice. This way, you will be respected in the land of Chu for a long time to come." An Ling replied, "I will respect your command."

Three years passed without An Ling speaking of the matter. Jiang Yi met with him again and said, "Up to now, you have not executed what I told you to do. If you will not use my plan, then I request that I not be asked to see you again." Lord An Ling said, "I did not dare to forget your words; I simply did not have the opportunity to do what you had suggested."

It came to pass, that the King of Chu was touring Yunmeng. The horses and carriages in his entourage numbered at a thousand, and their banners were so many that they blocked the sun. The burning brush fire seemed as a rainbow, the tigers' roaring sounded like thunder. A crazed wild ox came close to the chariot wheel. The king himself drew his bow and shot it, killing it with one arrow. The king pulled up a banner with one hand and held the head of the ox in the other, raised his face to the heavens and laughed, "What a pleasure is today's tour! After ten thousand years and a thousand autumns, who will share this pleasure with me?"

Lord An Ling shed many tears and came to him, saying, "In the palace, I sit at your side. When you go out, I accompany you in your chariot. After ten thousand years and a thousand autumns, I will test the yellow springs (the world of the dead) with my body, and shield you from the ants. What greater joy can I have?" The king was pleased and gave him the title of Lord An Ling.

People who heard about this commented, "Jiang Yi can be said to be good at strategizing, and Lord An Ling can be said to be good at seizing the moment."






  1. 《谋略与雄辩宝典- 战国策 精华全解析》· 江乙说于安陵君 The Best of "Book of the Warring States" Explained - Jiang Yi advises Lord An Ling


2.2. Mizi Xia and King Ling of Wei

Mizi Xia is one of the most well-known icons of male homosexual love in antiquity. Later, the term "love of the divided peach" “分桃之爱”, originating from an incident between Mizi Xia and King Ling of Wei, was used to refer to male-male love. This incident was recorded in 《韩非子·说难篇》 and 刘向's 《说苑》.1

An excerpt from The Collected Articles of Han Feizi", Essay 12 - Shuonan":2

There was a certain Mizi Xia who had the favor of the King of Wei. The law of Wei stated: "Whoever drives the king's carriage without permission will be punished with feet amputation." Mizi Xia's mother fell ill. Someone came and informed him during the night. Mizi secretly drove the King's carriage to go (to see her). When the King heard of it, he praised Mizi Xia, saying, "How well brought up he is! For the sake of his mother, he disregards the sentence of amputation!" Another day, Mizi Xia was touring an orchard with the king. He tasted a peach and found it sweet. Since he had not finished the peach, he offered the remaining half of it to the king to taste. The king said, "How much he loves me! He disregards his own appetite so that I can have a taste!" Later, Mizi's looks faded and the king's love declined. He offended the king and the king said, "In the past, he rode my carriage without permission, and also gave me a leftover peach to taste." Mizi Xia's conduct in later times did not change from his behavior in the beginning. He was judged worthy previously and then judged guilty later because of the change in the king's favor.

《韩非子》 说难第十二:3


  1. 探密:古代同性恋男宠的最初记载 Uncovering Secrets: The earliest records of homosexual male favorites in antiquity

  2. 韩非(约前280—前233)是韩国的贵族,后世称他为韩非子。他和李斯都是荀子的弟子。当韩非写了《孤愤》《五蠹》等一系列文章,这些作品后来集为《韩非子》一书。See 韩非子简介 A Brief Introduction to Han Feizi

  3. Full text of 《韩非子》 说难第十二 is available online at


2.3. Lord Long Yang

Lord Long Yang 龙阳君 is one of the most romanticised icons of male-male love from the Warring States period. Hundreds of years later, the famous Three Kingdoms poet Ruan Ji would write poems extolling this ancient beauty.1 The term Long Yang is still used today as a term for a pretty boy in a homosexual relationship.

An excerpt from The History of Wei, Book IV, Chapter 25:2

King (Anli) of Wei was fishing in a boat with Lord Long Yang. Lord Long Yang caught more than 10 fish and began to weep. The king asked, "Is there something troubling you? If so, why don't you tell me?" He replied: "Your servant dares not be troubled." The king inquired, "Then why do you weep?" He said "Your subject is like a fish that my king has caught." The King said, "Why do you say so?"

Long Yang answered, "When I first caught a fish, I was happy. But when I landed a bigger catch, I wanted to abandon what I had previously caught. Now I am of unpleasant appearance; yet I gained the opportunity of brushing the king's pillow and mat. Today I hold a noble title, I can walk in the Court, and people make way for me on the street. But within the four seas, there are many beautiful people. Those who hear that I have your intimate favor will surely raise their garments and hasten to my king. I also worry that I would be as the fish I have caught; I too will be abandoned. Can I not weep?"

The king said, "It is not so. If you had such a heart, why did you not confide in me?" And he decreed to all within the four corners of his realm that "Whoever dares to speak of (another) beauty (would have his/her entire) family (executed)."

《魏四》 卷二十五:

魏王与龙阳君共船而钓,龙阳君得十余鱼而涕下。王曰:“有所不安乎?如是,何不相告也?”对曰:“臣无敢不安也。” 王曰:“然则何为涕出?”曰:“臣为王之所得鱼也。”王曰:“何谓也?”对曰:“臣之始得鱼也,臣甚喜,后得又益大,今臣直欲弃臣前之所得矣。今以臣凶恶,而得为王拂枕席。今臣爵至人君,走人于庭,辟人于途。四海之内,美人亦甚多矣,闻臣之得幸于王也,必褰裳而趋王。臣亦犹曩臣之前所得鱼也,臣亦将弃矣,臣安能无涕出乎?”魏王曰:“误!有是心也,何不相告也?”于是布令于四境之内,曰:“有敢言美人者,族。”

  1. 中国上古文献中的同性恋事例 Same sex love in ancient Chinese literature

  2. For original text and a modern Chinese explanation, see


2.4. Cao Gong and Dao Fang, women of the Han harem

The Book of Han records a "对食" (ate facing each other) bond between Cao Gong and Dao Fang, two women in the harem of Emperor Cheng of Han. The commentator Ying Shao explained "对食" refers to a marriage-like bonding between two people in the imperial harem - either two women or a woman and an eunuch. 1

From Chapter 97 of The Book of Han "Record of Imperial Relatives By Marriage, Section 67B":2

The official Jie Guang reported (to Emperor Ai): "I heard Fair Lady Xu and Cao Gong who is an aide in the Center Palace, both received the favor of Emperor Cheng (the previous emperor) and produced sons, but the children have disappeared mysteriously. I sent my aides to question those who knew of the matter. They took them to Ji Wu, the deputy of the palace prison. Among them were the fomer palace attendants Wang Shun, Wu Gong, Jin Yan; the official maidservants Cao Xiao, Dao Fang and Zhang Qi, the attendants of the former Imperial Wife Zhao - Yu Kezi, Wang Pian, Zang Jian etc. They all said Cao Gong knew the affairs of men and women and that she was formerly assigned to the Center Palace as a learning aide. She was well-versed in The Book of Poetry and served instructed the empress. Fang and Gong ate facing each other...


司隶解光奏言: 臣闻许美人及故中宫史曹宫皆御幸孝成皇帝,产子,子隐不见。 臣遣从事掾业、史望验问知状者掖庭狱丞籍武,故中黄门王舜、吴恭、靳严,官婢曹晓、道房、张弃,故赵昭仪御者于客子、王偏、臧兼等,皆曰宫即晓子女,前属中宫,为学事史,通《诗》,授皇后。房与宫对食...

  1. The history of the expression 对食

  2. 汉书·卷九十七下·外戚传第六十七下 The Book of Han: Chapter 93


2.5. Male Favorites of the Han Dynasty

The Book of Han, written by Ban Gu of the Han Dynasty, dedicates an entire chapter to the records the deeds and influences of the major male sexual favorites of the Han emperors.1

From Chapter 93 of The Book of Han "Record of those who obtain favor by skillful flattery":

Since the beginning of Han, (the emperors) patronized favored courtiers. The Founding Emperor Gao had the boy Ji, Emperor Xiaohui had the boy Hong. These two people had no talent and ability, but with their charm and flattery, they gained the emperor's favor, and lay down and rose up with the ruler. During Xiaohui's time, the male palace attendants all wore feathrered hats and belts of precious stones, and powdered their faces after the mannre of Min and Ji. The two followed the example of Lord Anling. After them, the favored courtiers were:

  • During the reign of Emperor Wen, there was the man Deng Tong,and the eunuchs Zhao Tan and Beigong Bozi.
  • During the reign of Emperor Wu, there was the man Han Yan, and the eunuch Li Yannian
  • During the reign of Emperor Yuan, there were the eunuchs Hong Gong and Shi Xian
  • During the reign of Emperor Cheng, there were the men Zhang Fang and Chun Yuchang
  • During the reign of Emperor Ai, there was Dong Xian
  • During the reign Emperors Jing, Zhao and Xuan there were no major favored courtiers. Emperor Jing only had the official Ling Zhouren. During the time of Emperor Zhao, Duke Jin Shang, who held the position of Manager of Horses for the Imperial Attendant Carriages, inherited the noble title of Duke from his father Ridan, General of the War Chariots. These two gained extraordinary favor (with the emperor) and were not sincere or honest. During the reign of Emperor Xuan, there was Zhang Pengzhu, an official of the Inner Court. He studied at the same desk with the Emperor (then still a prince) when they were young. When the Emperor ascended the throne, he was appointed Marquis of Yangdu in consideration of their old friendship. He often rode with the Emperor in the same carriage when the Emperor went out. It was said he had the Emperor's love and favor. This individual was cautious about respecting the Imperial Orders, and so not suffer any damage...



The rest of Chapter 93 goes into more detail about the relationship of individual favorites with the Emperor.

  1. 汉书·卷九十三·佞幸传第六十三 The Book of Han: Chapter 93

  2. The word 佞, as used in the Han Dynasty, implies homosexual favor.


2.6. Dong Xian and Emperor Ai of Han

Of all the male favorites of the Han emperors, Dong Xian is probably the most well-known. The expression "a preference for the truncated sleeve" 断袖之癖, which is still used today as an euphemism for male homosexuality, originates from the story of Dong Xian and Emperor Ai.

Chapter 93 of The Book of Han: Record of those who obtain favor by skillful flattery

Dong Xian, whose moniker was Shengqing, was a native of Yunyang. His father Gong was an Imperial Investigative Officer. He gave Dong Xian the job of attendant to the Crown Prince (who would become Emperor Ai). When Emperor Ai ascended the throne, Xian remained in his entourage. A little more than two years later, he was making a report outside the palace hall – he was beautiful and narcissistic - when Emperor Ai saw him and remarked on his manners and looks. He recognized Dong Xian and asked, "Isn't this the attendant Dong Xian?" Dong Xian was summoned to speak with the Emperor, who made him an Official-in-waiting. This was the beginning of his favor.

The Emperor then asked after Dong Xian's father, and the next day he made him Mayor of Baling and 光禄大夫. Dong Xian's favor increased daily and he was made Manager of Horses for the Imperial Attendant Carriages. He often rode in the same carriage with the Emperor when the Emperor went out. In the palace, he was always around the Emperor. In the space of 10 days to a month, the Emperor had bestowed upon him riches worth many tens of thousands. His honor and power shook the entire court.

He was often with the Emperor, whether standing up or lying down. Once, Dong Xian was napping across the Emperor's sleeve. When the Emperor wanted to get up, Dong Xian was unaware. The Emperor did not want to disturb Xian, so he truncated his sleeve and rose up.


董贤,字圣卿,云阳人也,父恭,为御史,任贤为太子舍人。哀帝立,贤随太子官为郎。二岁余,传漏在殿下,为人美丽自喜,哀帝望见,说其仪貌,识而问之,曰:“是舍人董贤邪?”因引上与语,拜为黄门郎,由是始幸。问及其父,即日征为霸陵令,迁光禄大夫。贤宠爱日甚,为驸马都尉侍中,出则参乘,入御左右,旬月间赏赐累 巨万,贵震朝廷。常与上起卧。又尝昼寝,偏藉上袖,上欲起,贤未觉,不欲动贤,乃断袖而起。

  1. 汉书·卷九十三·佞幸传第六十三 The Book of Han: Chapter 93


2.7. Cao Cao and Kong Gui

Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 3 of The Book of Wei:1

An Overview of The History of Wei lists Lang and Kong Gui in the "Favored Male Courtiers" section.2 He went by the moniker of Shulin. He was a native of Tianshui. At the beginning of the Jian An era, the general Yang Qiu had a mandate from the founding king (Cao Cao) and the king gave Gui the position of cavalry commander. Gui, by nature was law-abiding , and knew how to play chess...

Cao Cao loved him. He was always at the king's side. He followed the king's going out and coming in. Gui paid close attention to the king's desires and good moods. Because he could make speeches explaining the details of a matter clearly, most of his undertakings went smoothly, and he received many rewards. Many people gave him gifts, thus he was always dressed like a duke and ate on jade plates. Not only did the founding king loved Gui, the courtiers, military officers and nobles all sought good relations with him.


魏略以朗與孔桂俱在佞倖篇。桂字叔林,天水人也。建安初,數為將軍楊秋使詣太祖,太祖表拜騎都尉。桂性便辟,曉博弈、 鞠,故太祖愛之,每在左右,出入隨從。桂察太祖意,喜樂之時,因言次曲有所陳,事多見從,數得賞賜,人多餽遺,桂由此侯服玉食。太祖既愛桂,五官將及諸侯亦皆親之。

Kong Gui and Cao Cao were mentioned in "External Passions", a chapter from A History of Passion dedicated to male-male lust and love.

  1. 三國志卷三·魏書三 Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 3 of The Book of Wei

  2. 佞倖, translated here as 'favored male courtiers' has a sexual connotation, and usually refers to male sexual favorites of rulers, high-ranking officials and generals.


2.8. Cao Rui and Qin Lang

Cao Rui (King Ming of Wei) was the grandson of Cao Cao. Qin Lang was a cavalry general. Another one of Cao Rui's supposed affairs (with his cousin Cao Zhao, also a cavalry officer) was mentioned in The History of Passion,1 but the official history contains no mention the Cao Zhao/Cao Rui pairing. The fondness of Cao Rui for Qing Lang, however, can be found in the historical records of Wei.

Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 3 of The Book of Wei:2

The Spring and Autumn of the Wei Clan states: Lang's moniker is Yuanming. He was a native of Xinxing. The biography of Emperor Xian of Han states that Lang's father's name was Yilu. Qin Yilu was sent by Lu Bu to take a message to Yuan Su. Su gave him a wife from the Han Imperial House. Yilu's ex-wife Madam Du was left behind in Xiapi.

While besieging Lu Bu, Guan Yu asked Cao Cao to give him Madam Du as wife. Cao Cao suspected that Madam Du was a great beauty. After the city fell, Cao Cao saw Madam Du and took her into his harem. Yilu surrendered to Cao Cao. At that time, Liu Bei had gone to Xiaopei. Zhang Fei planned on following him and said to Yilu. "Someone took your wife. And you are still serving that someone? What a worm you are! Why don't you come with me to Xiaopei?" Yilu followed him for a few miles, then regretted his decision and wanted to turn back. Zhang killed him.

Lang lived with his mother in Cao Cao's palace. Cao Cao loved him very much. At every banquet, he would ask the guests, saying, "Is there anyone in the world who loves a stepson as much as I do?" An Overview of The History of Wei states: "Lang roamed freely among the nobles, and his presence was accepted among all the civil servants and military officers. When King Ming (Cao Rui) came to the throne, Lang was entrusted with access to the inner palace, and given the position of Cavalry General. Lang was often in the king's entourage when the king attended to state business, or went out in his chariot. Sometimes King Ming took delight in declaring an amnesty. The pardoned criminals ranged from those who had committed minor offenses to those who had broken major laws. Lang could not admonish the king into quitting this practice, yet he was unable to recommend even one innocent person (to be pardoned).

The king was on intimate terms with him. Every time he asked after Lang's well-being, he would call him by his pet name A Su. The king gave him many rewards and built him a great residence in the capital. Although everyone around knew that Lang had no power to do them favors, they still tried to get close to him to share in his honor. Many left him bribes and he was as rich as a noble..."

Lang and Kong Gui were both listed in the "Favored Male Courtiers" section of An Overview of The History of Wei.3



  1. 《情史》

  2. 三國志卷三·魏書三 Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 3 of The Book of Wei

  3. 佞倖, translated here as 'favored male courtiers' has a sexual connotation, and usually refers to male sexual favorites of rulers, high-ranking officials and generals.


2.9. Sheng Ge and Alihu, cross-dressing and a lesbian affair in the Jin Dynasy Court

An excerpt from The History of the Jin Dynasty, Series 1, "Empresses and Imperial Wives (Part 1)":1

All the Imperial Wives had maidservants who dressed in men's clothes; these were called "false page boys." (Among these) was a certain Sheng Ge who lay down and rose up with Alihu (an Imperial Wife) like husband and wife. The kitchen maid San Niang told Hai Ling (the Emperor) about it, but Hai Ling did not consider it an offence. He only warned Alihu not to beat San Niang. But Alihu had her clubbed to death.

Hai Ling heard that someone had died in Alihu's compound, and guessed it was San Niang. He said, "If the matter is as I have guessed, then I must kill Alihu." Upon inquiry, it turned out to be true. That month was the month of Guang Ying's (the Crown Prince's) birthday. Hai Ling had a private taboo against killing (during that month). Alihu heard Hai Ling was going to execute her, so she fasted, burned incense and prayed daily in the hope of avoiding death. The following month, Alihu was already beside herself. Hai Ling ordered that Alihu be strangled, and also executed the maidservants who attacked San Niang.1



Hailing reigned from 1149-1161. The Jin Dynasty was established by the Jurchen ethnic group in northern China. Alihu and Sheng Ge are Jurchen names.

  1. 金史列·传第一·后妃上 The History of the Jin Dynasty, Series 1, Empresses and Imperial Wives (Part 1)


Historians see Long Yang, An Ling Mizi Xia and Dong Xian as political opportunists who shamelessly courted the favor of rulers, gaining high office without proper qualifications. Their royal lovers are remembered as men of poor judgment. It should be noted, however, that Chinese historians give the same treatment to the female favorites of rulers - the historical beauties Yang Guifei, Bao Si and Da Yi were blamed for causing political chaos, and the rulers who loved them were portrayed as men of excessive appetites and foolish priorities. Although royal love affairs usually make it into the history books because of the damage they caused, not all Chinese records of male-male lovers focused on dubious characters. Some examples follow in the next section.

3. Same-sex couples in Chinese historical records

3.1. Han Zigao and King Wen of Chen

Han Zigao was a soldier (and later general) who served King Wen of the Chen dynasty before King Wen gained the throne. Their close relationship continued after the King's ascension to the throne. Although the official historical record did not explicitly indicate a sexual relationship between the two, their relationship inspired a piece of homoerotic 野史 historical fiction 《陈子高传》Tale of Chen Zigao, and the Ming Dynasty play 《男王后》The King's Male Consort.1 The historical version is presented below to demonstrate that male favorites in high political office are not always unqualified men who do not have the capabilities to match their positions.

Book of Chen "Biographies No.14":2

Han Zigao was originally from the foot of Huiqi Mountain. He was of humble family background. During the rebellion of Hou Ying, he dwelled in Jingdu. After the rebellion of Ying was over, King Wen (not yet king at that time) was posted to Wuxing. Zigao was then 16, and still wore his hair in a child's cut. He was beautiful and looked like a woman. Zigao, then attached to the unit stationed on the banks of the River Huai, wanted to return home. King Wen met with him and asked, "Would you like to enter my service?" Zigao agreed and pledged his allegiance. Zigao's original name was Manzi; King Wen changed his name. By nature he was respectful and discreet. He was diligent in serving, always carrying the king's sabre and executing orders for food and wine.

King Wen was impetuous; Zigao understood him very well. As he grew up, he practiced riding and archery. He was quite bold and decisive, and had the ambition of becoming a military commander. After the rebellion of Du Kan was pacified, Zigao was given soldiers to command. The king favored him very much, and would not let him leave his side. King Wen used to have a dream of riding his horse up a mountain. The road was dangerous but when he was about to fall, Zigao supported him and he continued his ascent.

King Wen went on a campaign against Zhang Biao. Shen Tai etc surrendered first. King Wen held Zhou City and Zhou Wenyu was stationed at the north wall's Xiangyan Temple. Zhang Biao came out of Shan County and counter-attacked the city during the night. King Wen escaped through the north gate. The army was thrown into chaos in the dark night and there was a disturbance among the soldiers. Wenyu too couldn't determine where the king was. Only Zigao remained at his side. King Wen sent Zigao to find Wenyu amidst the disarrayed troops. He returned to report that he had made contact with Wenyu in the dark, and went forth again to comfort and support the troops. King Wen's scattered soldiers reassembled themselves somewhat and Zigao led them into Wenyu's base, where they set up camp together.

The next day, they battled Zhang Biao. Zhang Biao's subcommander Shen Jin surrendered and Biao fled to Pine Mountain. Peace came to the Zhedong region. King Wen put most of his troops under the command of Zigao. Zigao, for his part, held little regard for material rewards, and showed respect for his troops. Many people voluntarily joined his command.

King Wen inherited the throne and appointed Zigao 右军将军. In the first year of the Tianhe period, Zigao was awarded the fief of Wenzhao County, which had a population of 300 households. When (the forces of) Wang Lin came to the gate, Zigao defended the city from his base within; After the Lin rebellion was pacified, the number of troops under Zigao's command increased even further. Zigao made every effort to argue for the advancement of the officers and soldiers who followed him. The king gave appointments to all of them. In the second year, he was appointed 员外散骑常侍、壮武将军、成州刺史. When campaigning against Liu Yi, he was stationed with Hou Andu under the Taozhi Range. At that time, Zigao's troops were strong and well-equipped, and had their own camp. (Liu Yi) entered the land of Chen as a lone rider, with an injury on the left of his neck and half his hair hacked off.

After Yi's rebellion was quashed, Zigao was appointed 假节、贞毅将军、东阳太守. In the fifth year, Zhang Zhaoda etc came out of Linzhou to invade Jin An. Zigao came forth from Anquan Range to meet (the other generals) at Jian An. Among all the generals, he had the strongest forces. After Jin An was pacified, he was promoted to 通直散骑常侍 in recognition for his accomplishments. His noble title was raised to 伯, and the number of households in his fiefdom increased by 400. In the 6th year, he was given the rank of 右卫将军 and came to the capital to head the Department of Defense. When King Wen became ill, Zigao entered (the palace) to attend to his medical care. After King Fei took the throne, he was appointed 散骑常侍; and still continued to hold the position of 右卫. He was transferred to the base at Xin An Temple.





  1. See 中国古代同性恋排行榜 Who's Who among China's ancient homosexuals The text of 《陈子高传》 has also been reproduced in 《情史》 (See

  2. 陈书·列传第十四 Book of Chen "Biographies No.14"


3.2. Gong Wei and Wang Qi

Excerpt from "The Teachings of Confucius, Chapter 10":1

The armies of Qi invaded the Kingdom of Lu. Gongshu Wuren (Gongwei, son of King Zhao) came across refugees entering the city of Bao. They were resting with their staffs across their backs. Wuren wept as he spoke, "Even now, our bureaucracy is weak, and the draft is a burden on the people, but the king who receives our taxes is unable to make plans and the soldiers are not willing to face death. Things should not be so. Since I have spoken thus, do I dare refuse to do all that I can?" Gongwei, with his boy-favorite Wang Qi beside him, rode to meet the enemy in his war chariot. The two died in battle and their wakes were held at the same time. The people of Lu considered not giving the lad Wang Qi a funeral. They consulted Confucius who said, "If someone can wield the lance to protect his country, how can you not give him a funeral?"

孔子家语 卷第十:

齐师侵鲁,公叔务人 (昭公之子公为) 遇人入保,负杖而息.(见先避入齐师将入保, 疲倦加杖颈 上两手掖之休息者也, 保县邑小城也) 务人泣曰:“使之虽病,谓时徭役任之虽重,谓时赋税君子弗能 谋,士弗能死,不可也,我则既言之矣,敢不勉乎.”与其邻嬖童2汪锜,乘?奔敌死焉,皆殡,鲁人欲勿殇童汪锜,问于孔子曰:“能执干戈以卫社稷,可无殇乎?”

This historical episode was also recorded in 《左传》, a book of the history of the Spring Autumn (春秋) period. The 《左传》 version contains more details of the battle, and less detail on the Wang Qi incident.3

  1. 孔子家语 卷第十 The Teachings of Confucius, Chapter 10

  2. 新华字典 defines 嬖 as 宠幸 (sexual favor) and 嬖人 as 旧指被封建统治者宠幸的人.

  3. Text of《左传》available at .


3.3. The Lord of E and the man of Yue

The Garden of Persuasion 《說苑》, written by Liu Xiang 刘向 of the Western Han era, record a love poem sung by an unnamed oarsman of the Yue ethnic group to Lord E of the Chu Kingdom. This was the first recorded poem translation in Chinese history.1

Excerpt from the Essay Good Talkers from "The Garden of Persuasion":2

On the day Lord Xiang Chen received his fiefdom, he was dressed in green, carrying a jade sword and shod in white silk. He stood on the river bank with his advisors, who carried maces, and with the county chiefs... who gave command, shouting, "Who will ferry the lord across the river?" Zhuang Xin, court advisor of the Chu kingdom came by... and bowed down to pay his respects. Then he stood up and said, "Your subordinate would like to hold my lord's hand, is this permissible?"

Lord Xiang Chen appeared angry and did not speak. Zhuang Xin... then said, "Has my lord alone not heard of what happened when Zixi, the Lord of E, went on a boating trip? He rode in a green boat under an aquamarine canopy, dressed in gorgeous robes. While the lord was listening to the music of chimes and drums, an oarsman of Yue sang as he rowed. The song lyrics are, '.... (words in the language of Yue)'. Ziyi the Lord of E said, 'I do not understand the song of Yue. Will someone translate it into the language of Chu for me?' So he summoned an interpreter, who rendered the lyrics in the language of Chu:

What evening is this evening, that we have come to this island in the middle of the flowing river?

What day is this day, that I share a boat with the king's son?

I am covered with shyness at being desired but I will not speak in secret of shame.

The designs of my heart are stubborn and persistent, for I wish to know the king's son.

The mountains have trees and the trees have branches. You are the joy of my heart but you do not know!

"Then Zixi the Lord of E... came forward and embraced the oarsman, raised his embroidered blanket and covered him. Zixi the Lord of E is the younger brother of the mother of the King of Chu. His office is Chief Administrator and his noble title is zhigui, but he still found mutual pleasure and fulfillment with an oarsman of Yue. Today, why should my lord consider himself higher than Zixi the Lord of E, and why should your servant alone not be given the same regard as the oarsman? I wish to hold my lord's hand - why is this not permissible?"

Lord Xiangchen then offered him his hand and advanced him...


襄成君始封之日,衣翠衣,带玉剑,履缟舄,立于游水之上,大夫拥钟锤,县令执桴号令,呼:“谁能渡王者于是也?”楚大夫庄辛,过而说之,遂造托而拜谒,起立曰:“臣愿把君之手,其可乎?”襄成君忿作色而不言。庄辛迁延沓手而称曰:“君独不闻夫鄂君子皙之泛舟于新波之中也?乘青翰之舟,极芘,张翠盖而犀尾,班丽褂衽,会钟鼓之音,毕榜枻越人拥楫而歌,歌辞曰:‘滥兮抃草滥予昌枑泽予昌州州●州焉乎秦胥胥缦予乎昭澶秦踰渗惿随河湖。’鄂君子皙曰:‘吾不知越歌,子试为我楚说之。’于是乃召越译,乃楚说之曰:‘今夕何夕搴中洲流,今日何日兮,得与王子同舟。蒙羞被好兮,不訾诟耻,心几顽而不绝兮,知得王子。山有木兮木有枝,心说君兮君不知。’于是鄂君子皙乃修袂,行而 拥之,举绣被而覆之。鄂君子皙,亲楚王母弟也。官为令尹,爵为执圭,一榜枻越人犹得交欢尽意焉。今君何以踰于鄂君子皙,臣何以独不若榜枻之人,愿把君之手,其不可何也?”襄成君乃奉手而进之,曰:“吾少之时,亦尝以色称于长者矣。未尝过僇如此之卒也。自今 以后,愿以壮少之礼谨受命。”

Later, people would use the expression 鄂君绣被 "The embroidered blanket of the Lord of E" to mean cherishing a homosexual partner.3

  1. 最早的译诗

  2. 說苑.善說篇

  3. 中国古代同性恋排行榜 Who's who in China's homosexual history


3.4. King Jing of Qi and the Official of Feathers

《晏子春秋》 Spring and Autumn of Yanzi is said to be China's most ancient compilation of stories, and also the earliest biography. It records the undertakings of the sage Yanzi, who served as Prime Minister to three kings of Qi - Ling, Zhuang and Jing. The book was probably completed during the Warring States era. 1

Excerpt from "Spring and Autumn of Yanzi, Chapter 8":2

King Jing of Qi was attractive in appearance. There was an official who had the charge of feathers. He gazed openly at the King. The King said to those on his left and his right, "Ask that person why he is staring at us." The person in charge of feathers replied, "If I speak, I will die. But if I do not speak, I will also die. I was gazing at the attractive appearance of my lord."

The king said, "He dared to desire me sexually. Kill him!" Yanzi entered without cue and said to the King, "I heard that the King has cause to be angered at the feather-bearer." The king replied, "Of course! He had sexual desire towards me. This is why I want to kil him." Yanzi answered, "I've heard that to refuse desire is against the Way, and to hate love is inauspicious. Although he desired the ruler, the law does not allow us to kill him." The King said, "So it is. When I take a bath, I will command him to embrace my back."


景公蓋姣 , 有 羽 人 視 景 公 僭 者 . 公 謂 左 右 曰 : 「 問 之, 何 視 寡 人 之 僭 也 ? 」 羽 人 對 曰 : 「 言 亦 死 , 而 不 言 亦死 , 竊 姣 公 也 . 」 公 曰 : 「 合 色 寡 人 也 ? 殺 之 ! 」 晏 子不 時 而 入 , 見 曰 : 「 蓋 聞 君 有 所 怒 羽 人 . 」 公 曰 : 「 然. 色 寡 人 , 故 將 殺 之 . 」 晏 子 對 曰 : 「 嬰 聞 拒 欲 不 道 ,惡 愛 不 祥 , 雖 使 色 君 , 于 法 不 宜 殺 也 . 」 公 曰 : 「 惡 然乎 ! 若 使 沐 浴 , 寡 人 將 使 抱 背 . 」

  1. 中国最古老的传说故事集—《晏子春秋》

  2. 晏子春秋


These stories represent only a small segment of Chinese glbt history. For further reading, see:

暧昧的历程--中国古代同性恋史 (An ambiguous journey - the history of homosexuality in ancient China)

作者 (Author): 张在舟 著 (Zhang Zaizhou)

出版日期 (Publication Date): 2001-04

出版社 (Publisher): 中州古籍出版社 (Zhongzhou Ancient Books Publishing House)