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Transgenderism and Same-Sex Love and Lust in Chinese Tales of the Supernatural and Strange

Chinese literature yielded a wealth of supernatural fables. Many of these tales attest to the presence of gender variants and same-sex desire in the popular culture of a past era, and give us a glimpse into the range of social attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities.

1. 子不语 Zi Bu Yu tales with homosexual/transgender themes

子不语 Zi Bu Yu is a collection of allegedly true supernatural stories compiled by Qing Dynasty scholar and writer 袁枚 (Yuan Mei). Yuan Mei is well-known for his sexual appetite, which encompassed both men and women.1 The title of the collection is borrowed from the expression 子不语 which literally means "what Confucius did not speak of". The expression originated from the saying "Confucius did not speak of strange swords and random deities" (because he did not know much about such topics).2 子不语 became a catch-all term for supernatural events. Three gay/bi/transgender-themed supernatural tales from the Zi Bu Yu collection Chapters 17 -19 《子不语》●卷十七-十九 are presented below:

  1. 中国古代同性恋排行榜 Who's who in China's homosexual history
  2. 国学的继承与发展

1.1. 女化男 A Woman Becomes a Man

In Leiyang there was a woman of surname Xue and name Xuemei. She was betrothed to a son of the Huang family, and a marriage date has been set. Suddenly, she fell gravely ill. While she was unconscious, she dreamt that a white-bearded old man was patting her body at the location of her crotch. In shame, she resisted him. The white-bearded old man then forced an object into her and left. The girl cried out loudly and her parents looked upon her in surprise - she had turned into a man. Her illness too, had suddenly departed.

The Superintendent of the Zou District, Zhang Xizu, came to Leiyang to certify the event. Fang Bo of Taohui Pavilion arrived to preside over the cross-examination. Xuemei was summoned and examined. The claim was found to be true. Xuemei's face and voice remained feminine. There was a small slit in his scrotum which was similar to the female opening. The Xue family originally had two sons. Because of this event, they now had three. Xuemei's name was changed to Xuelai.

Original Text:



1.2. 兔儿神 The Rabbit God

During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, a certain Imperial Investigator passed the Civil Service Examinations at a young age. He was posted to Fujian. There was certain Hu Tianbao [in the local government] who fell in love with the good looks of the Imperial Investigator. Every time the Imperial Investigator held court, Tianbao secretly gazed at him out of the corner of his eye. The Investigator found his behavior suspicious but did not know the reason behind it. And the entry-level officer [Tianbao] did not dare to speak his mind.

Not long later, the youthful Imperial Investigator went out to survey another province. Hu Tianbao went with him, [and when the other party was in the toilet], he hid next to the toilet and observed the Investigator's buttocks. The Investigator became increasingly suspicious, and summoned Tianbao for questioning. Tianbao initially hesitated to speak, but after being put through three torture instruments, he spoke, "In truth, I saw your beauty, and my heart could not forget it. Although I know clearly that common birds cannot hope to perch on the cinnamon tree in heaven, my soul continues in its enchantment. So without realizing it, I committed this rudeness." The Imperial Investigator flew into a great rage and had Tianbao's life terminated under the wooden clubs.

A month after this event, Hu Tianbao sent a dream to a certain person from his hometown: "I offended someone of high station with my dishonorable intentions. I deserved my death, but my action only came out of love and a momentary foolish fantasy. I am not the same as a common criminal. Among the officers of the Underworld there are those who mock me and those who tease me, but none have shown anger towards me. Now, the Official of the Underworld has appointed me as the 'Rabbit God',1 whose sole duty is to govern mutual delight between two men in the mortal world. You folks can build me a shrine and invite people to burn incense to me. "

It was a custom among Fujianese men to acquire a man in marriage as a 'sworn younger brother'. After they heard about the dream of Hu Tianbao's friend, they each rushed to be the first in collecting funds and building a temple. [The god] proved very potent. All those who arranged to meet secretly and those who could not have what they desired all went there to pray.

Chen Yumen said: "This Imperial Investigator did not read The Spring and Autumn of Yanzi, in which [Yanzi] advised [the King of Qi] not to kill the official in charge of feathers (a low-ranking admirer). There was a Mister Di Weiren who was different [from the Imperial Investigator]. It was told that when Mister Di held the position of editor, he was young and handsome. There was a certain carriage driver who was also a young lad. He attached himself to the household of Mr Di and pushed the carriage of the editor. He was very hardworking and cautious, and refused to accept any payment for his work. Mister Di also loved him. Not long later, he became gravely ill. The skill of many doctors was to no avail. When he was on the verge of death, he asked his master to come to him, and said, 'Since your servant is about to die, there is something I have to say: I am sick unto death because I love your beauty.' Mr Di laughed out loud and clapped him on the shoulder, saying: 'you foolish servant. If you had such feelings, why did you not speak of them earlier?' And he gave him a grand burial. "

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  1. 'Rabbit' is a slang term for men who have sex with men.


1.3. 清凉老人 The Old Man Qing Liang

The monk of Wu Tai Mountain had the title of Old Man Qing Liang. He taught the precepts of Chan (Zen) Buddism to Premier E. In the fourth year of Yongzheng, the old man died. A child was born in Tibet, who, at the age of eight, did not speak. One day, he shaved his head and cried out, "I am the Old Man Qing Liang. Please speedily inform Premier E of my existence."

The premier summoned the child for questioning. In his answers, the child made no mistakes concerning the events of the old man's past life. He could identify the servants by name and acted as if he had known them before. The premier wanted to test him and tried to give him the old man's rosary. The little child held the rosary and bowed with his head touching the ground, saying, "I dare not take this gift. This is a gift that I, your slave monk, had given you, the Prime Minister, in my previous life."

Premier E was surprised, and commanded that he go to Wu Tai Mountain to take up the position of abbot. When the boy came to Hejian, he wrote a letter to a certain Yuan of Hejian, bidding farewell and sending a large sum of money. Yuan, who in the past received kindness from the deceased old man, was greatly shocked. He immediately rode on the black horse the old man had given him and went meet the boy. The child saw him in the middle of the street, and alighted from his chariot. He ran straight to Yuan and embraced him around the waist, saying, "After a separation of 8 years, do you not recognize me?"

Then he rubbed the horse's mane and laughed, "It seems that you are well too!"

The horse neighed sorrowfully without end. At that time, about 10,000 people had gathered to watch the spectacle. They shouted with one voice that the child was a living buddha, prostrating themselves before him.

The small child gradually grew. He was as delicate and beautiful as an attractive woman. Once he went by a gemstone and glass factory, and saw an art store selling images of men and women copulating. He was greatly delighted and could not stop poring over them and enjoying them. On his way home, he stopped in Cypress Village, where he summoned prostitutes to consort with him. At Wu Tai Mountain, he sent out a wide summons to licentious old women and beautiful young women with large sexual organs to come to him for the purpose of viewing sex acts. He came in person to watch them, but did not find it to be sufficient stimulation, so he used the temple funds to go to Suzhou for the purpose of hiring actors to sing and dance. Someone called for his impeachment. Before the charges of his mismanagement could be filed with the court, the 'old man' was aware of the matter and sighed, saying, "A tree that does not bend or bow, and being born in the realm of no desire, are mistakes."

So he crossed his legs, sat down in the lotus position, and passed away at the age of twenty-four.

My friend Li Zhu was an old friend of Qing Liang's previous incarnation and went to visit him. He saw the 'old man' wearing women's makeup and red stockings, naked from the waist-down, causing a man to enter him while he himself was entering a woman. Around them was a chain of countless other people copulating. Li was furious and scolded, "Is this the Living Buddha?"

The 'old man' calmly replied, composing a Buddhist verse: "There is no need to conceal or to obstruct the pleasure of men and the love of women. It is this tiny potential to make life that has created this world. The layperson is ignorant, and takes great alarm at a small matter."

Original Text:

  五台山僧,号清凉老人,以禅理受知鄂相国。雍正四年,老人卒。西藏产一儿,八岁不言。一日剃发,呼曰:“我清凉老人也,速为我通知鄂相国。”乃召小儿入。所应对,皆老人前世事,无舛。指待者仆御,能呼其名,相识如旧。鄂公故欲试之,赐以老人念珠,小儿手握珠叩头曰:“不敢,此僧奴前世所献相国物也。”鄂公异之,命往五台山坐方丈。   将至河间,书一纸与河间人袁某,道别绪甚款。袁,故老人所善,大惊,即骑老人所赠黑马来迎。小儿中道望见,下车直前抱袁腰白:“别八年矣,犹相识否?”又摩马鬣笑曰:“汝亦无恙乎!”马为悲嘶不止。是时,道旁观者万人,皆呼生佛,罗拜。

  小儿渐长大,纤妍如美女。过琉璃厂,见画店鬻男女交媾状者,大喜,谛玩不已。归过柏乡,召妓与狎。到五台山,遍召山下淫妪与少年貌美阴巨者终目淫,亲临观之,犹以为不足;更取香火钱往苏州聘伶人歌舞,被人劾奏。疏章未上,老人已知,叹曰:“无曲躬树而生色界天,误矣!”即端坐趺跏而逝,年二十四。   吾友李竹溪与其前世有旧,往访之。见老人方作女子妆,红肚袜,裸下体,使一男子淫己,而己又淫一女,其旁鱼贯连环而淫者无数。李大怒,骂曰:“活佛当如是乎!”老人夷然应声作偈曰:“男欢女爱,无遮无碍。一点生机,成此世界。俗士无知,大惊小怪。”


2. 聊斋 Liaozhai tales with transgender/homosexual themes

聊斋志异 Strange Tales of Liao Zhai, is a 12-volume collection of supernatural tales by 17th century writer 蒲松龄 Pu Songling. The Strange Tales vary in length from brief anecdotes to short stories with fully developed characters. Bisexuality, which was common in contemporary China, is also common in Strange Tales. For the full Strange Tales collection online, see

An English translation is also available in print. (We have not reviewed this publication, and make no claims as to whether the originally homoerotic stories were preserved in translation.)

2.1. 化男 Changing to a Man

This tale comes from Chapter 8 of 聊斋志异:

In Suzhou's Mudu Town, a woman was sitting in [her] courtyard one night when a meteorite suddenly struck [her] head. [She] fell to the ground and died. The individual's parents were old and had no other child besides this daughter. [They] cried grievously and called urgently for help to save [her]. After a while, [the individual] came back to consciousness and laughed, "I am now a man". Upon examination it was found to be true. The family did not treat [him] as a supernatural freak, but secretly rejoiced at receiving a son. This event occurred in the Dinghai year.

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2.2. 念秧 Nianyang

念秧 refers to the confidence tricksters who operate on China's busy north-south super highway. Liaozhai's 念秧 tale opens with the story of Wang, a traveller who falls in with a group of swindlers. One of the crooks, a cultured and beautiful teenage boy, seduces Wang's manservant in order to steal Wang's valuables. A few years later, the same ring of con-artists try their schemes on another traveller Wu. Fortunately for Wu, he was on the alert, having heard of Wang's experience. Unfortunately for the swindlers, Wu also had the help of two fox fairies - a scholar and his manservant. By the end of the tale, Wu's fox friends had outfoxed the swindlers. Along the way, Wu gets to sleep with the pretty boy, and then with the pretty boy's wife.

Since the tale is long, no attempt will be made to translate it here. You can read the original at 念秧 on 新世纪家园。


2.3. 人妖 The Human Freak

Some say 人妖 is a 'lesbian' tale but in my opinion, it really has nothing to do with lesbianism as a sexual orientation, but rather with performing lesbian acts to make a living. In this tale, a man and his wife, both described as 'wanton', take an interest in their new neighbor - an attractive 19 year old female. This female claimed to be a masseuse but only serviced women. The wanton man and his wife plotted to invite the masseuse over to their house on the pretext of giving the wife a massage. The husband then switched places with the wife in the dark bed room. The masseuse, thinking she was massaging the wife, put her hand on the man's private parts. When she discovered her mistake, she begged for mercy. The man, on questioning the young woman, discovered that the masseuse was a disciple of a master of erotic massage. The master and his other disciples had all been arrested and executed by the authorities, the female disciple being the sole escapee. On learning this, the man made use of the situation to blackmail the masseuse into becoming his concubine.

Since the tale is long, no attempt will be made to translate it here. You can read the original at 人妖 online.


2.4. 男妾 The Male Concubine

This tale comes from Chapter 8 of 聊斋志异:1

A government official was in Yangzhou seeking to purchase a concubine. He visited several families in succession but all the girls were not to his liking. That is, all except for the girl who was being sold by an old crone who was temporarily lodging in the household of another. The girl was about 14 or 15 years of age, graceful, attractive, and skilled in a wide range of crafts. Pleased, the man bought her at a high price.

When night came and they lay under the coverlets, he found her skin to be as smooth as oil. He delightedly put his hand on her private parts and found that 'she' was a boy. He was extremely shocked. After conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, the gentleman found that a syndicate bought goodly lads who were then adorned as girls as part of a scam to fleece unknowing buyers.

At dawn, the official sent his servant to seek for the old hag, but she was gone without a trace. The man's heart was filled with regret and disappointment, and he did not know what his next move should be. It so happened that a friend of the same age came from Zhezhong to visit him. After the man told his story, the friend sought to see the boy. He was greatly pleased by what he saw, and redeemed the lad at the original price.

The writer of this strange history comments: It is a rare occasion that a man can find another who shares his interests. He would not exchange him for even the legendary female beauty Nan Wei. To what purpose did the ignorant hag take the redundant measure of putting a disguise on the boy?

Original Text:


  1. 《聊斋志异》之〈男妾〉 (新世纪家园)


2.5. 封三娘 Feng Sanniang

封三娘 is a not-quite-lesbian fable about the intense friendship between a beautiful human woman 范十一娘 and a female fox fairy 封三娘. When Fan Shiyiniang fist met Sanniang, she was "delighted and liked her, turned and gazed upon her expectantly" 悦而好之,转用盼注。 Sanniang in turn had seen Fan's beauty and suddenly developed love and admiration (缘瞻丽容,忽生爱慕).

Fan pined and fell ill when Sanniang did not come to visit. When Sanniang came and left, "十一娘扶床悲惋,如失伉俪" Shiyinian leaned on her bed grieving, as if she lost a spouse. Sanniang later arranged a marriage between Shiyiniang and Meng, an 18 year old male scholar who was poor but talented. Fan wanted Feng to marry Meng as another wife so that the two women could be together for a lifetime (吾姊妹骨肉不啻也,然终无百年聚。计不如效英、皇。).1 But Feng refused. Fan then got Feng drunk and made her husband rape her, hoping to seal the marriage. But Feng, on waking up and finding herself violated, bade farewell to Fan, revealing that she was a fox fairy who maintained celibacy to achieve a higher level of enlightenment, but now, tainted with the desires of the flesh, she could no longer move to the next realm. She then disappeared from human sight.

Since the tale is long, no attempt will be made to translate it here. You can read the original at 封三娘 on 新世纪家园。

  1. 英、皇 refers to Nuying and Erhuang, the two sisters who were married at the same time to legendary pre-historic emperor Shun. See 娥皇女英 for more information.


2.6. 男生子 A Male Gives Birth

This tale comes from Chapter 8 of 聊斋志异:1

Yang Fu, the military commander of Fujian province, had a boy favorite who felt vibrations in his abdomen. After ten months had passed, he dreamt that a deity made a slit on each side of his torso. When he awoke, there were two boys, one on each side of him, crying. He looked at his sides and found that there were indeed scars from the cuts. The boys were named Tianshe and Dishe. [Liaozhai author's comment: "This event occured before the rebellion of Wu Fan.]2

After Wu rebelled, Cai Gong, the governor of Fujian, did not trust the intentions of Yang. He feared that Yang too would rebel, so he summoned him. Yang's wife Su was wise and brave. She had misgivings about the trip and tried to stop her husband from leaving. Yang would not listen to her. His wife sent him off in tears. Upon returning to her home base, she ordered all the officers to put on strong armor and carry sharpened weapons while waiting for news of Yang. Shortly later, she heard that her husband had been killed. Su then launched a counter-attack against Cai. Cai was terrified and did not know what to do. Fortunately, his soldiers steadfastly held the fort. Su, not being able to subdue Cai, departed. Once she was far away, Cai came forth in battle gear, leading his forces and shouting loudly. People spread word of this matter as a joke.

The bandits were brought under government control a number of years later. Not long after, Cai died suddenly. Before his death, he saw Yang marching in with his soldiers. The people around Cai all saw the vision too. Alas, although this ghost is mighty, its head could not be returned to its body. He was a freak who begot sons (on a male). Was that an omen of this strangeness?

Original Text:

福建总兵杨辅有娈童,腹震动。十月既满,梦神人剖其两胁去之。及醒,两男夹左右 啼。起视胁下,剖痕俨然。儿名之天舍、地舍云。 异史氏曰:“按此吴藩未叛前事也。吴既叛,闽抚蔡公疑杨欲图之,而恐其为乱,以他 故召之。杨妻夙智勇,疑之,沮杨行,杨不听。妻涕而送之。归则传齐诸将,披坚执锐,以 待消息。少间闻夫被诛,遂反攻蔡。蔡仓皇不知所为,幸标卒固守,不克乃去。去既远,蔡 始戎装突出,率众大嗓。人传为笑焉。后数年,盗乃就抚。未几蔡暴亡;临卒见杨操兵入, 左右亦皆见之。呜呼!其鬼虽雄,而头不可复续类!生子之妖,其兆于此耶?”

  1. 《聊斋志异》之〈男生子〉 (新世纪家园)
  2. This refers to 吴三桂 Wu Sangui's rebellion, which occured in 1660. See 中国史叛将传 - 反复之犬:吴三桂


2.7. 商三官 Shang Sanguan

Shang Sanguan is the tale of a young woman who avenges her father by dressing as a man to gain access to the bedchamber of her father's murderer. After her father was beaten to death by a local bully, the titular character runs away from home and reinvents herself as a young male singer Li Yu. Li Yu sings at the birthday feast of the bully, who becomes enchanted by the charming young man. The bully dismisses his servants so that he could sleep with the young 'man'. Sanguan takes the chance to behead her father's murderer. Her mission accomplished, she hangs herself. Later, a manservant who attempted to defile her corpse was inexplicably struck dead by an unseen force...

Since the tale is long, no attempt will be made to translate it here. You can read the original at 商三官 on 新世纪家园 。


2.8. 黄九郎 Huang Jiulang

Huang Jiulang is a male fox fairy who took the form of a handsome young man. The tale opens with the following paragraph:

何师参,字子萧,斋于苕溪之东,门临旷野。薄暮偶出,见妇人跨驴来,少年从其后。妇约五十许,意致清越;转视少年,年可十五六,丰采过于姝丽。何生素有断袖之癖,睹之,神出于舍,翘足目送,影灭方归。 次日早伺之,落日冥蒙,少年始过。生曲意承迎,笑问所来。答以“外祖家”。生请过斋少憩,辞以不暇,固曳之,乃入;略坐兴辞,竖不可挽。生挽手送之,殷嘱便道相过,少年唯唯而去。生由是凝思如渴,往来眺注,足无停趾。

He Shishen, who has the moniker of Zixiao, had his studio east of the Tiao stream. His door opened to the wilderness. Early one evening, he came out of his studio and saw a woman riding a donkey and a youth following her. The woman was about 50, with a bright and uncommon aura. He turned his gaze on the youth. The boy was about 15 or 16, more gorgeous than a pretty woman. Shishen had a preference for the cut sleeve. When he stared at the youth, it was as if his spirit had left his body. Sending the boy off with his eyes while standing on tiptoe, he only returned to his studio after the shadow of the boy had disappeared.

The next day, He went out early to await the boy. After the sun had gone down, and the night had come, the boy passed by again. Shishen welcomed him obsequiously, amiably asking him from whence he came. The boy said, "From my maternal grandparents' home."

Shishen invited him into the study to "rest a little". The lad declined, saying he had no time. But He pulled him in. After sitting for a short while, the lad arose to take his leave, quite determined not to be detained. Shishen held his hands when sending him off, speaking many admonishments and exhortations for the journey. The lad expressed assent at all He said as he was leaving. After this, Shishen's obssessive thoughts about the boy was like a parching thirst. He scrutinized the comings and goings on the road, pacing restlessly without stopping.

When the boy passed by again, He Shishen forcibly pulled him into his studio. The lad introduced himself as Huang Jiulang. When the boy wanted to take his leave, Shishen compelled him to stay the night. When it came time for bed, Shishen embraced Huang and begged for carnal union. Jiulang refused and stormed off. But Jiulang came back at another date, apparently having forgiven Shishen for his trespass. Again, He detained Jiulang overnight. He begged for carnal intimacy once more and Jiulang refused as before. When Shishen begged to be allowed contact with Jiulang's 'jade-like skin', Jiulang obliged. But when Shishen fondled him in the night while he was asleep, Jiulang arose and left. Shishen could not bear the loss. He neglected food and sleep, becoming thinner by the day.

One day, Jiulang passed by Shishen's studio without any intention of stopping, but Shishen's servant boy grabbed hold of him and led him in. When Jiulang saw the miserable state Shishen was in, he was shocked. He Shishen, with tears falling freely, told Jiulang the cause of his illness. Jiulang replied, "It is a small thing to lie with you, but sharing an act of love would not benefit me, and would even harm you, so I had not obliged you. But since this is what would make you happy, I will not hold myself back from you."

Shishen was overjoyed and recovered from his sickness almost immediately. Jiulang returned after a few days and the two were intimate. But Huang told him, "Today I make the effort to meet your pleasure, but do not expect this to be a regular occurence."

Then he said to Shishen,"I have a favor to ask. Would you lend your strength?"

Shishen asked him what he wanted. Huang said, "My mother suffers from heart pain. Only the Xiantian pills from the Imperial Physician Qi Yewang could cure her. You are on good terms with Qi, and should be able to get them from him."

Shishen obliged him and went into the city to procure the medicine. When he returned, he desired carnal union with Huang again. But Huang refused him, saying "I have a stunningly beautiful female cousin who would be more suitable for you."

Three days later, Jiulang returned to ask for more medicine. Shishen was annoyed at him for not visiting earlier, and reproached him. Huang replied, "I did not wish to harm you and thus avoided seeing you, but since you cannot understand this, do not regret the consequences."

When He went to Physician Qi again, Qi was suspicious. "No one needs to take more than three doses of this medicine. Why is the patient taking so long to recover?"

Then he said to Shishen, "You look pale. Are you ill?"

Shishen answered "No", but Qi took his pulse and exclaimed, "You have the pulse of someone haunted by a ghost or demon. Your illness is advanced and if you do not take care, you will die!"

When He returned home, he told Huang of the doctor's words. Jiulang said, "He is indeed a skilled doctor. I am a fox. My extended presence is not to your favor."

Shishen did not believe him. Not long later, he indeed fell ill. Doctor Qi came to examine him and pronounced the diagnosis: "Your life force is now roaming in the wilderness. Even the legendary physician Qin Yuan cannot save you now."

In the daytime, Jiulang came to care for him, admonishing, "You did not heed my warning, and indeed things have come to pass as I predicted."

Shishen sought death and Jiulang "wept grievously and departed."

Now Shishen had a former classmate Gong who held the official position of 太史. It came to pass that Gong brought charges against a powerful and corrupt official Qin Pan but ended up being driven to suicide by Qin Pan's cronies. He Shishen's spirit took over Gong's dead body and revived it. Gong (Shishen) went back to He's old residence but the District Superintendent did not believe his 'reincarnation' story and tried to extort 1000 pieces of gold from him. Gong was very troubled.

Huang came to see Gong (He) again. Gong once more sought physical intimacy with Huang, but Huang refused him, saying "Do you have three lives?" Instead, Jiulang arranged for Gong to take his mother's brother's daughter as wife. Gong's new wife, feeling angry with Huang for coercing her into the match with Gong, suggested to her husband that he make peace with his nemesis the District Superintendent by gifting Jiulang to him. She pointed out that the Superintendent was a decadent playboy and Jiulang would be able to please him.

Blackmailed by his cousin and his friend, Jiulang had to go along with the plan. Gong sent a letter to his friend 太史 Wang:


Wang understood Gong's plan, and invited the Superintendent over for a drink. He commanded Jiulang to dress as a woman and dance the Sky Demon Dance. Jiulang was so like a beautiful woman that the Superintendent was enchanted. He repeatedly made offers to Wang asking to purchase Jiulang with a great sum of money; his only fear was that he could not gain the young man. Wang pretended to consider it deeply and delayed giving his reply for a very long time. Then Wang commanded Gong to enter. The Superintendent was in a good mood and pardoned all his past offences. After gaining Jiulang, the Superintendent "did not part from him for even a moment". His more-than-ten female concubines "all seemed as dust and dirt in his sight".

Jiulang lived like a prince and was given 10,000 pieces of gold. Half a year later, the Superintendent became ill and died. Jiulang built a house, hired many servants, and brought his mother and mother's brother's wife to live with him. He went about the human world in style, without anyone ever knowing he was a fox.

The author of Liaozhai added his "joking" commentary: "Man and woman setting up house together is the great institution of husband and wife. Dryness and wetness neutralize each other, and yin and yang complement each other... male homosexuality is an ugly matter that stinks in one's nose... Today some men have gone 'downstream' and forgot to return, abandoning the main road. They have not execised heterosexual intercourse... and reversed yin and yang... They leave the Pond of Hua unused, falsely claiming to be like old monks in meditation. The cave in the wilderness is an unfertile ground. To spend oneself there is like tethering the legendary horse Red Rabbit at the gate... or leaving the great bow in the storehouse in time of war... When the warhorse stops in the black pine forest, it feels safe, but when the tides of the Yellow Dragon's Mansion come all of a sudden, with what will you stop them? It will block the root that drills and pokes, and stop up the way for sending and welcoming."

Since the tale is long, no attempt has been made to fully translate it here. You can read the original at 黄九郎 on XYS Classics 。

  1. The preference of the cut sleeve refers to male homosexuality, and comes from the tale of Emperor Ai of Han, whose male lover Dong Xian fell asleep on his sleeve. When the empror had to get up, he cut off his sleeve rather than wake Dong Xian.


3. Gods and ghosts in 《情外类》 A Different Kind of Passion collection

The famous Ming Dynasty author 冯梦龙 Feng Menglong compiled references to lust and love in the historical records, personal memoirs and fictional works of past ages into a volume titled "The History of Passion" 《情史》. He dedicates an entire chapter 卷二十二 《情外类》 Chapter 22 - The External Kind of Passion, to male-male relationships.1The External Kind of Passion is so called because in archaic language, 'internal relations' refer to the relations a man has with his wife (who lives within his household), and 'external relations' refers to the sexual relations he has with other men.2 Three supernatural tales of male-male love and desire in 《情外类》are presented below:

  1. For the full text of 《情外类》, see
  2. 生活艺术--刘达临--中国古代性文化--第五节从皇帝到庶民的男风

3.1. 全氏子 张氏子 The Son of the Quan Family, and the Son of the Zhang Family

Feng Menglong attributes the folowing tales to 《狯园》 "The Garden of Craftiness", a book of supernatural tales compiled by Qian Xiyan in 1613 (Ming Dynasty):1

Quan Dayong was the military commander stationed at Elephant Mountain in the area of Mountain Lake, Suzhou Province. He had a son-in-law Jiang Han, who was about 20. Jiang Han was cultured in manner and charming in carriage. It came to pass that he encountered The Five Divine Young Men.2 (They were as) winding silk with the grace of a swallow. Their affection surpassed that of spouses. The wife of Jiang Han did not even dare to spend the night with her husband. Jiang was sick and thin for many days; Madam Quan brought him tea and kept vigil at his side, but his ailment showed no sign of abating. Later, the family met a person of unusual spiritual power who ended the haunting with the help of a magic seal and by making sacrifices to ward off misfortune. This event happened during the Bingwu year of the Wanli era.

In addition, there was Zhang Erzi, a shop assistant who worked at Chajia Bridge in Su City. At the age of 16, he was pale and tender, of pleasant and graceful demeanor. One day, the Five Young Men materialized at his home and seduced him into joining their festivities. They threw an extravagant banquet with many exotic dishes. In a single day, they called upon their swordsmen to serve up several platters of roasted eel. They drank until they were tipsy, cheering heartily. Although they had appeared without warning, Zhang did not show much suspicion or hostility towards them. Later, they suddenly wanted to hire him as an assistant, and pressed him to make a decision with much haste. His parents beseeched him not to join their employment and forbade him to go. When they sought their son later, they found that he had died.3

Original Text:



  1. 第五章 明代文言小说 Chapter 5 "Ming Dynasty classical Chinese novels" 中国小说史

  2. The Five Divine Young Men are actually not men, but gods (or some say, demons). They are five brothers who seek sexual liaisons with humans, through seduction or coercion. One or more of the five would 'haunt' a man or woman by materializing in human form and visiting their target during the night. When the Five manifest themselves in human form, they take the appearance of males of ages ranging from the teens through the thirties. The Five Divine Young Men (Wu Lang Shen) are aka the Wu Tong Shen (Five Gods of Access) and Wu Sheng (Five Holy Ones)

  3. If the Five take a fancy to a man or a woman, they may carry his/her spirit away to the spirit world, resulting in the physical death of their victim. The worship of The Five goes back to the Tang Dynasty but the cult of these 'evil gods' was banned more recently. More tales of the Five can be found in Liaozhai.


3.2. 吕子敬秀才 The Scholar Lu Zijing

This is another story involving the 五通神. Feng Menglong attributes this story to Ear Talk, a collection of supernatural tales compiled during the Ming Dynasty:1

Lu Zijing, a scholar of Ji An, loved a handsome man named Wei Guoxiu. Guoxiu passed away and Lu mourned deeply. Becoming distracted and aimless, he abandoned his career to wander around. In prior times, there was a Terrace of a Hundred Flowers at the former palace of Ning Fan. Lu toured the location and there he saw a man of great beauty surpassing even that of Wei Guoxiu. Lu wept and his tears stained his sleeve. The man asked him the reason, and Lu said, "When I am faced with the kind of beauty that could ruin a kingdom, I am saddened to think of one who was dear to me but who is no longer here."

The man replied, "If you can tolerate my ugliness and lowliness, you can transfer your old passion to building a friendship with a new acquaintance. Then, in time a new friend may become an old friend."

Lu was overjoyed beyond expectations and they became intimate.

When Lu asked after the man's hometown and family, the man remained silent for a long time. Then he spoke, "Do not be alarmed. I am not human. When I was in the world of the living, I was called `Wang Du the Master Singer'. I originally lived at the north gate, and I unexpectedly received the favor and patronage of His Highness Ning. His devotion to me surpassed the attention he gave to anyone in the palace. Consort Lou was jealous and poisoned me to death. I was buried under the Terrace of a Hundred Flowers. My soul did not go into the darkness but remained to roam the world of the living. When I saw your great sentimentality and deep affection, I was moved to make myself known. I know the whereabouts of Wei, the man who occupies your thoughts. He is now in the Temple of the Five (Wu Tong Shen) at Xianxia Mountain in the South County of Beach City. If you procure a magic paper seal from a Taoist High Priest whom the Five fears, use the seal to bind the gods, and you will be able see Wei again."

Lu went to seek the help of the High Priest and used the charmed seal the priest gave him to curb the power of the gods. Three days later, Wei appeared before him as Wang had said. Wei spoke, "The Five Gods of Access carried me off by force on account of my looks. I have never forgotten you but I had no means of escape. Today, we are lucky to have a happy reunion, and you have gained both Wang and me. For everyone, there is indeed a destiny ordained by Heaven".

Lu then bought a boat and took the two men with him. He abandoned his home and went traveling south of the river. Later, people would often see them – they appeared as visions that fade away almost as soon as they came into view. The images always seemed to be that of three men; it was speculated that they had passed into the realm of the immortals. Even today, when people of Lu's hometown make queries to the immortals, they direct their questions to the scholar Lu Zijing.

Original Text:

  吉安吕子敬秀才,嬖一美男韦国秀。国秀死,吕哭之恸,遂至迷罔,浪游弃业。先是宁藩废宫有百花台,吕游其地,见一人美益甚,非韦可及,因泣下沾襟。是人问故,曰:“对倾国伤我故人耳。”是人曰:“君倘不弃陋劣,以故情亲新人,新即故耳。”吕喜过望,遂与相狎。问其里族,久之始曰:“君无讶,我非人也,我即世所称善 歌汪度。始家北门,不意为宁殿下所嬖,专席倾宫。亡何为娄妃以妒鸩杀我,埋尸百花台下。幽灵不昧,得游人间,见子多情,故不嫌自荐。君之所思韦郎,我亦知之,今在浦城县南,仙霞岭五通神庙中。五通神所畏者天师。倘得符摄之,便可相见。”吕以求天师,治以符祝。三日韦果来曰:“五通以我有貌,强夺我去。我思君未忘,但无由得脱耳。今幸重欢,又得汪郎与偕,皆天缘所假。”吕遂买舟,挟二男。弃家游江以南,数载不归。后人常见之,或见或隐,犹是三人,疑其化去。然其里人至今请仙问疑,有吕子敬秀才云。见《耳谈》

  1. 第五章 明代文言小说 Chapter 5 "Ming Dynasty classical Chinese novels" 中国小说史


4. Other supernatural-themed stories

4.1. 《牡丹亭》 冥判 'Judgement' in The Peony Pavilion

The Peony Pavilion is a play written by Tang Xianzhu 汤显祖 of the 明 Ming Dynasty. In the act 'Judgment', four young men who died untimely deaths were brought before the Judge of the Underworld. They were all guilty of indulging in sensuality while in the land of the living. The first man Zhao's sin was his fondness for singing. Qian, the second man, committed the sin of building a house with fragrant walls. The third man Sun sinned by utlizing the services of female prostitutes. The fourth man Li's sin was being fond of homoeroticism - even while waiting for trial in the underworld jail house, he had hooked up with his fellow inmate Sun. The judge sentenced Zhao to be reborn as an oriole. Qian was punished for building a fragrant house by being reborn a swallow, "to build a swallow's nest". Sun, who frequented "flower pollen" (female company) was sentenced to be reborn as a butterfly. Li who enjoyed homosexuality, received the sentence of being reborn as a bee, "to have a needle growing out of his bottom." Upon hearing his sentence, he lamented, "Aiyou! Who should I sting now?"

Here's an excerpt from the play1:
























〔外〕哎哟,叫俺钉谁去? 〔净〕四位虫儿听分付


A number of English translations are also available in print. (We have not reviewed these publications, and make no claims as to whether the above section was preserved in translation.)

  1. 《牡丹亭》 第二十三出 冥判


4.2. 《无声戏》 第九回 变女为儿菩萨巧 By the design of the Boddhisatva, a daughter changes to a son

《无声戏》是明代人李渔的作品。 'By the design of the Boddhisatva, a daughter changes to a son' is a short story written by 17th century writer Li Yu as part of his Pantomine collection. In this tale, a childless rich old man wanted an heir. Unfortunately, his wife was also past childbearing age. Being a "jealous woman", she had refused to allow him to take concubines. But in her old age, the wife finally permitted the taking of concubines so that her husband could sire an heir by another woman. However, the only child born out of this effort was a hermaphrodite. The old man was bitterly disappointed, but after some time, he realized that the more charitable deeds he did, the more his child's genitalia would take the form of male genitalia. By the reverse, if he neglected to do good, the hermaphrodite might change into a girl. For full Chinese text, see 《无声戏》 第九回 变女为儿菩萨巧


4.3. 潘章 and 王仲先 Pan Zhang and Wang Zhongxian in 太平广记

The story of 潘章 and 王仲先 is found earlier in 太平广记 The Comprehensive Record of the Taiping Era, a compilation of miscellaneous topics (many with supernatural themes) completed in 973 CE.1 It can deduce that Pan Zhang and Wang Zhongxian lived during the Zhou Dynasty(1027-221 BCE) since the Chu Kingdom, mentioned in the text, existed only during that era.

Excerpt from Chapter 389 Tombs I of A "Comprehensive Record of the Taiping Era":2

Pan Zhang in his youth was beautiful in face and manner, much admired by his contemporaries. Wang Zhongxian of the Chu Kingdom heard of his fame and came to seek his friendship. Zhang accepted him. Desiring to study together, they loved each other at first sight. Their affection was as husband and wife and they shared the same blanket and pillow; their good relations continued without end. Later they died together. The people of their household grieved for them and buried them together at Luofu Mountain. A tree suddenly grew out of their grave; all of its branches and leaves embraced one another. The people at that time were amazed and named it the Shared Pillow Tree.

太平广记 卷第三百八十九 冢墓一:


  1. For a brief introduction to Taiping Guangji, see

  2. Full text of Chapter 389 of Taiping Guangzi can be found at


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