• Alexander Liu-Middleton

The Bitten Peach: Classical China's Byword for Gay Love

For over two millennia, the phrase the bitten peach was Chinese slang for male same sex love, and was referenced by celebrated classical poets such as Liu Zun in the 500s AD. Originating in the fifth century BC, it is based on the tragic story of Mizi Xia and his partner, the Duke Ling of Wey.

The story goes that the semi-mythical courtier Mizi Xia was the male lover of the Duke, who saw nothing but good in the young man. When Mizi Xia's mother was ill, the young man took the Duke's carriage to rush to her side, a transgression punishable by having his feet cut off. The Duke however, was impressed by his filial piety and willingness to risk this punishment to care for his mother.

In another incident, the Duke was strolling in the gardens with Mizi Xia. When Mizi Xia picked a peach from the tree and thought it tasted particularly delicious, he gave it to the Duke, who was delighted to share it with his lover.

As Mizi Xia aged though and his looks faded, the Duke's affection waned. As he fell from favour, the acts that had once ingratiated him with his lover were turned against him, with the Duke commenting that Mizi Xia once stole his carriage, and once gave him a half eaten peach - the bitten peach of legend.

Once a celebrated story, the phrase has had different meanings in different eras. Celebrated in the "golden age" Tang Dynasty (618-907) as a story of fickle love, by the 12th century the phrase "bitten peach" had sunk to being applied to male prostitutes. As China evolved through the late Qing Dynasty in the 19th century and entered the Republican era, Western ideas regarding sexuality were imported by "modernisers". Unfortunately, Western thinking of the time was hugely negative towards gay people, and where in the early 19th century European visitors to China had commented critically on its openness towards homosexuality, in the mid-20th century China criminalised same sex relations in the name of modernisation and the phrase, "the bitten peach" became taboo.

What we find exciting now, is the future evolution of this story and phrase. With same sex relations decriminalised in the 1990s after a few decades in the closet, and a modern more culturally confident China "rediscovering" its classical past, stories from classical China offer a way of melding modern liberal attitudes with a Chinese cultural context. It allows us to think of same sex relationships in a Chinese cultural sense, escaping notions of gay relationships being a "Western" cultural import. Of course, the reality is that in many ways homophobia was the Western cultural import.

We now see great potential for engaging young, culturally confident Chinese through their own culture's classical openness towards same sex relationships, and rediscovering some of the really positive aspects of classical Chinese civilisation.

If you'd like to talk to us about reaching China's $300 billion gay economy and modern, urban, liberal millennials, just drop us a line. We love talking about new ideas in this rapidly evolving marketing landscape: clientservices@chinaconsulting.solutions

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