Jul 3, 2015

Dream of the Red Chamber: Gay Chinese Literature

When I was a kid in the 1960s, China didn't seem likely as a "good place."  There was a My Village in Japan, but no My Village in China.  Chinese art involved vast natural landscapes rather than the muscle gods of Greek myth, and all of the movie adaptations of the travels of Marco Polo gave the Italian explorer (Alfred Drake, Horst Buchholz, Desi Arnaz Jr.) a girlfriend.

Then came Bruce Lane and the kung fu craze, and the late 1970s was all awash with muscular Chinese  martial artists: Sonny Chiba, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao (left).  Sometimes they got girls, but often they enjoyed homoromantic bonds with fellow martial arts students, kung fu masters, and "blood brothers."

So I took a course in East Asian Culture and Civilization, and found some hints and signals.

Chinese poetry minimizes heterosexual romance to concentrate on the manly love of comrades:

Drawing up the green silk coverlets,
placing our pillows side by side;
like spending more than a hundred nights,
to sleep together with you here (Bo Yuji)

In West Hollywood in the 1980s, I took a course in Chinese literature at USC.  The professor assigned The Dream of the Red Chamber, the 18th century masterpiece by Cao Xueqin, but  "forgot" to mention that the main characters are all bisexual.

When Pao-Yu, is an adolescent, he meets Chin Chung, handsome "but too shy and effeminate."  They become inseparable friend -- or more.  "Let's not talk about it now," Pao-Yu said.  "I'll settle with you later, after we go to bed."

The narrator continues: "It is not known what settlement Pao-Yu made with his friend that night nor how, and we will not venture any speculations."

See also: Confessions of a Mask