Erotic art offers glimpse of China's 'lost' sexual philosophy

Erotic art offers glimpse of China's 'lost' sexual philosophy
Erotic paintings are displayed at the preview of an exhibition entitled "Gardens of Pleasure: Sex in Ancient China", at Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery in Hong Kong April 15, 2014.

HONG KONG - Ancient paintings of fornicating Chinese couples and phalluses made of stone are among items that Dutch art collector Ferdinand Bertholet hopes will help China reconnect with its sexually charged past.

Explicit works spanning from the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) are among more than 100 pieces on display in Hong Kong, drawing surprise and giggles from some viewers unaware of China's ancient relationship with sex.

In one painting, two women share a very intimate moment with a phallus, while other items at the "Gardens of Pleasure" exhibition organised by Sotheby's includes penis shaped objects made from stone, ceramics and bronze.

Bertholet, whose collection of Chinese erotic art is the world's largest with around 500 pieces, told AFP that such explicitness should not be considered crude or pornographic, instead representing harmony with the Taoist philosophy that thrived in China before the communists took power and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

"Chinese art is so different in its expression than other erotic expressions because it has a philosophical background," said the 61-year-old, adding that Taoism sees sex as a path to happiness and longevity. Many paintings are set in gardens, representing the Taoist aspect of being at one with nature, the collector said.

"(Sex) was a main issue for the Chinese... but it's after the Cultural Revolution that it is completely lost," Bertholet said, describing the issue to still be "incredibly sensitive".

Anti-sexual revolution

Vast numbers of relics, buildings and examples of heritage were destroyed at the hands of the communist authorities during the Cultural Revolution, China's decade of political and cultural upheaval from 1966 to 1976.

Temples and churches belonging to all religions - including those for the ancient Chinese philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism - were targeted amid a suppression of religion.

Sexual expression was not tolerated, with men and women wearing gender-neutral clothing during the period.

Today sexual taboos are loosening in the once deeply conservative country, as an adventurous generation of young, mainly urban Chinese adopt attitudes far removed from the days of radical communist rule their parents lived under.

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