Chinese discover Tao and the art of outdoor sex

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The Independent Online

Forget Viagra or Dr Ruth. Even 2,000 years ago, the Chinese knew the secret of enjoying sex to a ripe old age. Take your partner, find a wild mulberry tree and let nature take its course in the great outdoors. Now this ancient Taoist love lesson, displayed on a pair of brick reliefs, is on public display in China after two decades banished to a pigsty's walls.

Forget Viagra or Dr Ruth. Even 2,000 years ago, the Chinese knew the secret of enjoying sex to a ripe old age. Take your partner, find a wild mulberry tree and let nature take its course in the great outdoors. Now this ancient Taoist love lesson, displayed on a pair of brick reliefs, is on public display in China after two decades banished to a pigsty's walls.

The erotic art, dating back to the celebrated Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), is attracting thousands of visitors to the Xindu County museum in south-west Sichuan province. The reliefs were unearthed from a Xindu tomb during the 1960s and saved from certain destruction in Mao's Cultural Revolution by an enterprising peasant who used them to shore up his pigsty.

Local museum staff rediscovered the reliefs in the 1980s, and have since dispatched them to foreign exhibitions, but until last month their "pornographic content" was shielded from the Chinese public. The reliefs portray a couple having sexual intercourse beneath a mulberry tree draped with their discarded robes. Birds and monkeys dart about, while another man waits behind the tree, standing proud in every sense.

"It is the only brick relief unearthed in China that has sexual content," explained Zhang Yuxin, the museum's deputy director. "It has extremely high historical value as it reflects so much of the society of the time. For example, Taoism was very popular in the Han Dynasty. People believed that having sexual intercourse, especially in the wilderness, was a way to cultivate oneself and to prolong one's lifespan by combining Yin and Yang."

Professor Liu Dalin, known as China's "Kinsey", added: "The brick relief is one of the finest examples of China's rich erotic art dating back 5,000 years. It shows the sex and sex organ worship in ancient China - you can tell from the enlarged penis. The third man waiting may suggest that group sex was practised at the time." Professor Liu is the curator of China's first sex museum, in Shanghai, which displays more than 1,000 erotic cultural relics he salvaged from the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. "These are things that modern Chinese should feel proud of, not ashamed. Ancient Chinese regarded sex as natural. Contrary to the stereotypical image of Chinese in the world, wooden and sexless, ancient Chinese actually had very lively sex lives."

He acknowledges that Chinese society is becoming more open-minded. He encountered little difficulty establishing the museum last year, though he is forbidden from advertising.

Through word of mouth, streams of visitors have come. "Now people care more about their quality of life, including improving their sex lives. There are certainly things we can learn from our ancestors."

With the puritan Communist Party at the helm, this is a country busily exploring its sexual potential after decades of frustration. Despite the government's efforts, pre-marital and extra-marital relations have become more commonplace and commercial sex is booming after having been eliminated in the 1950s. From July to September this year, the authorities shut 50,000 karaoke bars and massage parlours in a campaign against prostitution, gambling and drug abuse.

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