Sexuality and Ghosts in China

My project, as you can probably tell from the title, is on ghosts in Chinese literature and media. But there is a twist, as I will be focusing on the erotic nature of these ghost stories. It may surprise some people, especially those who are not in Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, that ghost and spirits are a very important part of Chinese religious and spiritual life. Many aspects of Chinese life is thought to be affected by ghosts or spirits of ancestors or any other way to describe them that you can come up with (there are many ways to describe them in Chinese culture). This then means that sex, which is an important part of life in many cultures (I’m assuming, what with reproduction and all), is also affected by ghosts in certain ways, often for the worse. In my project, I look at some of the ways that ghosts and spirituality play into Chinese sexual life as well as the stories that have arisen regarding erotic ghosts.
There are many positive things that can come out of a visit by an erotic ghost. For example, many report that sex with ghosts is some of the best sex that they have ever had. In some ways it can be seen as a blessing to have sex with a ghost, but other times it can be a very, very bad thing. Many times malicious spirits will use sex as a means to infiltrate, trick and sometimes do harm. There are many names for these types of sprits, such as foxes and demons, and they play a very similar role to succubi and incubi in western culture.
However, unlike in western culture, all of these sexual or sensual ghosts are female. This is not to say that there are no female demons or temptresses in western culture, in fact there are quite a few. But in China, all erotic ghosts seem to be female, tempting men. This may be due to the fact that China is a very patriarchal culture, another thing that is similar to western culture in some regards, and men are the pillars of “power ” in society. Women do not have much power in Chinese culture and thus they are not in a position to really be tempted by demons. It is an unfair point of view, but it is a very common trope in Chinese literature, that men are basically the only people that matter.
The other angle of my project is just that, looking at Chinese literature and media and analyzing them. Along with the tropes regarding gender roles, there are more tropes that have to do with religion. Examples include Daoist monks often being the ones to remedy the situation (if there is a happy ending to the story), and themes of Confucian values. One story I looked at was the The Bride with the White Hair, which had many of these themes within, including some Chinese religious undertones. And that is basically what my project is about.

One thought on “Sexuality and Ghosts in China

  1. James Danahy

    Wow Steven, this was a very though-provoking abstract. I found it interesting how significant death and the afterlife play into Culture. I would never have thought that sex would come into play in the realm of paranormal activity. Interestingly enough, both sex and death played an interesting role in one of my core classes on Vienna Austria. In fact, we had an entire week dedicated to learning about Sex and Death in the context of Vienna Austria, which proved to be very interesting overall. You mention that these “Erotic” ghosts in Western culture differ from those of China, saying that the vast majority, if not all, of sexually oriented ghosts in Chinese folklore are of the Female Gender. While I can’t think of many “Erotic ghosts” in Western Culture, I can however think of some undead men that could be treated as erotic. Vampires for one thing have been incredibly sexualized in the west in recent history. In popular media, stories like Twilight, True Blood, and even some of the older Dracula films paint vampires as sexy, hypnotizing men for the most part, which is an interesting contrast to the female ghosts that you have mentioned.

    I also found it relatively interesting that you decided to bring up the fact the China is a very patriarchal society and that most of the stories relating to erotic ghosts are rooted in female ghosts seducing men, as men are the ones of power in Chinese society, and that they would have little to gain from seducing a woman. I find this quite opposite of the aforementioned vampire scenario where, in most situations, a male vampire would seduce a woman into doing his bidding, slowly building his army of the undead. While you do not explicitly state it much, at least in this abstract, you do a good job of contrasting the patriarchal roots of Chinese ghost stories to that of Western society, which to some extent, would probably also be considered Patriarchal in all honesty. It seems that when discussing art or stories that come from culture, arguments relating to Gender usually come to light, and that is most certainly true of what you have decided to write about.

    While I cannot say that your paper directly connects to any of my finals work in any way, shape, or form, I can, however, say that what you have to say about holding “power” in society, the existence of gender “roles”, and how this is painted in the media and literature of China can all be reflected in the discussions of my Identity and Independance class. You say that women hold very little power in China, and that can be reflected in the media, literature, and folktale of China alike. This is a prime example of structure and agency. In the context of this class, structure is the factors that limit a person’s freedoms, such as social class, religion, customs or otherwise, and agency is the freedoms that structure limits. The societal structures of china put women in a position of less power, or in this case, less agency.

    Overall this is a very interesting premise for a paper, and I enjoy the concept a lot. At this point, however, my comment is longer than your abstract, so I should probably stop 😉


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