History of Erotic Art

Chinese Pillow Books

The erotic art of China is often confused with the Shunga of Japan. Shunga actually used the Chinese version as inspiration. Known as Chinese Pillow Books, a series of 12 paintings were completed and used as educational guides for newly-weds and the sexually uninitiated.

Ancient Chinese Erotic Painting Intercourse in China was viewed as not only a fact of life, but as an essential part of living. It was accepted as essential for physical and mental wellbeing and the foundation on which a good marriage was built. The Pillow Books would emphasize the need for different techniques and positions in order to keep your partner interested and happy. A woman looked for a good sexual partner when choosing a husband, and would put this need above good looks, age or financial position.

There is no guilt or shame in Chinese erotic art and its depictions of sexual intercourse; it is seen as a beautiful thing. This can be seen by the names the Chinese used to describe the genitals, for example the female is referred to as 'Open Peony Blossom' or 'Golden Lotus'. Likewise the male genitals were called 'Jade Stalk' or 'Heavenly Dragon Pillar'. Even the positions depicted had wonderfully descriptive names such as 'Posture of the butterfly exploring a flower' or 'Posture of the bee stirring the honey'. There were two types of Pillow Books, the painted scrolls and albums and woodblock prints, however unlike the Japanese Shunga, the majority of Pillow Books that still exist today are painted. There also exists a number of ceramic items that are decorated with erotic pictures.

The Chinese erotic art of the 17th century looked back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) for inspiration. The ladies were typically depicted with bound feet, a highly erotic area of the female body for the Chinese. These 'lotus bound' feet were done in childhood and were thought to weaken the woman's feet and lower legs while strengthening her upper thighs and pubic area. In fact to be shown a woman's unbound foot was more intimate and erotic than to see any other part of her body.

The scenes depicted in some of the Chinese Pillow Books show multiple bodies participating in intercourse. This represents a fantasy of the Chinese man rather than a reality, much like modern erotica today. They would show the male having simultaneous intercourse with several wives or concubines, proof of his manliness. The artists did not exaggerate the sexual organs like the Japanese Shunga; if anything they were minimized. The bodies often lacked proportion and apart from the obvious sexual areas of the human bodies, the men looked very similar in physique to women.