Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia (Part 1)

San Te's head is between two giant burning pieces of incense.

San Te, the protagonist of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, actually leads a celibate life without sex or romance.

This review of The Lady Hermit has this quote (emphasis mine):

She is also not above flirting with Changchun (Lo Lieh), whose relatively unsophisticated understanding of the female psyche is only rivalled by his inadvertent sex appeal that he dispenses as if he’ll be joining a monastic order tomorrow.

If you understand the part in bold, you have either read a lot of wuxia novels, or seen a lot of kung-fu movies.

Like their Catholic counterparts, Buddhist and Taoist nuns and monks are supposed to be celibate, and monastic characters appear a lot in wuxia / kung-fu fiction. So that means there are lots of celibate and not-participating-in-romance characters, right?

Not right.

To put the above quote in context, I am going to make a list of all of the wuxia/kung-fu stories I can think of with a) a monk who is actually celibate and b) no monks who are not celibate:

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Jiang Xue Xuan Shuang by Wolong Sheng.

In the first story, the monk is the main protagonist, and he does not have any sexual or romantic experiences during the whole story. In the second story, the monk is one of the 5 most important characters.

Let’s see a list of stories featuring monks who are not celibate:

Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils
Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero
A Deadly Secret
The 8th Bronze Man of Shaolin
The Laughing Proud Wanderer
Shen Diao Xia Lü
The Deer and the Cauldron

In other words, when a monk appears in a story, and he’s is a character who actually experiences his own personal journey and growth, there is a high chance that he is going to have sex or do something sexual – or in the case of The 8th Bronze Man of Shaolin, even insignificant monk characters are depicted pursuing sex.

In some cases, the focus is not on the sex itself, but on the fact that the monk sired a biological child, and the monk’s relationship with said child receives far more attention than the monk’s relationship with his sexual partner. This still means the monk’s story centers around something which would not have happened if he had kept his vow of celibacy.

A photo of Xu Zhu carrying a young woman on his back as he walks past a hill.

Xu Zhu, from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, is one of the most famous examples of a monk who does not stay celibate.(screenshot from the 1997 TV series)

This is all the more striking because wuxia is known for its chaste heroes i.e. many male protagonists never have sex at all during the story.

Unless, of course, they are monks.

In fact, in wuxia/kung-fu fiction, when a monk who is under the age of 40 is significant in any way, I assume they are going to have sex (the sole exception I’ve encountered is The 36th Chamber of Shaolin). By contrast, I figure that a lay protagonist has a less than 50% chance of having sex during the course of the story, even if he is married. This is what the reviewer quoted above is referring to.

So far, I’ve only been discussing male monastic characters. Female monastic characters will be the subject of Part 2.


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Is Taiwan a Great Place to Be an Ace-Spectrum Expat? (My Answer: No)

Last month, when I told a fellow expat in Taiwan that I’m asexual, one of the things he said that Taiwan is a great place to be asexual. I asked why, and he replied that asexuals do not have to deal with the problems with dating in Taiwan.

After thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that Taiwan is not, in fact, particularly great for ace-spectrum expats.

It is true that many expats from the Anglophone world who try to date Taiwanese people in Taiwan – particularly Taiwanese people who have never lived abroad – experience a ton of frustration. The common thread I’ve noticed is that many do not feel valued by their Taiwanese romantic-sexual partners.

Now, as I’ve said before on this blog, Sinophone societies (including Taiwan) tend to put parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships higher on the relationship hierarchy than romantic-sexual relationships. So I’m not surprised to hear that some Taiwanese people do not invest as much their romantic-sexual relationships as much as expats from the Anglophone world are used to.

There are individual Taiwanese people who feel thei romantic-sexual relationships are more important than their parent/child/sibling relationships. There are also individual Americans who feel their friendships are more important than their romantic-sexual relationships. But it would be unwise to assume that people are not going to follow their culture’s prevailing relationship hierarchy.

Loneliness is often a major problem for expats, and for people coming from a culture where romantic-sexual relationships top the hierarchy, finding a romantic-sexual partner might seem like a good solution. However … that might not work with a Taiwanese partner, especially without clear communication. And, in my opinion, a Taiwanese romantic-sexual partner should not bear the full responsibility of alleviating an expat’s loneliness. It’s up to the expats to create a situation where they do not depend on a Taiwanese romantic-sexual partner to manage loneliness.

Now here’s the thing … the fact that Taiwanese (and Sinophone societies in general) put parent/child/sibling relationships at the top of the hierarchy? That’s also a problem for people who want to form deep relationships based neither on romance/sex nor kinship. And that just happens to be the kind of relationship many aces (myself included) would really like to have.

I have not met any self-identified aces in Taiwan. My suspicion is that, since parent/child/sibling relationships are the most valued, Taiwanese aces feel less isolated and ‘different’ than their counterparts in the Anglophone world, and thus feel less need to take on an ace identity. Of course, since I haven’t discussed this with any Taiwanese aces, this is pure speculation, and might not actually be true. I also suspect that, because parent/child/sibling relationships are just as compatible with ace-spectrum orientations as they are with other orientations (well, many aces prefer being childfree – but since Taiwan has a birth rate lower than China and Japan, this is not going to make aces stand out), Taiwanese aces are not as interested in forming deep relationships with people beyond their family of origin as their counterparts in the Anglophone world.

In other words, though I have no interest in dating, the same forces which make dating in Taiwan challenging for expats also make is hard for me to form the kinds of close relationships I’d really like to have.

So, no, Taiwan is not a great place to be an expat ace.

However, one thing that makes my situation different from non-ace expats is that this is not so different from my situation in my home country. Yes, being an expat Taiwan sucks for trying to form close, intimate, deep relationships, but my opportunities in the United States were not wonderful either. In this regard, being in Taiwan does not make my situation much worse – but it does make the situation much worse for people who rely on romantic-sexual relationships for closeness. Also, because I had already been living with a dearth of the kind of close relationships I want to have, I was probably more mentally prepared for the situation in Taiwan. But just because I cope better with this problem than some expats does not mean that Taiwan is a particularly great place for ace-spectrum expats to be.

I know quite a few people who peruse ace blogs have been expats. If you are an ace who has been an expat, what has your experience been like?


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An Aromantic Reads Wuxia

The last time a fiction-themed Carnival of Aces rolled around, I wrote quite a few posts about an uber-popular wuxia novel with a protagonist I read as being asexual. (Question: What is an wuxia novel? Short Answer: A Chinese martial arts novel.) This time, I want to talk about an wuxia novel with a protagonist I read as being aromantic…

… but I have not read such a novel.

So much for that idea.

Plan B: I am going talk about what an aromantic reader (moi) gets out of wuxia fiction.

First of all, an aromantic person being a wuxia fan is almost as counter-intuitive as an aromantic being a fan of romance novels because, well, romance is a central element in 95% of wuxia novels. Indeed, the only wuxia novel I can think of in which romance is *not* a central part of the story is The Fantastic Theft of the World.

And yet, even though in practice romance is almost always a central part of the story, I do not think romance is essential to wuxia novels.

Many people consider The Laughing Proud Wanderer to be one of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, wuxia novels ever. It has plenty of romance. Yet when people talk about what makes it great or memorable, they generally don’t focus on the romance. It’s not a great novel because of the romance any more than 1984 is a great novel because of the romance between Winston and Julia.

One thing that is really, really important is that wuxia novels come from Chinese-speaking societies. And a big difference between Sinophone and Anglophone societies is that, in the Sinophonia, romantic-sexual relationships are not at the top of the relationship hierarchy. Parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships trump romantic relationships. Even in contemporary Taiwan, where most people don’t care what Confucius says, romantic relationships are not at the top of hierarchy. Yes, I am aware of Taiwan’s kitchy love culture, but it’s described as ‘cute’ precisely because it’s not considered serious. Even among young Taiwanese people, I often hear things like ‘I want to live with my parents for the rest of my life’.

This applies to all Chinese-language fiction, not just wuxia. One thing I like about Chiung Yao’s work is that, even though she is the most popular Chinese-language ‘romance’ novelist ever, her novels are often more about family relationships than they are about romance. However, it’s more true in fiction focused on Chinese traditions, such as wuxia (even though wuxia often criticizes Chinese traditions, criticism is still focusing on something).

Thus, wuxia novels are set in a world where romance is not at the top of the hierarchy. Indeed, romance often inspire characters to resist the hierarchy imposed on them (such as disobeying their elders). I can relate to people who use romance to challenge social boundaries in a society where romance does not top the hierarchy because, as an aromantic, I want to use non-romantic relationships to challenge the social boundaries in a society where romantic-sexual relationships do top the hierarchy. Ironic, isn’t it?

The fact that these stories are set in a society where parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships are supposed to trump romance (even if in practice the protagonists often choose romance over parents/siblings) means that there are lots of interesting, deep, close, emotionally-charged relationships which are not romance, for example, the brothers in Datang Shuanglong Zhuan.

And I think this comes to the crux of why wuxia resonates with me as an aromantic person. There is a common notion that aromantic people must lack passion, and lack the ability to have passionate relationships. Though romance is as prevalent in wuxia as fish in a lake, there are also plenty of examples of people experiencing passion – especially passion in relationships – without romance. This is something I generally find lacking in English-language genre fiction. Indeed, in all of the English-language novels I’ve read in Taiwan (which, to be fair, is a very small sample), the only ones which show deep passion in non-romantic relationships were Westerns – the Anglophone genre which I think is closest to Sinophone wuxia.


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To GPS or Not GPS

For the first time in my life, I am seriously considering getting a GPS device of some kind.

Let me explain why, in 2013, I had never considering getting GPS before.

I have a thing for maps. As a kid, I liked browsing through atlases. When I first lived away from my parents, one of the things I got to be more ‘independent’ was a whole slew of maps so that, in my car, I could stop anywhere and whip out a map of wherever I was. Indeed, my peers noticed how many maps I kept in my car and my fondness for them.

One time, when I was giving some people a ride home, we got a bit lost (I had never been to their neighborhoods before), so I got to the side of the road and pulled out a map, In 15 seconds I found our location on the map. One of my passengers found this really surprising.

The first time I observed GPS being used, I was the passenger getting a ride home. We were driving through a part of San Francisco which I know really, really well, and I knew exactly which route was the best way to get to my home. The GPS system, however, suggested a different route. I told the driver to ignore the GPS, which she did.

The route suggested by the GPS was *slightly* shorter than my route – but it was going up a very steep hill, which meant that it would be more difficult to drive that my much flatter route. I suppose that, if I were alone in light-weight car with a peppy engine and felt like driving recklessly, the GPS route would have been faster. However, I was in an SUV with five people plus our stuff. SUV + five people + steep hill in San Francisco = bad idea. Even if we didn’t have an accident, it would have been signficantly slower.

So I got the impression that GPS devices give bad suggestions.

Even though I often go hiking in rural Taiwan, I have never used any kind of GPS device.

One time in one of Taiwan’s national parks, I encountered some European tourists. We all wanted to get back to our accomodation. That morning, I had talked to a local police officer, and he claimed that the only passable route was the route that I used to get up there – all of the other routes on the map had been wrecked by a typhoon. When we got to a crossroads, the Europeans wanted to take another route. They claimed they didn’t like the route we used to go up (neither did I), so they wanted to try this other route. I told them what the police officer told me. They said ‘but it’s okay because it appears on our GPS’. I asked if the GPS can tell them about recent typhoon damage, and they … didn’t respond.

At this point, daylight was running out, and I certainly did not want to risk getting on an impassable route and having to backtrack in the dark. I chose to take the route which, though not pleasant, I was 100% certain was passable. I don’t know if the Europeans got through that other route.

I can think of two times police officers gave me inaccurate information. That said, if I don’t have information from someone who had completed a route very recently (ideally within the last 48 hours), then I will assume that a police officer’s information is correct.

I still consider the local police officers to be more reliable than GPS devices.

And the very fact that I travel around rural Taiwan without GPS, or even a compass, means I cultivate various skills, such as the ability to read signs in Chinese, maps in Chinese, talk to local people, navigating not-so-obvious trails, examine my surroundings for clues, getting the right ‘feel’ in my feet, etc.

I read this article in the Atlantic. I highly recommend it.

All of that said, I’m starting to think that, in an emergency (i.e. I get lost and there’s nobody to ask for directions and the clues around me are not enough for me to find my way again) having a GPS is better than not having a GPS.

If I do get one, I will ONLY use it for emergencies, since I want to keep my other route-finding skills sharp.

The People Who You ‘Know’ Would Never Abuse Anyone … Might Be Abusers

So, I have a relative (who I will call ‘R’). when I’ve been with her, R has been very nice, quite gentle, good at listening to other people … in other words, the last person you would expect to commit child abuse (not neglect, abuse).

Yet my own mother has witnessed with her own eyes R physically abusing a child.

My mother says that R understands that what she did was wrong, and my mother thinks that R would never abuse a child now – in other words, the R that abused a child is not the R that I know. Even so, I was still quite shocked by this revelation. Before my mother told me the story, I would have never imagined that R had ever done such a thing.

During the same conversation, my mother said that you can never 100% trust anybody, including herself.

Often, when people come forward talking about how they were abused, other people will defend the abuser by saying that they know the abuser, and they know the abuser would never do such a thing. Well, if R has physically abused a child, then this person who you ‘know’ would never abuse another person … might actually have abused another person.

There are people I know who I am still 99% certain would never abuse another human being. And to be honest, if someone came forward and said they were abused by one of those people, I probably would not believe them, at least not at first. But even if I don’t believe them, the proper response is not to immediately accuse them of being liars.

The proper response is to hear out the person who says they have been abused, and to not claim they are lying unless I have solid evidence that they are in fact lying (‘I know Z, and I know Z would never do what you say Z did to you’ is NOT solid evidence). It’s possible that they are lying, it’s also possible that they have made a mistake … and it’s also possible that they are telling the truth.

No matter how well I know somebody, or how much I trust or care for them, I cannot be 100% certain that they never have and never will abuse somebody.

And you cannot be 100% certain either.


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We Need the Power of Irrationality

If you haven’t watched Paxman’s interview with Russell Brand yet, I suggest you do that, or read a transcript.

But I really want to discuss some of the ideas Brand brought up in his piece about revolution in the New Statesman, because they happen to tie in with some of the things I had been reading the past few days, specifically:

“How to Create a Viable Ideolog” by Ian Welsh (which is a follow up to “A New Ideology“)
“The One Option Left” and “Reinventing Square Wheels” at the Archdruid Report

There is a lot to process in these pieces (and I do not agree with everything claimed), but the thread I want to focus on is that, in order to save the world from imminent ecological collapse and deadly inequality, people are going to have to adopt a new (or at least different) irrational ideas, and possibly a new religion.

Let me take an example from my own life.

I think one of the most evil industries in the world is the global commercial fishing industry. The recent essay “The ocean is broken” should give you a clue why I think that way. I highly recommend that everybody does their own research on the current condition of worldwide marine ecosystems, and the impact the global fishing industry. My conclusion is that fishing for personal survival (as in, the fish one catches is only used to feed oneself or people one knows personally) is okay, but that the commercial sale of fish should be banned everywhere.

When I first realized just how evil the commercial fishing industry is, my first response was to try to become a responsible consumer of fish – to research where my seafood came from, to only eat fish from the less-ecocidal sources. In other words, I was trying to be rational – balance my moral outrage with my desire to eat fish.

First of all, doing all of that individual research is work, even with various ‘seafood-buying’ guides. Also, many stores do not offer good information about where their fish come from, and restaurants are even worse. And since I was still allowing myself to indulge in fish, it meant that sometimes I let my appetite override the ‘hassle’ of trying to do it in an ‘ethical’ way.

Well, eventually, I became a strict-vegetarian, which means eating no animal products, and then mostly-vegan (vegan = strict vegetarian + not using any products from animals unless absolutely necessary). And that completely took fish off my menu.

Strict-vegetarianism / veganism is an irrational philosophy. Accepting this ideology has made me do plenty of irrational things which I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

However, it has been way, way, way more effective in getting me to resist the global fishing industry (among other evil industries) than trying to do things rationally.

First of all, it’s a lot simpler – no fish period – which requires a lot less mental effort on my part. Less mental effort means that I am much more likely to stick to my principles.

It also makes me much more capable of changing other people’s minds. I think that, as a ‘rational’ and ‘ethical’ consumer of fish, I changed nobody else’s mind about anything. However, as a strict-vegetarian, I get a lot more people’s attention, and I get into a lot more debates with people because. That’s partially because the very irrationality of the philosophy gets people to engage with me (even if it’s in a hostile way), and it gives me the energy to enter the debate (when the rational thing to do would be to say nothing).

That doesn’t mean I go around starting debates about food. I generally don’t have time/energy for that. But any time I have to get food, and it’s not something which is obviously vegan (such as lovely persimmons), I have to ask questions, which often leads to other people asking me questions, and then a conversation happens.

Of course, you may ask – didn’t all of my questions about where the fish come from start conversations too?

Yes, it did, but the conversations were on a much more intellectual level. I was not questioning the right of the commercial fishing industry to exist, or whether people have the right to eat fish at all.

In fact, chances are, you are not a strict-vegetarian. So, my dear non-strict vegetarian who is reading this blog, what gets your brain fired up more – me saying that we should all be careful about how we source our fish, or me saying that buying and selling fish should is wrong? How about I say that, if your survival is not on the line (i.e. without this fish you’ll starve to death), then killing fish just so you can have the pleasure of eating it is morally abominable.

I can guess which statements get you more fired up.

If you can’t get people’s brains fired up, you’re not going to make any social change whatsoever.

So that is why we need irrationality if we’re going to protect the ecosystems we literally depend on for survival or take down the massive inequality in global society.

Now, here is another question – can that irrationality only come from religion, or can secular irrationality work as well? Both Russell Brand and John Michael Greer claim that religion is required. Ian Welsh makes no statement about this.

My veganism is entirely secular – and in Taiwan, that makes it much more radical than if it were religious. In Taiwan, they assume most vegetarians are doing it for religious reasons, and thus do not feel they are being challenged because their religion doesn’t require them to be vegetarian. When I say that I am vegetarian for moral, not religious reasons – which implies that I think it is wrong for others to eat meat – then things get more … interesting.

Yet I realize that something much bigger than vegan philosophy is needed to save ourselves.

Is religion the only sufficiently powerful irrational force? I’m still processing that question.


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