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.

Of course, 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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4 thoughts on “Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia (Part 2) | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  2. Pingback: Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia: Part 3 | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  3. Pingback: Who would have thought that this blog would last four years… | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  4. Pingback: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Ace Mini-Review – Ace Film Reviews

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