Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia (Part 2)

I started this series just before I decided to leave Taiwan, hence the interruption. I finally continue this series. You can refer to Part One here

In the first part, I talked about male characters in monastic order i.e. monks. Now, its the nuns’ turn.

A poster for the 2009 version of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a story which features a number of nuns/priestesses who take vows of celibacy.

A poster for the 2009 version of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a story which features a number of nuns/priestesses who take vows of celibacy.

First of all, let me list stories where a nun did not keep her vow to stay celibate:

The Laughing Proud Wanderer
Spirit Sword (I do not think the testimony of the character who claims he had sex with a nun is entirely reliable, but for the sake of this post I will assume what he says is true)
The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (yes, it was rape, but her monastic order considered her to have broken her vow of celibacy because she refused to try to kill the rapist, so it goes on this list)

I find the case in Spirit Sword particularly interesting, because (if we believe what the male characters says) the nun is so devoted to Taoism that she could never fall in love with a person … yet she still wanted to experiment a little with sex.

Now, let me list the stories where a nun stayed celibate, but had a romantic entanglement of some kind:

The Laughing Proud Wanderer (this is getting on a lot of lists!)
The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (two-three characters from this story, depending on interpretation)
Sword Stained with Royal Blood/The Deer and the Cauldron
More Tales of the Flying Fox (I put this on the list because the nun’s main purpose in the story is be someone who the protagonist falls in love with, even though she does not reciprocate his feelings)

Iron Rider, Silver Vase (the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a much better story IMO) is an interesting case. Two characters had an arranged marriage, but neither of them ever had romantic feelings for the other. It’s never stated whether or not they ever had sex together. And the wife eventually decides she wants to become a nun, which ends the marriage. So, this nun never engaged in romance, and might never have engaged in sex … but her story still revolves around the fact that she was married to a specific guy, and nothing else.

There is a woman standing alone next to a horse in a field full of snow.

Book cover for Iron Rider, Silver Vase

Let me list stories I’ve read aside from Iron Rider, Silver Vase which feature a nun character who never engages in sexual or romantic activity as a nun:

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So, just as monk stories tend to be about them breaking their vows of celibacy and experiencing sex, nun stories tend to be about them experiencing sex and/or romance.

The monk stories tend to emphasize the sex; the nun stories tend to emphasize romance.

So, are nuns romantified more than lay female characters? The answer is no … because almost every female character in wuxia is romantified.

In part 3, I’ll discuss what is underlying the fact that, in wuxia, monks have so much sex and nuns have so much romance.

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An Analogy about Abstinence

This is for the April 2014 Carnival of Aces.

Note: rape culture is mentioned, but not described graphically or in detail

I find that, in some ways, the social pressure to have sex is much like the social pressure to drink alcohol.

I have talked a little bit about my experiments with alcohol, and the fact that I sometimes use people’s reactions to my lack of drinking to gauge how they might react to my sexual inactivity and my asexuality (people who are not aware of asexuality generally are not good at distinguishing the orientation and the behavior). I want to expand on that in this post.

Before I was 21, my alcohol consumption was

– chocolates with small quantities of vodka
– sipping a tiny amount of wine at a family event – and I did this with parental permission

And I never tried to drink more before I was of age.

People find it weird that I was essentially following the laws about underage drinking, and making no effort to break them. In many of my social circles, you are expected to say that you snuck in alcohol before you were of age, through measures such as a fake ID if necessary, and it is a major coming-of-age rite when you can finally drink legally.

This is not unlike how ‘losing one’s virginity’ is considering a defining coming-of-age rite. I expressed my thoughts on this in “Virgins Don’t Exist”.

Some of the comments I have heard about groups which commit to never drink alcohol (such as Muslims) include things like “people are not going to stay away from alcohol for their whole lives”, “they do so many drugs because they don’t drink alcohol” “it is so horrible/extreme that they never drink alcohol”. To me, this resembles the things that people say about those who commit to indefinite or permanent sexual abstinence.

Both alcohol consumption and sex are considered ‘sinful’ in our culture. We are supposed to drink, but drinking too much is stigmatized. Women are supposed to have sex (with men), but if they have too much they are ‘sluts’. Swankivy has talked about how some people want asexuality to be fake because of their insecurities about desiring sex, and I think there may be insecurities around wanting alcohol too. Even aside from cultural attitudes about ‘sinful’ behavior, alcohol makes us vulnerable. So does sex.

However, I think the pressure to drink alcohol is not nearly as strong as the pressure to have sex. This is why it is a useful gauge – people’s reactions to the (lack of) alcohol consumption will most likely be milder than their reactions to the lack of sexual attraction and activity.

And, of course, alcohol and compulsory sexuality / rape culture are even more closely linked that that, but that is a digression which is best saved for another post.

When I finally did try to drink alcohol for real, I did it in an environment when I did not feel any social pressure to drink. I did it in Taiwan, where abstaining from alcohol is not as big deal as it is in some other cultures, and I did it when nobody was suggesting I drink alcohol. I did it because I had gotten curious about what it is like to drink more than a sip. I think I would not have willingly tried it under any other circumstances. I have found that sometimes I like alcohol, and sometimes I don’t.

Compulsory sexuality is even more built into our culture than alcohol consumption. If I lived in a society where everybody felt that sex was always 100% optional, I might be more inclined to experiment with sex out of curiosity. However, with sex-positivity/compulsory sexuality/rape culture (the three are closely linked – read “Sex Positivity Is Rape Culture in Disguise“) I do not expect to be in an environment with sufficiently low social pressure.

Maybe, if I actually tried sex, I would like it. Or maybe I would hate it. Or maybe it would bore me. I don’t know. But, ironically, all of these ‘sex-positivity’ people are making me even less inclined to even try. I will only feel safe if I am confident that my wishes and my sexuality as it actually is will always be respected, and many ‘sex-positivity’ types fail to respect asexual-spectrum orientations.

Now, if abstaining from sex were no bigger a deal than abstaining from alcohol in Taiwan…


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Farewell, Taoyuan City

I have been living in Taoyuan City for more than two years.

Last night was probably the last time I will ever sleep here. I had moved out of my apartment a few days ago (note: this blog has been on autopilot for a few months, so this will be published months after it’s written) and staying with a friend since then. Tonight I’m going to the airport.

The French comic book artist commented on all of the horrible, unpleasant things about Taipei, saying one could write a book ‘100 reasons to detest Taipei’ … and yet he loves Taipei.

Personally, I felt that Golo was describing, not Taipei, but Taoyuan City.

When I ask Taiwanese people ‘what is the most awful place in northern Taiwan’, ‘Taoyuan City’ is often one of the answers, though some people claim that Zhongli (which is right next to Taoyuan City) is even more awful. Taoyuan City is often near the top of ‘Worst Traffic in Taiwan’ lists, and some people refuse to visit me in my neighborhood because the traffic is too awful (I did not have a car or scooter, so traffic was usually not an issue for me). It’s dirty, the buildings are all kinds of concrete rectangular boxes (unless they are aging brick buildings), there’s poverty, recreational drug abuse, the gangs, the public transit system is not so great, there are all of those factories in Guishan right next door to pollute everything, and most people think the only redeeming quality is that it’s cheaper than Taipei.

To learn more about Taoyuan City, you can check out the blog The Taiwan Adventure.

People have often asked me why I live here. Why would anyone who had grown up in San Francisco choose to leave and live in Taoyuan City? Well, after spending most of my life in a famous city like San Francisco, it’s nice to live in a not-famous city. Downtown Taoyuan is actually pretty convenient once you know your way around, and the rent is shockingly low (compared to San Francisco, though even my friends in Taipei were impressed). The fact that much of it is bland, typical Taiwanese urban area actually had it’s own appeal, since I was interested in learning what a ‘bland Taiwanese urban area’ is like. There are plenty of weeds and wildlife – even the center of the concrete jungle has lots of birds, and once time a lizard crawled into my apartment. And the monotony of the city actually helped me focus on things such as the people, or learning the language, or other things. Sometimes over-stimulation is not so great.

Every single post in this blog up to now has been written in Taoyuan City, as well as every post I’ve written for other blogs (Manga Bookshelf and Hacking Chinese) up to now. This is the last one written (though I have a few more in the pipeline which I may publish later).

When I moved into my apartment, the first thing I did was clean everything. It was already reasonably clean, but the Grand Cleaning was my way of claiming the space.

The last thing I did in my apartment – right up to when the landlord’s representative came to return the deposit and collect the keys – was clean the apartment. I did not have to do it so zealously, but the same act had the opposite meaning – instead of claiming space, I was relinquishing space. Once I had cleaned a space, it was no longer mine.

Some Taiwanese people asked me what my favorite place in Taiwan is. I said the first thing which came to the top of my head – ‘Taoyuan City’. They asked ‘Why?’ I answered ‘Because Taoyuan City is the most wonderful place in Taiwan’. Well, nobody took that answer seriously. But Taoyuan City has been my home in Taiwan. It’s where I’ve felt secure and happy. It’s where I came to rest after my adventures across Taiwan, and it’s where I’ve had some of my happiest moments. So yes, I love Taoyuan City more than anywhere else in Taiwan.

Farewell.

A Trip to Japan

So, just about now my first real trip to Japan (almost three months) has concluded. It certainly has given me lots of inspiration for blogging – but since I am still traveling, blogging is not so convenient now.

It was good to get out of Taiwan. I love Taiwan … but it is only about the size of Kyushu, and for three years I did not leave even once. It was getting to the point that I was starting to feel that the rest of the world was unreal.

I would like to thank Queenie for her advice about Kansai.

So, where did I go? Here is a snapshot:

Prefectures where I spent at least 9 nights:

Osaka Prefecture
Kyoto Prefecture
Okinawa Prefecture
Kagoshima Prefecture

Prefectures where I spent at least 5 nights:

Nara Prefecture
Wakayama Prefecture

Prefectures where I spent at least two nights:

Nagasaki Prefecture
Fukuoka Prefecture
Oita Prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
Hiroshima Prefecture
Okayama Prefecture
Shimane Prefecture

Prefectures which I visited, but did not stay overnight:

Hyogo Prefecture
Mie Prefecture
Saga Prefecture
Yamaguchi Prefecture

As you can see, I went to a lot of places, which makes it hard to pick favorites. These, however, are some of the highlights for me:

KANSAI

The Night Tour in Gion. This was the best thing I did in Kyoto.
– Walking along the Yama-no-be-no-michi in Nara.
The Takarazuka Revue (here is a video clip of one of the shows I saw)

RYUKYU/AMAMI ISLANDS

– Iriomote island! Even though the weather was not so good … this place is unique. It has the same latitude as Taiwan, from which it is only a couple hundred of kilometers away, is a part of Ryukyu, and legally now part of Japan, yet it is very different from Taiwan, Japan, and the other Ryukyu islands. I am convinced that it is unlike anywhere else on earth.
Zamami island is the most beautiful place I went to during this trip.
– I found that Yoron island is a really cool place – beautiful coral rock beaches, the friendly people and their unique language (it was fun to see how they reacted to me speaking a little Yoron-hogen), etc.

KYUSHU/WEST HONSHU

Shiratani Unsuikyo and the walk to Jomon-sugi goes through fantastic forest.
– Beppu: a fun onsen town

If I had to pick one region as my favorite, it would definitely be the Ryukyu islands. The Ryukyu archipelago is much less convenient than Japan, but certainly worth the extra effort. I would also rather live in the Ryukyu archipelago than mainland Japan.

Expect more commentary … at some time.