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:


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.

6 thoughts on “Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia (Part 2)

  1. Hi Sara – I don’t have any sensible comment to add to your article as your knowledge of Wuxia etc. is WAY beyond mine! However, just to say quickly that I enjoy reading your blogs and thank you for your post in hacking Chinese which nudged me to reading my first Wuxia story. 英雄无泪 by 古龙.

    • Hi Maggie – I am honored that you found my wuxia posts at Hacking Chinese useful. I actually have not read 英雄无泪 yet (古龙 wrote a lot of novels) – what did you think of it?

      • Well the main thing was that I quite enjoyed reading it – and that was a surprise for me. I’ve read various children’s versions of 三国演义 etc. and to be honest I don’t really get it. So many people fighting over this and that & I can’t remember who is who or why they all hate each other…. But Gu long’s style is quite a pleasure for a non native speaker. The sentences are short & snappy and sometimes have this kind of bouncy rhythm (sorry Im not a literary critic, I don’t know how to explain this better!) and the characters feel accessible. Essentially it was relatively easy and quite ‘fun’ to read in a sort of exaggerated swashbuckling sort of way. MIGHT try another one sometime… Are you back in the US now?

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

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

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