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« A Class | Main | September 11th »

September 10, 2005


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You say Confucius for the most part disdained sex. Can you think of a passage where he does so? For one thing, we know he wasn't as uptight as some of his disciples, one of whom moralised to him in disapproving tones for visiting Nanzi, a woman known for her sexual excesses. Confucius brushed away this disapproval, saying: 'May Heaven reject me! May Heaven reject me!' (Analects 6.28)

As for his views on gay marriage, I suspect the main issue for him would have been upholding the rites. If he had been asked about gay marriage I expect he would have just rolled his eyes and carried on nibbling the pickled ginger.

As to his disdain toward sex, I am relying on two passages. First, when he is talking about noble-minded young men (or, better, young me who are just learning how to become noble-minded), he says: "in youth, when ch'i and blood are unsettled, they guard against beautiful women." (16.7). And "The Master said: 'I've never seen anyone for whom loving Integrity is like loving a beautiful women." (9.18). This second line is repeated elsewhere in the text (don't have the cite here now...) In both cases, I think we can say that "beautiful women" stands for sexual attraction.
You are right to say that Confucius himself would have rejected the question of gay marriage. But when I think of what the Analects can say to us today as a living text - or what we can make of it as a living text - I think that there is a basis for supporting gay marriage. I know this is an unusal assertion but, hey, that's what blogs are for. Thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that Analects 16.7 might allow us to conclude that Confucius disdained sex. However, I think this is a bit of a surface interpretation. There he does advise youths to be wary of sex, but his qualification is that in youth blood qi (controlling temperament) is turbulent. His further two things to guard against in that section, in adulthood and old age, are again qualified by reference to the state of blood qi at those times. He advises against fighting in adulthood when the blood qi is 'firm' and against acquisitiveness when the blood qi is waning. He's more concerned with blood qi than sex.

Also, he is talking about sex in youth in particular, and you could infer that he has nothing against it after the blood qi has settled.

This is fairly similar to the esoteric Daoists, who advised against allowing oneself to be seduced by a yin temptress solely because it would deplete their qi (and thus their plans to live forever), but that didn't stop them having sex, they just preferred to do it on their own terms. When blood qi is still turbulent, yang easily succumbs to yin, and this is what Confucius appears to be referring to without getting excessively metaphysical about it.

In Analects 9.18 Confucius acknowledges the power of sexual attraction and wishes that attraction to learning was as great. That's not a disdain for sex, that's simply a hope that his students could be as committed to study as they are to chasing women. He's not telling his students to be aloof from sex or disdain it, on the contrary, he's saying apply yourself as much in the pursuit of wisdom.

Thanks for providing such interesting subjects to ponder Sam.

I really like your openness to the question of sex in the Analects. Perhaps you are right: Confucius does not "disdain" sex. But how about this: he is more concerned with the ends of sex than the means. That is to say, what matters most is not the having of sex, or with whom, but that it not disrupt the pursuit of humanity as expressed in the performance of family duties. Maybe that is where he differs from the esoteric Daoists.

Ah, but some of these esoteric Daoists also have son(s) for posterity. Like Confucius, it means that they are also filial.

Most of the Neo Daoists read Confucian books and classics when young before progressing to Daoist and Buddhist studies. So they do not differ much with Confucian thinkers except in their esoteric Daoist practices.

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