For the first time in North America, the Ancient Chinese Sex Relics Exhibition is showcasing the artifacts of sexual exploration used by Chinese people thousands of years ago. Toronto residents can see a side of the Chinese rarely displayed.
I'm in a large room at Toronto's Delta Chelsea Hotel filled with jade and porcelain penises. Woodcarvings of doggy-style sex hang to my right, and to my left are scrolls of erotic paintings depicting outdoor coitus. It's not so much stimulating as it is a history lesson.
This is the Ancient Chinese Sex Relics Exhibition
, a collection of pieces reflecting Chinese sexual expression from as far back as the Ming Dynasty. The 500-piece exhibit is making its first visit to North America after touring throughout China and in several European countries. It runs until July 5 and tickets cost $12.
Undoubtedly, the art is an eye-opener. These artifacts showcase a unique side to Chinese history, one often spoken in whispers. It's blatant erotica, it's homosexuality, it's stylized paintings depicting raw sex.
The oldest items date back 5,000 years ago. These reddish dildos weren't used sexually though; they have holes near the testicle area so the Chinese could hang them up near their doors to ward off evil demons. After all, the logic went, demons would be embarrassed to see such blatant phallic symbols.
Sometimes, the Chinese get playful with their erotic art. A small sculpture of a woman with enormous breasts sits next a clay figure of a man with an erect penis, smiling devilishly. Not too far from these two, a bust has a penis for a nose. These figures elicit smiles and chuckles, as opposed to stirring the libido.
Many stone figurines offer a concise overview of sexual positions, from the reverse cowgirl to standard missionary. The pieces look weather-beaten but well preserved.
Homosexuality gets some love at this exhibit, as demonstrated by another stone carving featuring an odd threesome: a woman is apparently having sex with a man from behind, while another man is having sex with that man from behind. The setting takes place outdoors, it looks like.
James Miller, associate professor of Chinese Religions at Queen’s University, said on the exhibit's website
: "China has a long history of connecting sexual energy to spirituality. Indeed, the cultivation of sexual energy lies at the heart of a range of “sexual yoga” or “bedroom arts” that have been developed in China for over two thousand years. In ancient China, sexual potency was connected with the quest for immortality."
Western cultures may view China as a repressed sexual country, but the manager of this exhibit said the Chinese government was happy to allow these artifacts to spread across the world. "Funny enough, in Canada we had more problems bringing the pieces over the border," says Hanson Jiang in an interview.
He points to a contentious item, a ceramic dildo placed on a saddle. He said this isn't a pleasurable device; several hundred years ago, if a woman cheated on her husband she would be forced to ride this dildo-saddle until she died. "It shows a different side of Chinese history," he says.
After the Toronto stop, the exhibit will then head to Vancouver on July 13 and Montreal on Aug. 15. There are no plans yet to bring the Ancient Chinese Sex Relics Exhibition to the U.S.
See below for several more photos from this showcase of Chinese sexual culture: