Yanagawa Shigenobu I 初代柳川重信 (1787–1832)
Chinese Couple
From the series Storm of the Willow (Yanagi no arashi)
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1832
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

Since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.—220 A.D.), Chinese Daoist discourse has included discussion about the spiritual benefits of sexual activity. Known as fangzhongshu (literally, “arts of the bedchamber”), these teachings were based upon the concept of essence (Chinese: jing; Japanese: sei), without which a human body could not survive. Jing was strongly concentrated in bodily fluids, so fangzhongshu warned men to avoid ejaculation during sex. If a man was able to absorb the jing of his female partner, however, he could achieve immortality.

In his depiction of a Chinese couple, Yanagawa Shigenobu I (1787–1832) offers a comically grotesque interpretation of this philosophy. The man and woman pleasure one another manually, and the man collects her vaginal secretions in a teacup with the intention of later drinking them.

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