As Chinese civilization evolved during the first millennium BC, two distinct, yet complementary philosophies shaped Chinese culture – Daoism and Confucianism, both that addressed sexuality.


Daoist sexual practice stresses the balance of the primordial energies of the universe – the yin and yang. Sex plays an integral role in one’s search for immortality. Confucianism looks at sex more pragmatically. Its most important purpose is to produce sons, ensuring the continuity of the family. While not mutually exclusive, both philosophies caused social and cultural tensions and divergent norms of behavior throughout China’s long history.


Sex Among the Lotus: 2500 Years of Chinese Erotic Obsession provided visitors with a sweeping survey of Chinese erotica – from erotic Bronze Age poetry and tomb tile with explicit imagery dating from the 2nd century BC to the sexual excesses of the Emperor and his Court and the latest pornography hot off the commercial presses.


Throughout the dynasties, sex was considered a natural and essential act. In fact, sex and nature are synonymous, sharing the same word “xing.” Therefore, nature’s outdoor realm provided couples with the most satisfying settings for sex, in both fact and metaphor.


From the earliest times, men were instructed to have frequent intercourse to ensure a long and healthy life. Third century Chinese sex manuals are concerned with the balance of yin and yang through constant sexual intercourse with multiple partners. Men were instructed to satisfy a woman to orgasm, but refrain from ejaculating. By conserving their male yang force, they were encouraged to emulate the mythical “Yellow Emperor,” who became immortal after having intercourse with 12,000 women!


Women’s feet have been the focal point of Chinese erotic obsession for the last 1000 years. The practice of foot binding, which reportedly began with the 10th century Imperial Court, eventually spread to the general populace. A woman’s “golden lotus” feet (no longer than five inches) represented her discipline and desirability, securing a good marriage. Practiced for and by women, a mother bound her little girl’s feet with tight strips of cloth, restricting their growth and reshaping them into the ideal “lotus bud” form. For centuries, the tiny bound foot was considered the most erotically charged part of the body.


In Shanghai, beauty pageants for prostitutes became the rage. First held in 1882, the pageants focused great attention and reward on the beauty of a woman’s foot. When the Communists came to power in 1947, they made sex a sin. Intercourse outside of marriage was a punishable crime. Foot binding was outlawed, brothels were shut down, sexual materials were confiscated, and the publishing of erotic literature was banned.


While China stands on the verge of yet another sexual transformation, Sex Among the Lotus placed these exciting social developments in the context of the country’s long history of erotic obsession.


John E. Vollmer


Liana Zhou
Curatorial Consultant


Matthew Barrick and Ryan Chaney


June M. Reinisch, Ph.D. and Beverley Jackson
Academic Advisors


Liu Dalin Glenn and Judy Roberts
Special Advisors



Casson Mann
Exhibition Design


Architectural Design


Graphic Design


Small Design Firm
Interactive Installations


Fish Media Inc.
Video Editing/Installations


Website Design


Doris Mitsch
Lotus Photograph



C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University


The Sidney D. Gamble Foundation


Edmund Li, Reich + Petch Design International


Richard Rosenblum Family Foundation


Lisa Hanock-Jasie
Public Relations


Willy Wong
Graphic Design


Xiaomin Zhang


Matthew Barrick
Audio Production


George Johnson
Audio/Visual Design & Integration


Susan Lebovitz-Gluck



Anonymous (2)

Bata Shoe Museum

Alberto Manuel Cheung

China’s Museum of Sexual Culture

Don Cohn

Vincent Comer

Gary Dickinson

Dr. John Fong

Edie & Joel Frankel

Dodi Fromson

Chris Hall

Beverley Jackson

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

Reagan Louie, courtesy Von Lintel Gallery

Moke Mokotoff, courtesy Asian Art Inc.

Mutter Museum

Myrna and Sam Myers

June M. Reinsich, Ph.D.

Jon Eric Riis

Glenn Roberts

Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College

The Schloss Collection

Michael Weisbrod, courtesy Weisbrod

Chinese Art Ltd.


March 18, 2004 – January 30, 2005