By Donald Harper
Paper given at the Symposium on the History of Medicine in Asia: Past Achievements, Current Research and Future Directions (2003)
Introduction: Near the end of a silk-sheet manuscript of recipes from Mawangdui 馬王堆 tomb 3 (burial dated to 168 B.C.), assigned the title “Yangsheng fang” 養生方 (Recipes for nurturing life) by the Chinese editorial team, is an exchange between the Shang ruler Tang 湯 and a teacher surnamed Chen 陳:
[Tang] asked: “When man and woman achieve unison and are a matched pair, how can it be accomplished without injuring the body?” [Chen] replied: “What assists life is eating; what diminishes life is lust. Therefore, the sage must have a model.”
Chen continues with a synopsis of the model for beneficial sex, free of the detriments of lust (se 色), in the form of a list: six names of sexual positions, five names of parts of the female genitals, seven terms for different ways the man should thrust his penis, two terms referring to the woman’s state of arousal during intercourse, two terms for the reactions of the woman’s body, and four terms for actions the man must accomplish at various stages of intercourse. A second Mawangdui manuscript, assigned the title “Tianxia zhi dao tan” 天下至道談 (Discussion of the culminant way in Under-heaven), states the same general principle about life and lust followed by a series of sections, each providing a fuller record of the terminology and actions referred to elliptically by Chen. It is evident that the content of the dialogue between Chen and Tang in “Yangsheng fang” was drawn from a sexual cultivation guide such as “Tianxia zhi dao tan.” “Tianxia zhi dao tan” and a third Mawangdui manuscript, assigned the title “He yin yang” 合陰陽 (Conjoining yin and yang), are the oldest Chinese guides to sexual intercourse as one of several methods to cultivate body and spirit.