Episode 28: God In Brothels

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People who have beliefs like to say god is everywhere and god is always with us. What about brothels? In Chinese mythology, there is a god protecting prostitution and brothels and his name is BaimeiShen白眉神, which means White- eyebrowed God.

In the Chinese history, Ming Dynasty 明朝, between the year 1368 to the year 1644, was a period of time that people were pretty open-minded about sex. Scholars and gentlemen were proud to spend times in brothels with lovers. I need to point out one thing though, in ancient China, there were different levels and kinds of prostitutes. Not every girl in brothels had to do with sexual businesses. In Chinese chang ji娼妓 means prostitutes, however, chang and ji were quite different. Ji is kind of like actresses or singers today that they were actually artists or performers and those girls usually were trained to be excellent at drawing and writing articles and poems too like Geisha in Japan. Because the four arts of the Chinese scholar includes Qin, a musical instrument, Qi, a strategy game, Shu, Chinese calligraphy and Hua, painting. In Japanese today, they use the character of ji to describe female entertainers. Being a female at that time, if you were not born from a rich and entitled family, you probably wouldn’t have chances to learn all the talents. However, in brothels, girls were better trained in order to please and attract males. Think about in brothels you can find the most good-looking girls with the best “education” and talents, who can resist it? especially those scholars and gentlemen that they usually could find their soul-mates there. That’s why there are a lot of love stories in Chinese history happened in brothels. Of course, you could do your real businesses in brothels too and prostitutes were still had bad reputation and really low social status anyhow.

In the book WanLiYeHuoBianBuYi万历 野获编补遗, it says recently in brothels there were a lot of statues of GuanYu关羽. GuanYu was a famous general from the Eastern Han Dynasty almost 2000 years ago. People call him God of War and deified as an epitome of loyalty and righteousness and is worshiped throughout east Asia. We will talk about him in the future episode. The author thought it was a disgraceful thing to worship the deity with high esteem in Chinese culture in such low-class places. Later the author found out he was wrong since the god worshiped in brothels is not GuanYu but BaimeiShen due to the similar looks that they both have a long lush beard and BaimeiShen looks like a warrior as GuanYu on a horse. However, one big difference is that BaimeiShen has white-eyebrow as his name indicates.

白眉神

There are a couple opinions about who BaimeiShen is. The first version is that BaimeiShen is identified with LingLun伶伦, who is the legendary founder of music and created bamboo flutes and five notes of the ancient Chinese five-tone music scale. This is easy to understand since as I mentioned earlier that prostitutes were always good at singing and dancing and that’s why they worshiped the god of music.

伶伦

The second version is GuanZhong管仲, who was a chancellor and reformer during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时 期between 720 to 645 BC. You might wonder how can a chancellor became the god worshiped in brothels. I mean he was a great politician and had multiple achievements and one of them is that he was credited for creating the first official government sponsored brothel which funded the government treasury, which was earlier than it in ancient Greece. He is a pragmatist for sure. Some people say since nobody in brothels really knew what GuanZhong looked like they probably imagined that hmm a man in brothels he must exert too much physical energy during sex as well as the chemicals that are released so he must have white eyebrows and red eyes.

管仲

The third version is Robber Zhi 盗跖 , the most famous robber in Chinese history and a slave rebel leader of the Spring and Autumn period. The story about him as the brothel god is recorded in books ZhuanGuiZhuan斩鬼传, JinPingMei金瓶梅 etc. in Dynasty. The reason could be in ancient China people say male robbers and female prostitutes 男盗女娼, which were two equally despicable jobs in the society. The temples of BaimeiShen are usually on the same street of brothels and sometimes inside of brothels as well.

In some places, for the first time of a girl with a client, she needed to make sacrifice to BaimeiShen and the client was supposed to do the same when he first visited a brothel. To attract more clients, on the first and 15th day every month in Lunar calendar, those girls would cover the face of BaimeiShen with their handkerchiefs and poke the face with a needle. Volia! the handkerchiefs became magical. Guys whose faces later be touched by the handkerchiefs would be so attached and listened to whatever the girls said. Real love potion.

In ancient China, a lot of the prostitutes were sold to the brothels by their families when they were kids due to the poor condition. The girls grew in the brothels and were raised in the brothels. There was a temple in Kaifeng开封, the local prostitutes were sent there when they got serious diseases or dying. Think about those poor girls waiting for death in a temple just because of their jobs and more because of their destiny. Maybe the only comfort for them before death was BaimeiShen, the White-eyebrow God in the temple next to them.

Mentioned:

白眉神BaimeiShen/ White-eyebrowed God.

万历 野获编补遗WanLiYeHuoBianBuYi

关羽GuanYu

伶伦LingLun

管仲GuanZhong

盗跖Robber Zhi

斩鬼传ZhuanGuiZhuan

金瓶梅JinPingMei

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