Ian Johnson

Western interest on Taoism has much focused on sex and especially premature ejaculation, and Amuse author Kate Lister asked journalist Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, for his take on the subject.


“One act without emission makes the ch’i strong. Two acts without emission makes the hearing acute and the vision clear. Three acts without emission makes all ailments disappear. Four acts without emission and the “five spirits” are all at peace. Five acts without emission makes the pulse full and relaxed. Six acts without emission strengthens the waist and back. Seven acts without emission gives power to the buttocks and thigh. Eight acts without emission causes the whole body to be radiant. Nine acts without emission and one will enjoy unlimited longevity. Ten acts without emission and one attains the realm of the immortals.”

Such teachings have fascinated the West for hundreds of years, and have been eagerly adopted by neo-Taoist and Tantra groups around the world today. But, our obsession with Taoist sex says far more about us than it does about the Chinese traditions being appropriated.

Ian Johnson is a Beijing-based writer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of religious persecution in China. He is also the author of The Souls of Chinathe Return of Religion After Mao, so it’s fair to say that he is man who knows a thing or two about Taoism in China today. And because everyone likes to receive unsolicited emails about sperm, I contacted him to ask him if Taoist practice in China was as preoccupied with ejaculation and sex as it is in the West.

He explained: “The emphasis on sexual cultivation in the West is symptomatic for how exploration of foreign cultures often says more about the explorer than the explored. While Chinese do talk about sexual cultivation, it’s an infinitesimally small portion of the overall discussion and the overall body of material. In other words, it’s not really that important in the Chinese tradition. But sex is important in our culture, so it’s not surprising that we mine ancient traditions to see what they say about it.”

So, Taoists in China do view sex as important, and many practice self-control around orgasm, but sex is actually a very small part of their practice. It’s the Western rendering of Taoist tradition that has emphasized the sex part.

More in Amuse.

Ian Johnson is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Are you looking for more stories by Ian Johnson? Do check out this list.


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