2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Art of Charming in Han China

Li Jianmin

Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

What is the “female art of charming”? In what kind of situations did women resort to the use of it? What role did the “art of charming” play in the domain of knowledge contained in recipes and techniques of the Han dynasty?

According to Ch’ien Chung-shu, the “art of charming” is a practice that women employed to cause someone else to fall out of favor, and to let themselves receive the grace of their lord. During the Han dynasty, cases of the “art of charming” were often found in historical sources of the imperial harem. Competition for favor and the want of sons were two main causes of conflict in the imperial family. In order to obtain the favor of their lord, palace ladies used to resort to the “art of charming.” Biographies in official histories show that those who practiced this “art of charming” tended to be women who were either out of favor or without sons. However, she who used the art to redirect the affection of her husband and to be out of disgrace would be considered a “jealous woman.” The art used in its effect would also be condemned as “evil” practice.

The “art of charming” constitutes mainly of techniques on the one hand and medicinal preparations on the other. The content of tsa chin-fang 雜禁方 and hsiang-ai fang 相愛方 reveal that the art of charming could be used as a technique to harmonize marital relationships, as well as to deal with problems such as adultery or jealousy that might harm this relationship. Within the domain of recipes and techniques, the art of charming belongs to the arts of the bedchamber, which can be divided into two different series of techniques, yang-yin 養陰 and yang-yang 養陽. Female witchcraft is one branch of the ancient arts of the bedchamber, and can be defined as “the art of riding men”.


Key Words: the art of charming, jealous women, gender, division of “the bedchamber” into two techniques, recipes and techniques