Sexuality and its nuances: On Magnus Hirschfeld’s sexual ethnology and China’s sapiential heritage
Between November 1930 and March 1932, German-Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) undertook a trip around the world, eventually visiting the United States (where he was greeted as the ‘Dr. Einstein of sex’), Japan, China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Egypt, and Palestine. The resulting travel report, entitled Weltreise eines Sexualforschers (1933), is generally considered one of the foundational texts of the then-emerging discipline of sexual ethnology, and comprises the first non-Eurocentric, anti-colonialist critique of Asian cultures from a sexological perspective. Taking into account Hirschfeld’s overarching design to dissolve close schemes of sexual, racial and cultural taxonomies, the study focuses on his assessment of China’s religiously neutral, sober approach of sexual realities as ‘a world-wide exception’ intimately connected to its Confucian and Taoistic heritage, and resonating with the core premises of his Spinozian-inspired and Darwinian-based sexology. Notwithstanding his praise of Chinese sexual realism, however, Hirschfeld argued that China’s sexual mores (Sitten) – like all other sexual mores to date – fail to suffice the criteria of a universally valid sexual morality (Sittlichkeit). While the binary schemes of sexual distribution on which sexual mores are preponderantly grounded misconstrue the complexities of individual sexualities and foster, as compensation, the escapism into the non constraints of other-worldly utopias, Hirschfeld’s postulation of potentially infinite, uniquely nuanced sexualities leads to a radical blueprint of intra-historic sexual emancipation.