Thank you, Ronald Suleski and the Long Yang Club of Boston for this Story

Long Yang was a handsome youth who lived in ancient China. His name has come to be synonymous with male-male emotional and sexual relationships. Long means dragon, a mythological creature representing power and elegance, usually used by the emperor as a symbol of imperial authority. Yang means strength or brightness and is the male component in the dichotomy of yin and yang. The name Long Yang, in other words, carries a very good image of strength and male virility.

In the historical record that has preserved his story, he is known as Lord Long Yang (Long Yang jun), since he was a companion to the king and so in polite court society he was addressed in an honorific way. But in fact we don’t know anything about his background or whether he was officially awarded a royal title. He might have come from a prominent family whose parents had brought him to the attention of the king as a way of improving their son’s chances for success in government. Or he may have been a working boy, laboring on the palace grounds or assisting the various servants of the royal court.

The writing that introduces Lord Long Yang is the Janguoce, translated as the Records of the Warring States. This period of Chinese history is called the Warring States (janguo shiqi 481-221 BCE), when many small kingdoms spread across the north China plain contended with each other for territory and wealth. It was a time when the ways of conducting warfare were changing, from the individual combat of aristocrats to the use of large armies of conscripted foot soldiers. Often through diplomatic means but equally often through military adventure, the numerous kingdoms lived in a world of intrigue and uncertainty.

Eventually, China would become known for a complex bureaucracy and for very detailed record-keeping, but in the days of the Warring States period nothing was uniform, not even the written language, so the historical records we have are somewhat fragmentary. Still, the story of Long Yang has been known in China and commented on by scholars for the past two thousand years.


Long Yang became a favorite of King Anxi who reigned for thirty-three years from 276 to 243 BCE. Long Yang was probably between the ages of fourteen or fifteen when the king fell in love with him. We know from later periods of Chinese history that boys might be as young as eleven or twelve, but usually no older than nineteen or twenty when they were selected to be a companion to the ruler, with many instances of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds recorded. Assuming Long Yang was selected at about age fifteen sometime in the latter years of King Anxi’s reign, we can calculate he might have been born around the year 260 BCE. We’re on slightly firmer ground by guessing that Long Yang must have been the most important of the king’s favorites since an incident involving him was selected for inclusion in the historical records.

Anxi was the ruler of the Wei kingdom which lasted for 220 years, from 445 to 225 BCE. In each kingdom the head of the royal family, asking, held ultimate authority, which included the power to select anyone he so desired to be his sexual companion. Most kings had a number of sexual favorites, females and young boys, who lived in the palace compounds and attended upon the king whenever summoned. The scholars and government officials who worked with the king on affairs of state regularly cautioned their king, they did so throughout China’s early recorded history, to be circumspect about the degree of attention and time given to these favorites. The king should always remember, he was advised, that his main duties lie in governing the kingdom and so he ought to limit the time he spent with his favorites enjoying his personal erotic pleasures.

The king’s advisors certainly didn’t care if the sexual partner of the ruler was male or female as long as the sexual pleasures of the bedchamber did not interfere with the responsibilities of being the ranking official over the government. Their thinking followed then what continues to be the general rule about personal sexual conduct within most Asian societies today: you can do what you wish in private, as long as your responsibilities toward family and society are properly met.

The King and Long Yang grew very fond of each other, with Long Yang’s boyish charms captivating the king, who nevertheless did manage to keep his country running well. Indeed there were several major trading centers in the Wei kingdom and commerce flourished. The Wei is also considered to have been a pioneer in the use of large-scale irrigation systems for agriculture. But the king did spend a lot of time admiring Long Yang’s charms and Long Yang, for his part, could sometimes turn petulant and would sulk, because he knew that the lusty king had a roving eye. Young Long Yang feared that the same glance that had caught him and allowed him to live in the royal palace, might someday fall on another lad. A well-known incident took place between them that illustrated both Long Yang’s pouting and the king’s infatuation.

It is written in the Records of the Warring States, in the section of the Records of Wei (weice) section four, that one day the king of Wei and Lord Long Yang was relaxing in a boat while fishing within the palace grounds. Long Yang caught several fish but then began to cry. The king was concerned and asked young Long Yang to explain why he was upset. “Because I caught a fish.” “But why does that make you cry?” the king asked.

Lord Long Yang hesitated to answer, but when again pressed by the king he replied, “I am thinking of all the fish your majesty may catch.” The king was puzzled, so Long Yang explained by saying, “When I caught the first fish I was extremely pleased. But afterward, I caught a larger fish, so I wanted to throw back the first one.” Long Yang then recounted the privileges he enjoyed by being a person in royal favor, receiving deference where ever he went. He added, “But within the four seas there are so many beauties. When they hear that I have received your favor, surely they will lift the hems of their robes so that they can hasten to you. Then I will be like the first fish and will be thrown back! How can I not weep?”

According to the records, at that point, the king, moved by Long Yang’s sad thoughts, issued an order forbidding others from mentioning beauties and comparing their charms in his presence.

This incident shows us that there was intense competition among young people within the court to be chosen by the king as his sexual partner. It also shows that the role of sexual favorite was precarious and could change overnight. Throughout Chinese history, the ruler’s sexual partners often did change rapidly, so that the prestige enjoyed by a female (a concubine) or a male (a courtier) with the ruler could be of very short duration. It is equally true, though, that in some of the recorded cases the ruler developed a life-long attachment to one of his partners and continued to reward them throughout their lives. A number of China’s most powerful emperors, such as the very masculine Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (Han Wudi, r.140-87 BCE) and the refined Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (r. 1736-1795 CE) had male favorites (sometimes more than one) with whom they formed lifelong relationships.

Many of the kings and emperors in China liked to relax from affairs of state by spending time with their boy companions on boats drifting about a scenic lake. Poets have often tried to capture these moments of tender love and quiet conversation between the powerful but thoughtful ruler and his tender, younger lover. The imagery of quietly drifting in a small boat while carrying out a seduction became so common in China that even today many Chinese gays refer to cruising as “going fishing” (diao yu).

Long Yang’s fame as a symbol of boyish sexual charms was celebrated several hundred years later by the gay poet Ruan Ji (210-263 CE). Ruan Ji’s longtime intimate friendship with the poet Ji Kang (223-262 CE) has long been acknowledged in Chinese literary circles. Ruan was some thirteen years younger than his lover and he wrote often of longing to be with Ji Kang. Although they were separated for extended periods of time, the bond between them was strong and the saddened Ruan Ji died just a few months after his beloved Ji Kang.

Ruan Ji wrote a poem that celebrated the erotic joys of love given by youths to their older companions. He praised Long Yang in the poem, as well as An Ling, a youth in the kingdom of Qu (488-223 BCE) who lived about a hundred years before Long Yang. A Ling become so cherished by the king he slept with, King Xuan (r.369-340 BCE) that he was given his own fiefdom to rule. Both youths came to symbolize male-male sexual relationships which in traditional China were often conceived as being between an older and a younger male.

Ruan Ji’s poem reads:

  • In olden days were many handsome youths like
  • An Ling and Long Yang.
  • Young peach and plum blossoms,
  • Dazzling and radiant.
  • They were as joyful as nine spring times
  • And lithe as branches bent under the autumn frost.
  • Roving glances led to beautiful seductions,
  • Speech and laughter were filled with fragrance.
  • Partners clasping each other would welcome love
  • Together under the covers and blankets.
  • They were as two birds in flight,
  • Their paired wings soaring,
  • Using cinnabar ink they’d write their vows,

“I’ll never forget you.”

(From the Yutai xinyong – New Songs from the JadeTerrace)

Among the common people in pre-modern China, a reference to Long Yang was one of the ways of indicating a person who appeared to be gay (one who ppeared to be interested in an emotional or sexual relationship with another male). Today the name of this classical hero is used by the Long Yang Clubs worldwide, where gay Asian men and their friends are invited to socialize in an atmosphere of respect and mutual admiration. The international headquarters of the Long Yang Club organization is in London, and branches exist in Europe and Asia as well as in many cities in North America. The Club was founded in 1983 and today boasts branches in at least eleven countries and five continents. The Clubs continue a tradition as old as China itself. A tradition that is in truth as old as human history.

Ronald Suleski, Long Yang Club Boston.
With original translations from the Chinese.
The story is reproduced here with the kind permission of LYC Boston.