three pairs of lovers with space



Presented here with the kind permission of the author, Jean-Claude Féray, is this website's translation from the French of his article “Un témoignage sur la pédérastie en Chine recueilli en 1902 et 1903 par Georges Hérelle”, which appeared in Quintes-Feuilles, Bulletin trimestriel no. 21, January 2021, pp. 5-9. The illustrations are from that article.


A testimony on pederasty in China collected in 1902 and 1903 by Georges Hérelle[1]

I have already posted online a presentation of the professor of philosophy, translator and scholar Georges Hérelle (1848-1935). The bibliography of his works attests to his intellectual interest in homosexuality understood in its anthropological, sociological, psychological and literary aspects. Hérelle kept abreast of everything published on this subject, including on a scientific level.

Unlike many scholars, Georges Hérelle strove to study his subject in real life and to collect authentic testimonies.

In 1900-1901, with the Boxers' expedition, he had the opportunity to open up a new field of observation of pederasty by collecting testimonies on contemporary China.

The setting: Peking

Peking was formed at that time of two juxtaposed cities, communicating through three gates, one of which, in the middle, was reserved for the Emperor. The two cities were the Tartar City, surrounded by ramparts 14 metres high, and the Chinese city. In the center of the Tartar City stood the Imperial City, and within it the Purple City which was made up of the imperial palace and its outbuildings. Until the beginning of 1900, no European had ever been able to enter the imperial palace.

The dowager empress Cixi in 1902

The European legations were all (except that of Belgium) located in the Tartar City, between its south wall and the south wall of the Imperial City.

The actors: the Boxers

The term Boxers was a fanciful English translation of a Chinese word meaning "League of United Fists of Harmony". The boxers were a revival of a very old anti-Manchu movement in which the Empress Cixi (portrait opposite; she reigned from 1861 to 1908[2]) had become interested as an instrument in the struggle against foreigners. The boxers indulged in public movements which in the eyes of Europeans was made up of a choreography with magnetic passes and strange cabalistic incantations.

They began to manifest themselves from 1900 with massacres of missionaries and natives converted to Christianity, massacres preceded by very clear warnings and carried out for reasons not religious, but political.

The Boxer War in brief

The Boxer rebels in Peking

The siege of the foreign legations in Beijing and the assassination in June 1900 of German Minister Clemens von Ketteler shook the authorities of the foreign powers: Germany, Japan, England, Russia, France, United States, Italy, Austria (in the order of importance of the military personnel engaged) joined forces to send an international punitive expedition of one hundred thousand men, under the command of the German General Alfred von Waldersee. The expedition freed the legations on 14 August 1900, looted the capital, and then occupied the metropolitan province of North Zhili[3] for a year. Russia for its part militarily occupied Manchuria. A treaty imposed on China severe sanctions against the Boxers, security guarantees and the payment of heavy compensation.

The French engaged:

Between 10 August and 8 September 8 1900, France sent from Marseilles eleven thousand men and one thousand five hundred horses or mules. Brigadier Henri Jeoffrai was part of the marine artillery sent to China on 10 August 1900. He left this country for Tonkin on 29 June 1902, whence he returned to France on 14 November 1902. Due to the singularity of his testimony on pederasty in China, it is worth saying what we know about this soldier, who, it should be emphasized, was nothing a priori out of the ordinary, except for his acquaintance with Georges Hérelle.

Henri Jeoffrai, a soldier of the colonial military apparently like others

The reigning Guangxu emperor

Born in Saint-Lô (Manche) on 8 October 1873, Henri Jeoffrai was the eldest son of a large family who were living in the clothing industry: his father, Jean-Jules, was a tailor, and his mother, née Émilie, Louise Brétel was a seamstress. The tradition will continue in the family, but the young Henri chooses to escape it: in Cherbourg where his parents resided (and where Hérelle taught from 1887 to 1896) Henri enlisted, in October 1891, at the age of eighteen, in the 4th Regiment of the Chasseurs d’Afrique. This enlistment in the army enabled him to know countries very far from his native Normandy: he stayed more than three years in Tunisia and more than four years in Madagascar, before leaving for the Far East (China, during the Boxer War, then, more briefly, Tonkin, during the insurrection of the Phomi-Bouns).

Then took place a stay in France, during which Georges Hérelle collected his testimony. Henri Jeoffrai left again, in April 1904, for Madagascar where he stayed for four years again. He retired in 1906 to Tsaratanana, in the main island, and passed into the reserve of the active army, before returning to France in April 1908. Installed in Paris, he exercised, in his new civilian life, the profession of traveling salesman. On 29 December 1908, he married a twenty-year-old Norman from France, like him, from Manche, Aimée Renouf. Nothing is known about the reasons why this couple went to settle in Serbia, Henri then working as an accountant. That this soldier of the colonial military passed into civilian life could have been sent abroad for an intelligence mission is only a hypothesis, which will be difficult to verify. Still, the couple had a son, named Georges, born on 26 May 1910 in Negotin (Serbia). When France entered the war, in August 1914, Henri Jeoffrai was recalled to a regiment of colonial artillery and found himself seconded to the 47th Battery of the 50th Regiment of Artillery. Appointed second lieutenant in February 1915, he took part in the Battle of Argonne. On 26 May 1915, in Ville-sur-Tourbe (Marne) he was killed gloriously by the enemy, and received the Legion of Honour posthumously.

The “normality” of his existence - the word normality being taken first in its statistical sense - makes his testimony particularly interesting from a psychological point of view. The truth of his statements to Georges Hérelle can be judged it in the light of Chinese sources.[4] These also make it possible to place Jeoffrai's Notes usefully back in their historical and local context.

Interest of Jeoffrai's testimony compared to those of G. Morache and J-J Matignon

We do not know whether Hérelle had read the voluminous article CHINA written by Professor Georges Morache (1837-1906), doctor of the French legation in Peking from 1862 to 1866, in Dechambre's no less voluminous Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the Medical Sciences[5]. It seems more likely that he had become acquainted with the article on pederasty in China by Jean-Jacques Matignon (1866-1928), doctor of the French legation in Peking from 1894 to 1901[6].

There are in these two testimonies and that of Jeoffrai common points (on the places of prostitution, the age of the prostitutes, the tariffs, the venereal diseases, etc.) and points on which they are distinguished from each other. If one had to underline the originality of each of them, it should be noted, first of all, that Jeoffrai, Morache and Matignon report their own observations in the field, unlike the German Karsch-Haack, author of a clever but second-hand compilation. We should then cite, for Morache, the observation of pederasty among the poor classes, and in particular beggars. This view of the underprivileged contrasts in particular with that of Karsch-Haack, who in his book on the Asians of the Far East[7], will focus on unisexual love among scholars and Chinese emperors. As for J.-J. Matignon, one of his originalities is to have studied Chinese literature and to have examined the terminology relating to these loves.

Our three authors noted with astonishment the great tolerance of the native population towards pederasty. And all three wondered about the “causes” of the astonishing frequency of this passion in this nation. If Morache and Matignon agree in attributing it to the lack of healthy women, Matignon however stands out by also mentioning the taste for poetry and belles lettres to which, he emphasizes, only men had access. But Jeoffrai is the only one to evoke the beauty, the gentleness, the seductive power of boys. On this point, his testimony is astonishing: here indeed is an apparently normal man who only discovers true amorous passion - that which makes one think without respite of the loved one – at the age of 27, in the arms of a young boy.

Moreover, his testimony is also distinguished by the description of opium dens as one of the places of male prostitution, as well as by the evocation of the policing measures of the Powers against boy brothels.

Strengthened by this originality, his narrative, although rather brief, was amply deserving publication: it provides a useful complement both to the Chinese texts and to the well-known and often cited observations of J.-J. Matignon.

Nov. 1902

I ask Henri Jeoffrai, who has just spent two years there, what is the state of special customs in China. Here is a summary of his main observations.

“Special customs are very widespread, and this is easy to understand. First, you don't see women in the streets[8], and secondly, most of the women one could have for money are contaminated to the core.[9]

“Furthermore, Chinese boys are remarkably pretty, very fine features, full of attentiveness, thoughtfulness, caressing kindness, and the silk clothes they wear give them a seductive grace. These clothes are of very soft light colors, harmonize in a charming way with the complexion, the appearance, the manners of these young people, and, moreover, they leave a part of the body naked[10], so that what one sees is like a continual provocation.

“On the other hand, public mores allow this kind of love. When we arrived in Peking, there were a large number of brothels with boys. These houses were closed by the European authorities; but the prettiest boys there were kept as boys for the officers' mess.

A Qing era bridegroom

“Furthermore, in all the houses where opium is smoked, young boys light the pipes. The smoker's clothing is only a kind of very light silk robe; and the young boy who takes care of him is completely naked. Now, to light the pipe, this young boy lies down at full length beside the smoker or on top of the smoker, with very provocative coaxing; and, as he usually has very soft skin and beautiful features, it is hard not to be charmed. The Chinese, among themselves, hardly hide to satisfy the passions thus kindled; but besides, for the delicate, for those who are more modest, for the Europeans who would not like to be seen, there are always, near the room of the den, private little rooms where one withdraws when one wishes.”

The attraction of the little Chinese [boys] for French officers and soldiers was very great. Some officers had taken as many as three and four boys for this use. Henri J[eoffrai], who seems to me to have had hitherto relatively little vocation for this passion, avows that his heart has been captured there. He speaks to me with an indignant love about a little Chinese [boy] from an opium den with whom he has spent the whole night: “A delicious night! I have never touched a body so suave, soft as satin ... But every moment he asked me for money: - Give me another piastre![11] - Ah! I would have strangled him!”

He tells me about a little seller in Peking, from whom he bought most of the things he brought back: “I used to go to his store every day; but I didn't buy anything when he wasn't there." He tells me of yet another, who was a boy with his lieutenant, another who served in the American Mission, several others whose condition I no longer know ... And he ends with this remark which made me laugh inwardly: “I didn't know what it was, to think of someone always, to think about it while working, while eating, while sleeping. I learned it in China. ”

February 1903

Henri tells me at length about his visits to the special house in Tientsin [Tianjin]. When Henri arrived in Tientsin, there was a brothel of boys in the Chinese quarter[12]. It was a big house run much like our brothels of women. When one got there, one entered a large hall where ten or twelve boys soon presented themselves, of varying ages, some perhaps no more than 10 years old, others possibly up to twenty. In fact, with their costume and braid, the Chinese often look younger than they actually are. When the visitor had made his choice, he went with the chosen boy into a small room, a sort of closet, where there was hardly any other piece of furniture than a large, fairly low camp bed, set on a brick substructure[13] (as in Pompeii).

Henri tells me that in China this kind of love is practiced in the most open way, without anyone thinking of hiding it. He even tells me that it is often the mothers who bring their little boys to the brothel.

The fixed price, before the arrival of Europeans, was 13 cents paid at the house (a tiny price, since the Chinese piastre is hardly worth on average more than 2f 50 of our currency, and the cent is its hundredth part.[14] But the Europeans soon caused the prices to rise a lot. Moreover, the little prostitutes are, it seems, unbearable through their continual solicitations, asking for half a piastre, a piastre, etc.

Henri led there his friend Villette, a non-commissioned officer, who had never practiced this kind of love, but who had a remarkable disposition to taste it. The first time, Villette was ashamed, protested weakly; but, conquered by this pleasure, he almost immediately became a happy hunter of boys. Henri told me that this Villette doesn't have much wit, is a bit clumsy; but his eyes have a good and cheerful gaze, which made him a true don Juan with children. “By contrast,” he told me, “I myself am always very embarrassed to initiate an intrigue, and my attempts often fail. I attribute this to the way I look at children. My friend Villette said to me: - As soon as you look at a young boy, your eyes become fixed and piercing, as if you wanted to enter them. You frighten them. You would frighten me myself if I didn't know you. ”

This brothel was soon closed by the European authorities; and it was not enough to forbid it, it was necessary to wall up its doors. As for the prettiest boys who frequented it, they were taken for the officers’ circle ...


[1] Médiathèque de l’Agglomération troyenne, manuscript 3 392, pp. 194-201. This article is a partial republication of an article by Laurent Long and Jean-Claude Féray published in the journal Inverses in 2009, pp. 135-150. The notes concerning China are from Laurent Long. [Authors’ footnote]

[2] Cixi “ruled” rather than “reigned”, using her position as Empress dowager. She was never Empress regnant. [Translator’s note]

[3] Present-day Beijing (Peking) Municipality, Greater Tianjin Municipality and Hebei Province. [Authors’ footnote]

[4] For a synthetic view of the 2,500 years of China's gay tradition, cf. Laurent Long: ““Restes-de-pêche, repas-partagés et camarades; histoire et mémoire de la Chine gaie et lesbienne (Fishing scraps, shared meals and comrades; history and memory of gay and lesbian China)”. Gays et lesbiennes en Chine (Gays and lesbians in China), Lyon municipal library; Lyon, 2005, pp. 18-77, and, for sinners, to Zhang Zaizhou: Aimei de licheng, Zhongguo gudai tongxinglian shi (An equivocal journey: the history of homosexuality in ancient China). Zhongzhou guji chubanshe; Zhengzhou, 2001, 775 p. ills. Review in Inverses, N ° 4, p. 329. [Authors’ footnote]

[5] Dictionnaire encyclopédique des Sciences médicales (Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Medical Sciences), published under the direction of A. Dechambre. Volume 16: CHI-CHO., p. 195, p. 204. Paris, P. Asselin and G. Masson, 1874. This article republishes the contents of an earlier article: Georges Morache - Pékin et ses habitants, étude d’hygiène (Peking and its Inhabitants, Study of Hygiene) Paris, J.-B. Baillière et fils, 1869. 164 p. (Voir p.111, pp.129-132.) [Authors’ footnote]

[6] J-J Matignon: Deux mots sur la pédérastie en Chine (Two Words on Pederasty in China). Archives de l’Anthropologie criminelle (Archives of Criminal Anthropology), […],1899, volume XIV: pp. 38-53. Reedited in Superstition, crime et misère en Chine (Superstition, Crime and Misery in China). Stork/Masson; Lyon/Paris, 1902. pp. 187-209, and in La Chine hérmétique, superstition, crime et misère (Hermetic China, Superstition, Crime and Misery). Paul Geuthner ; Paris, 1936. pp. 263-281. Let us point out that Matignon treats also, in passing, of pederasty amongst beggars, in another article (Le mendiant de Pékin [The Peking Beggar]) included in Superstition, crime et misère en Chine. [Authors’ footnote]

[7] Ferdinand Karsch-Haack – Das gleichgeschlechtliche Leben des Ostasiaten. Seitz und Schauer; München, 1906. 134 p. [Authors’ footnote]

[8] Honest ladies, and even beauties of the night, would only have known how to go out in a carriage or in a closed palanquin. [Authors’ footnote]

[9] Most of the contemporary western accounts of prostitution support this point. Syphilis meidu, introduced by the Portuguese and the Spanish at the beginning of the 16th century, was wreaking havoc in brothels, in the absence of any sanitary control of their residents. Gonorrhea linbing was also rife: this condition was described in China as early as the third century it seems. Despite the onset of AIDS, conditions do not seem to have improved much in the China of today. [Authors’ footnote]

[10] Jeoffrai is miserly in detail here. It is very likely that these boys were dressed only in trousers and an almost transparent gauze shirt, or rather that they wore only a moxiong (“chest-rub”), commonly called in slang dudou ou doudu “belly-envelope ”. Often red and richly embroidered, made as a short apron with a pointed hem, with a cord passing around the neck, another retaining it behind the back, this garment served as a bra for women. Worn lower down by feminised prostitutes, it hid the erection - frowned upon - of the passive partner being possessed, while leaving in full view the charms behind. Its erotic interest is reminiscent of that of our modern jock straps. Cf. Musée Cernuschi: Le Palais du printemps; peintures érotiques de Chine (The Spring Palace; erotic paintings of China). Paris musées/Editions Findakly; Paris, 2006. 254 p. See pp. 238-243. [Authors’ footnote]

[11] Spanish, then Mexican, silver peso imported via the Philippines into China from the end of the 16th century. Its price there was based on the weight of its silver expressed in Chinese ounces. The first Western-style minting of silver coins in this country only dates back to the 1890s for local issues. [Authors’ footnote]

[12] That is to say in the old city, as opposed to the European concessions established outside the walls. [Authors’ footnote]

[13] In other words, the kang, hypocaust bed, a brick structure circulating heat borrowed from the kitchen stove, occupying most of the living room, covered with a weaving and a thin mattress. The only effective means of heating in the harsh winters of northern China, a whole family worked and ate their meals there during the day, slept there at night. [Authors’ footnote]

[14] China was on the silver standard. The piastre, whose origins have been described by the authors in the preceding footnote, was a silver coin weighing 40 g., and equated to 13s 7d in British currency according to the average exchange rate of January 1901. The 13-cent cost of sex with a boy therefore equalled 1s 9d. [Translator’s note]

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