Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The odd story of the Rabbit God

It always seems to me that the historical Asian take on male homosexuality had a much higher emphasis on romanticism than much of the modern Western image of it:   if you ask me, it's not like a gay pride parade featuring drag queens, men and lesbians in leather, and many guys in speedos and feathers can be easily said to be emphasising romanticism over in-your-face eroticism/fetishism.  I think you still see this in Asian countries today, with oddities like straight Japanese women who are fans of young men in love manga and anime.

Further evidence of the importance of romance in Asian thoughts on homosexuality comes from this article that I stumbled across yesterday, from Taipei, where gay marriage had a sudden and unexpected legal endorsement recently.  There's a small Taoist temple there, to cater for gay men:
All religions address both spiritual needs and issues of here and now. New deities and even new religions often emerge to address needs or during times of social change. The founding of the Gay Rabbit God Temple in Taipei is one such example.

About five years ago (2005), a Taoist priest made spiritual contact with the Rabbit God and decided that should five same sex couples approach the temple for prayers or spiritual help, he will establish a temple dedicated to the Rabbit God.

Although at that time, they did not have specific programs for gay couples, five couples did indeed turn up. The priest took this as a sign and officially established the Rabbit Temple.
More on the background to this god, here:
The god isn't very well known, nor commonly worshipped, but he is based on an historical figure. According to the Tale of the Rabbit God that appears in the Zibuyu (子不語), a collection of supernatural stories written by Qing Dynasty scholar and poet Yuan Mei (袁枚, 1716-1798), Hu Tianbao (?#32993;天保) was an official in 18th-century, Qing Dynasty China. He fell in love with a handsome young imperial inspector of Fujian Province, but because of the inspector's higher status, Hu was afraid to reveal his feelings. After Hu was caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, he confessed his admiration for the inspector, who had him beaten to death. One month after his passing, the story goes, Hu appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream, claiming that the king of the underworld had appointed him the Rabbit God. As such, his duty was to govern the affairs of men who desire men. In the dream, he asked the man to erect a shrine to him.

As a priest, Lu often heard complaints from homosexual Taoist adherents that there was no god to answer their prayers. Believing one of his missions is to tend to the needs of people alienated from mainstream society, he set out to revive the forgotten deity.

 As his research suggests, Hu was an upper class historical figure who lived in Fujian from the late Ming Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty. However, according to Michael Szonyi, associate professor of Chinese history at the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, the Rabbit God is a pure invention of Yuan, the poet, since the image of the rabbit deity doesn't appear in any other sources from Fujian.

While some aspects of the story may be fabrications, the existence of the cult of Hu Tianbao in Fujian in the 18th century is well documented in official Qing records.
This priest reckons the Rabbit God is a particularly helpful one, if you treat him respectfully:
The Rabbit God is perceived to be an affable deity, Lu said, who is willing to assist his followers in every aspect of life. Since he works for Cheng Huang (城隍), the City God, he has both the erudition and social network in the spiritual world to solve any problem mortals have, according to Lu.
Homosexuals may have an edge in the spiritual world because, "Hu Tianbao is rather self-abased both because of the way he died and the somewhat belittling title of rabbit. So if you are willing to believe in him, he will be much more grateful and work harder than other deities," Lu said.
There are several methods of worshipping, asking for and receiving answers from this divine being, but sincerity is what counts most, Lu said. For this reason, followers should address the god as Ta Yeh (大爺), or master, rather than Rabbit God. Then, those with needs can write down their names, addresses, birthdays and prayers on pieces of paper money and burn them to make sure the messages are sent to heaven.
Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.


not trampis said...

hare raising

Jason Soon said...

as someone born in the Year of the Rabbit I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this association of my animal year with a sexual practice I'm not into. I tend to prefer the association with Bugs Bunny, the rabbit as cunning trickster

Steve said...

Don't worry, Jason, I didn't think real male rabbits have any particular reputation for same sex activity. (Sheep, I've read, can. And let's not mention bonobos.) Actually, as I commented last year when I posted about my (very memorable) visit to "Rabbit Island" in Japan, I was a little surprised in retrospect that despite vistas of scores of rabbits on the grass, I never saw any taking part in sexual activity. Maybe they keep that to burrows?

Steve said...

Gee, look what Googling can bring up. A very bizarre sounding study from Spain, I think:

"Analysis of sexual behaviour in male rabbits across successive tests leading to sexual exhaustion"