Bi Yuan and Li Guiguan

Posted on October 26, 2010


Born in 1730, Qing-dynasty scholar and bureaucrat Bi Yuan, superintendent of Hunan/Hubei, exchanged vows with opera singer Li Guiguan and the two lived as a married couple (albeit Bi Yuan had female wives as well since having children was a necessary duty for all Chinese men). The relationship started when Bi Yuan was a poor scholar and Li Guiguan a successful opera singer; Li Guiguan supported Bi Yuan and once he became a top candidate in the Chinese civil service examinations and began his career, Li Guiguan was able to retire and was referred to as the Lady of the Imperial Candidate.

The relationship was long remembered and unusual even for traditionally tolerant China with its long history of accepted homosexuality, and in 1857 it became the basis for Chen Sen’s Precious Mirror for Ranking Flowers, the first Chinese gay novel.

Bi Yuan and Li Guiguan and Precious Mirror for Ranking Flowers can be found discussed in Passions of the Cut Sleeve by Bret Hinch on Google Books, here.