'Cut Sleeve'

'Cut Sleeve' is a representation of the legend of the cut sleeve. A notorious legend of love and passion between emperor and lover: the emperor cuts his sleeve to avoid the waking of his sleeping paramour.

The legend of the cut sleeve is one of the most timelessly famous of queer symbols in China. Although, by the very nature of the term ‘as legend has it’, there is little means to evidence the complete factuality of stories from such periods. Their timelessness and lasting legacy can sometimes be of equal significance than the narrative itself. In this case, they can be used to note the precedent of the kind of queer love continually present in modern day China, regardless of coetaneous prejudiced legislation and stigma. 

“Ai of Han’s reign has been interpreted by historians as opening the door to court corruption and dynastic crisis. But he is remembered today mostly for a tale of passion and love.”

- Alex Colville

The kernel of the legend comes from a tale of passion and love. The legend sets itself on one specific occasion when Dong Xian fell asleep in the arms of the Emperor. When Emperor Ai was called to attend duties, conscious of his lover resting aside him, Ai simply cut off his sleeve. Rather than wake the sleeping Xian, Ai slid himself from beneath his resting lover. By most accounts, the emperor spent his life entirely in love with Xian, perhaps leading to the long lasting legacy of the story of the cut sleeve. His relationship with Ding Xian is referred to as “the passion of the cut sleeve” and is recognised by traditional historians as being one shared between homosexual lovers. 

Following the mark of love from Emperor Ai, the “cut sleeve” became a common euphemism for homosexual men throughout the dynasties. Homosexual stories became entitled “Records of the Cut Sleeve” and police labelled homosexual behaviour as “predilection of the cut sleeve.”.

“Favours of the cut sleeve are generous. Love of the half-eaten peach never dies,”

-Liu Zun

The gentle sacrifice of the tale laments the notoriety of small gestures of love and passion within a paradigm aligned by contrary norms, values and social codes. Legend such as these are often bound to survive through the thorny cloth of time for the sensitivity of their gesture; they speak of rich passions without the mention of explicit exploits which may have been less successful at subverting the gates of the offensive, unspeakable or erased. 

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