Homosexuality was common among royals in ancient China. The first two centuries of the Han dynasty were ruled by emperors who were “openly bisexual,” as they still had a wife, according to the scholarly paper, “In Han Dynasty China, Bisexuality was the Norm,” and the book, Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China by Bret Hinsch.
Here are some of the emperors who were in a same-sex relationship:
Emperor Gao and Emperor Hui
Emperor Gao lived a peasant life but became the first emperor to rule the Han dynasty after a revolt overthrew the Qin dynasty. He and his successor, Emperor Hui, “started the Han custom of emperors favoring officials willing to employ their sexual talents,” according to Hinsch.
Not much was said about their male lovers, Ji and Hong, respectively, aside from the fact that they won them over with their looks and graces.
Emperor Wen was the son of Emperor Gao. Like his father and his stepbrother, he was said to be engaged in a same-sex relationship with Deng Tong.
Deng Tong had no exceptional talent whatsoever but managed to become one of the emperor’s favorites after appearing in his dreams. He lived a life of luxury as the emperor rewarded him with lots of gifts and fortune. Unfortunately, he was stripped of his wealth after the emperor passed away, and he died poor.
The relationship of Emperor Ai and Dong Xian, who lived during the Han dynasty, is quite popular among people even today. Their romance created the Chinese euphemism, 断袖之癖 (Duàn xiù zhī pǐ) or “the passion of the cut sleeve,” which implies intimacy between two men. It was derived from an encounter between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian.
It may not be surprising that Emperor Ai still had an empress by his side, as an heir was still required. Dong Xian, however, already had kids with his wife. Nevertheless, the entire household benefitted from his affairs with the emperor since they, including the slaves, were given higher ranks and monetary incentives. He even allowed him to move to the imperial palace grounds with his wife and kids.
The emperor wanted to leave the throne to Dong Xian, but the court decided that this was too much. Thus, when he died, Dong Xian and his wife were forced to kill themselves.