Golden Orchid Societies (chin-lan hui) by Stephanie Mathews
Golden Orchid Societies
All female communities were woman took vows of sisterhood.
Existed in the 19 th Century China during the Qing dynasty.
Also known as Golden Orchid Associations or Associations for Mutual Admiration.
These societies were located in the Guangdong province of Southern China.
There are many reason stated by anthropologists for the creation of these communities which include:
Silk Production Factories
Resistance to economic practices.
Resistance to social customs.
Silk Production Families
In the mid 1800’s many women in Southern China worked in silk factories, most factories were manned completely by women. Close bonds were formed between each other in the silk factories and they made it possible for women to become economically independent.
12 th century silk production
Women who worshipped the same deity formed close sisterhoods.
Guan Yin was widely worshipped among the golden orchid community.
Guan Yin was the Goddess of women. Believed to be transgender. Rejects heterosexual marriage to be devoted to the work of the spirit.
Economic & Social Practices
Communities is in China practiced a patrillineal system, where inheritance was passed down from father to son.
Women had no choice in who they would marry. They were pre-arraigned for the family.
Women feeling oppressed by these circumstances rejected the social and economic norms.
Life inside the Golden Orchid
Members became sworn sisters. They were considered shuang chieh-pai (mutually tied by oath). They lived in cooperative households that were financially supportive, and there in times of illness or death.
Sisters took oaths to the goddess Guan yin that they would never marry a man. If they were already married they vowed to no longer live with their husbands.
There were sexual relationships amongst the community. Couples were allowed to take marriage rites, unlike in other non orchid communities couples could adopt and female children were allowed to inherit the property of both parents.
First there was an offering of a gift to an intended partner. Gifts included peanut candy, honey, and other sweets. If the gifts were accepted they were bound to each other. An all night celebration that is attended by family and friends to honor the union. The couple would now live as man and wife.
19 th century bridal dress
One woman’s spiritual explanation of the lesbian relationships: A women may be predestined to marry a certain man. If her husband is reincarnated as a female she is attracted to her predestined mate. (Topley1975) Not all women in the sisterhood engaged in lesbian relationships. There were women amongst the community that lived where it was accepted to reject the oppressive ways of social norms.
In some places there existed Vegetarian halls and Spinster halls.
Vegetarian Halls – places where no men or meat was allowed and they led religious lives.
Spinster Halls – not strict religious residences and no heterosexual contact was allowed.
The end of Golden Orchid Associations
In 1949 with the victory of the Red Army they banned these communities.
Most of the sisters fled.
They fled into the areas of Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan where they existed in migrant communities until the late 20 th century.
People Liberation Army Flag.
Ohana,R., 1998. Golden Orchid Society. Rainbow Rumpus [online] 8, 1998. Available from: http://www.rainbowrumpus.org/html/political09.htm
Blackwood, Evelyn. (2000). Culture and Women’s Sexualities, Journal of Social Issues, Summer Issue.
Garnet, Linda and Kimmel, Douglas C. Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experience . New York: Columbia Press,2003
Wolf, Arthur P. , Martin, Emily, and Ahern, Emily M. Studies in Chinese Society . California: Stanford University Press,1978