“The pleasure of the bitten peach,” a flowery Chinese slang term for homosexuality, comes from the cautionary tale of Mizi Xia, semi-legendary courtier to the Duke Ling of Wei. Mizi Xia earned the Duke’s favor through his beauty and was consequently given leeway to break rules (such as borrowing the Duke’s carriage without permission so he could visit his ailing mother) that would have resulted in brutal punishment for anyone else. On one occasion Mizi Xia was praised for sharing an especially delicious peach he had already started eating with the Duke, giving rise to the above euphemism. Tragically, as Mizi Xia grew older the Duke’s attraction to him faded, and his old acts of filial piety and generosity that had won him approval were spun as evidence of wrongdoing. The moral of the story? Fickle rulers must be handled with care.
Mizi Xia may or may not have existed, but his story captured the imaginations of generations of Chinese writers. As the cultural context around courtiers changed his name gradually became associated with male prostitutes, finally shifting into a taboo as China’s opinions on homosexual relationships grew more disapproving.