It seems that the erotic arts of ancient China, first brought to the attention of the European audience via the efforts of Marco Polo who wrote about the Chinese emperor’s harem in his “Book of the Marvels of the World”, had a lot to do with matters much less frivolous than the pursuit of pleasure.
The study of Chinese treatises on erotic practices by Western scholars, which began in earnest around the middle of the 20th century, quickly revealed that a lot of said practices dealt with the exchange of energies, Yin and Yang, during intercourse, and its effect on health and longevity, with one legend even alleging that the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, attained immortality after having sex with some 1,200 women in total.
"When it comes to sexual arts in China, it’s first and foremost about medicine – there was no other aspect", said Aleksey Maslov, professor of the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics’ School of Asian Studies. "Paradoxically, it was believed that sex was needed for healing, not pleasure; it was a purely instrumental approach".
That said, the pleasures of the flesh certainly weren’t completely out of the equation in this sphere, though pleasure was often regarded as an indicator of whether certain "exercises" were performed correctly.
Furthermore, the woman was regarded as medicine, with every "malady" requiring a certain "cure", and with each stage of an "illness" necessitating a proper "concentration" of the remedy.
"Erotic technique was described as the administering of medication: when, how much, and how one was to act before and after", Maslov remarked. "Essentially, it was a prescription".