Gecko noises and human anxieties

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Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-forty-sixth issue: "The Imagery of House Geckos and Tokay Geckos in Imperial Era Chinese Literature," by Olivia Anna Rovsing Milburn.

Keywords: House geckos; Tokay geckos; Chinese literature; virginity tests; magic; rain-making


This paper explores Chinese literary images of house geckos and tokay geckos. Because house geckos are numerous, widespread, and apt to live close to human beings, they are the lizard species people most often encounter. Literary records of geckos for the two thousand years of the imperial period show that extensive attention has long been paid to them. These citations, however, have focused almost exclusively on the use of dead geckos in magical practices used to determine women's virginity, during which the woman's arms were daubed with either gecko ash or its blood. Accordingly, geckos feature prominently in erotic writings focused on male anxieties about women's sexual experience. Live house geckos, on the other hand, were mentioned only in the context of their role in religious rain-making rituals. They appear in a host of writings as creators of rain (or, less desirably, hail). Tokay geckos, on the other hand, live far from the heartlands of the Chinese world, and thus they came to symbolize travel to remote, exotic regions, where bizarre, unfamiliar creatures made strange, loud noises in the night. Exploring imperial era Chinese writings about house geckos and tokay geckos reveals the extent to which human concerns have been projected onto lizards, to the point that such concerns overshadowed daily observations of these ubiquitous little creatures.


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1 Comment

  1. John J Chew said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 1:05 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I sent it to the one person I knew who is interested in geckos, the history of magic, and East Asian studies. You probably know many more. :)

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