“Dual Cultivation” is mentioned in many Chinese cultivation novels. But what exactly is it? And what are these “Cauldrons” or “Furnaces” sometimes mentioned alongside it?
Just based on the context provided in the novels, it’s easy to get a general idea of what Dual Cultivation entails. However, the concept of Cauldrons is usually a little more difficult to grasp.
Interestingly, these two terms are closely linked and have real-world history behind them. This article will hopefully shine some light on their origin and meanings.
Dual Cultivation (双修) is also commonly translated as “Pair Cultivation” or “Paired Cultivation“.
The term is actually related to ancient Daoist sexual practices.
According to Yin & Yang philosophy, women are primarily Yin and men are primarily Yang. Yin & Yang are opposites, but they are also deeply complementary. They mutually support each other and give birth to new things as they intermingle.
Naturally, this was seen as an allegory for the relationship between men and women. And if the intermingling of Yin and Yang is so beneficial, then what about the “intermingling” of men and women? Basically, some Daoists came to believe that sex could be used to exchange and strengthen vital energies. Sex could actually be a unique form of cultivation – Dual Cultivation!
It wasn’t all rosy, unfortunately. While dual cultivation was generally considered to be mutually beneficial for both parties, that wasn’t always the case. The practice of Caibu in dual cultivation was very predatory, for example.
Caibu (采补) can be translated as “Plucking to Nurture”. The idea was that a person could greatly increase their cultivation by plundering the vital energies of their partner during sex. A male doing this to his female partner (as was usually the case) was said to be “Plucking Yin to Nurture Yang” (采阴补阳). It added a connotation of rape to dual cultivation, since it was victimizing and especially since young girls were seen as prime targets to “plunder”.
The victims of this practice were often dehumanized. They were little more than objects to be exploited. They were… Cauldrons (鼎).
In Chinese cultivation novels, cauldrons and pill furnaces are tools commonly used by alchemists to make medicinal pills & elixirs. I’ve seen many readers become confused, therefore, when the novels occasionally mention humans being used as cauldrons or furnaces. It just doesn’t make much sense, intuitively.
In brief, the difference is that an External Alchemist takes external objects (such as herbs and minerals) and refines them in a cauldron to make miraculous medicine. Historically, their goal was to produce the Elixir of Life. Meanwhile, an Internal Alchemist uses their own body as a cauldron to refine vital energies (rather than objects) internally in order to cultivate. Historically, their goal was to produce the Golden Elixir (金丹) – known in cultivation novels as the Golden Core.
From this, we can see that Cultivators / Internal Alchemists imagine the human body as a cauldron, and it can be used to refine vital energies for cultivation. It then becomes clear why Caibu practitioners called their victims “cauldrons”! The bodies of the victims were being used as mere tools for cultivation.
In novels, the term Human Cauldron (炉鼎 / 鼎炉) is more commonly translated as simply “Furnace” or “Cauldron“. I much prefer “Human Cauldron”, however, because it makes it easier for readers to distinguish between the alchemist tools and the victims of malicious dual cultivation. I saw this in Demon’s Diary, so kudos to the translator (Goodguyperson)!
“Dual Cultivation” is essentially a man and a woman cultivating together by having sex, and it’s related to the philosophy of Yin & Yang.
However, some authors of cultivation novels use the concept without the sexual aspect.
World of Cultivation is an example of this. At one point in the novel, the main character (who cultivates Yang-attribute divine power) meets a woman (who cultivates Yin-attribute divine power). When they cultivate in close proximity to each other, it creates a “resonance” which makes cultivation easier and more effective for both of them.
There are other novels which do something similar. It’s basically a PG-13 version of Dual Cultivation.
“Human Cauldrons” are victims who are drained of their vital energies by a malicious person. This is normally done through Dual Cultivation (sex).
But again, some novels use a PG-13 version of the concept. It might instead be portrayed as some kind of evil ritual or vampiric draining technique, for example.