Sex is NOT Important

My wife, daughter and I saw “Chinglish“—a play by David Henry Hwan—on Sunday, September 16 at the Berkeley Rep Theater and we laughed-out-loud many times.

This is not a review of Hwan’s play as much as it is about how different cultures find common behaviors hard wired in our DNA to make connections.

Back to “Sex in NOT Important”, the title of this Post. Of course sex is important, but for thirty-two years, I kept telling myself it wasn’t. My reason for thinking this had nothing to do with sex but more to do with lust and how dangerous out-of-control lust might be.  For example, lust has led many a man and women into relationships that do not turn out well. Lust has led to priests/pastors to molest children. Lust is linked to rape. Lust has motivated a few teachers to have sexual affairs with students ruining lives.

Now, thanks to Hawn’s Chinglish, I have changed my mind about the importance of sex.

Before I continue the post, I want to thank Nina Egert, the author of Tracing Anza’s Trail: A Photographer’s Journey; A Place Where the Winds Blow: Men Women Plant New Roots at Oakland’s Original Rancho, and Noguchi’s California: Poetic Visions of a 19th Century Dharma Bum. Without an e-mail from Nina, I probably would have never heard of Chinglish.

After all, the Earth is still a big place and there is a lot going on 24/7.

To summarize Chinglish, this laugh-out-loud play was about Daniel, a former employee of Enron, who almost went to prison with the rest of the crooks. Daniel not only lost his high paying job with Enron but he’s broke due to the legal battle that kept him out of jail.

In a last desperate attempt at success, he goes to China to find customers for his American company (a business that’s been in his family since 1925), but Daniel does not speak a word of Mandarin. At the beginning of the play, he says, “If you are an American, it is safe to assume that you do not speak a single f*****g foreign language.”

That one line tells us how clueless most Americans are when it comes to other cultures.

Chinglish, through humor, teaches us a lesson about the minefield of misunderstanding and manipulation that happens when people of different cultures attempt to do business with each other.

Here’s the synopsis from the Website of the Broadway production of Chinglish: “An American businessman arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contract for his family’s sign-making firm. He soon discovers that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners …”

However, there is another implied theme and that is why sex is important—something all cultures and races have in common that often transcends cultural differences. In the play, Daniel, an unhappily married man has an affair with an unhappily married mainland Chinese woman. Without spoiling the story, this affair provides the link that Daniel needs to succeed in China, and that link is Guanxi.

Early in the play, Daniel’s British interpreter, a man that has lived in China for years and speaks Mandarin fluently, tells him he must stay at least eight weeks to have a chance to develop Guanxi, a system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings. The British interpreter says that for millennia China has survived without a Western legal system of laws, lawyers, courts and judges, and that Guanxi was crucial for China’s success as the longest surviving civilization and culture on the planet.

Hmm, is this a teachable moment? Do we learn something about the Western legal system compared to Guanxi?

Without understand how Guanxi works, Daniel struggles to cross the cultural divide but fails until he has the sexual affair with the wife of a Chinese judge. The sexual attraction and lust that led to the affair opens the door to the Guanxi network of his lover and her husband.

To discover what happens, you may want to see the play or wait for the movie, which I was told is in production and will stay faithful to the play. The last performance for Chinglish at the Berkeley Rep will be October 21, 2012.  Then it will appear at the South Coast Repertory January 25 – February 24, 2013 in Orange County, California before moving to Hong Kong March 1 – 6, 2013.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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6 Responses to Sex is NOT Important

  1. Staff says:

    would love to be able to twitter you….hope you look into it! Thanks for the great information….

  2. OK, I have to admit it. That was one of the best title lures I’ve seen in awhile. I don’t know whether it was because I was hoping for help resigning myself to the inevitable, or waiting for the assertion to be disproved. Either way, I hope some day I get to see Chinglish.

    I never thought of Minneapolis as a haven for Chinese – though we have refugees and immigrants from all over – but the cemetery stories I’ve been researching the last few weeks unburied (if you will excuse the pun) a huge Chinese community, including several prominent business leaders. Their very decision to be buried here, rather than sending their remains back to China to be with the ancestors, was in itself an historic moment.

    Thanks for an interesting read, Lloyd.

    • You might be interested in the Chinese cemeteries found in east Africa and on islands off of its east coast dating back centuries.

      Here, in a village of stone huts set amongst dense mangrove trees, Kristof met a number of elderly men who told him that they were descendants of Chinese sailors, shipwrecked on Pate many centuries ago.

      On Lamu Island off the Kenyan coast, local oral tradition maintains that 20 shipwrecked Chinese sailors, possibly part of Zheng’s fleet, washed up on shore there hundreds of years ago. Given permission to settle by local tribes after having killed a dangerous python, they converted to Islam and married local women. … Two places on Pate were called “Old Shanga”, and “New Shanga”, which the Chinese sailors had named. A local guide who claimed descent from the Chinese showed Frank a graveyard made out of coral on the island, indicating that they were the graves of the Chinese sailors, which the author described as “virtually identical”, to Chinese Ming dynasty tombs, complete with “half-moon domes” and “terraced entries

      The Arabic nautical charts of the 15th and 16th centuries show a good knowledge of all the
      coasts and especially of the north of Madagascar. They mention Langany, and Vohemar
      which was flourishing in that period, as can be seen by the number of Chinese imports
      found in its cemeter
      y, probably an evidence of prolonged contacts with southeast Asia via
      the Maldives (Manguin 1993; Beaujard 2003).

      The Chinese, who were already present in Ceylon and on the coasts
      of India at this time, may have also been plying the African coast. They became more
      involved in Indian Ocean trade in the 12th and 13th centuries, once the Southern Sung
      Empire directed its efforts into maritime trade. Chinese books and maps frequently refer
      to the East African coast (Hirth & Rockhill 1911; Needham & Wang Ling 1959: 555;
      Wheatley 1975: 110-111).

      Two Chinese fleets visited Mogadiscio, Barawa and Malindi in 1417 and 1422.
      Chinese pottery is found in many coastal towns in significant amounts, as well as in the
      Comoros and Madagascar, evidence of the growing integration of the world-system and
      of the increasing importance of China in this system.

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