The Statutory Woman

An honest comment for my first novel My Splendid Concubine gave me the idea for this post on the history of the changing attitudes of when a female child becomes a woman. The comment said, “The girls (the two concubines in the story) were younger than 15, for goodness sake. I had a hard time getting past that.”

According to Live, “A woman can get pregnant and have a baby as soon as she begins ovulating, or producing eggs. This typically occurs about a year after they first begin menstruating, which for North American women, usually happens between the ages of 11 and 12.”

But according to the law in the United State, a female child isn’t legally a woman until age 16, 17 or 18 depending on which U.S. state you live in.

But the age of consent laws in China in the middle of the 19th century, the time period of My Splendid Concubine, that was based on a real-life story, were not the same as they are today, and China is not the United States.

To understand the difference between now and then, today in the People’s Republic of China, the age of consent for sexual activity is 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. In Hong Kong, it is 16 and 17 in Macau.

In fact, “Depictions of ‘child-romance’ in ancient or modern Chinese literature are not difficult to find. They include passages on joyous heterosexual or homosexual activities by children as young as 12 to 13 years old with one another or with adults. Children are usually described as natural sexual beings and erotic stimulation and sex-play are seen as beneficial to their healthy development (Chen 2000). … For most of Chinese history, the minimum marriage age suggested by the government had ranged between 12 and 16.” – Department of Psychiatry, University of Hong Kong

What about the United Kingdom around the time period of my historical novel? In 1875, a concern that young girls were being sold into brothels caused Parliament to change the age of consent to 13. Prior to that, the age of consent was 12.

However, in the United States in 1875, each state determined its own criminal laws and the age of consent ranged from 10 to 12 years of age. It would not be until after the 1930s that the term jailbait came into use in America as the age of consent laws changed.

I could have sanitized My Splendid Concubine and made both Ayaou and her sister Shao-mei much older to fit the politically correct attitudes of today, but that would have been historically incorrect. Sterling Seagrave in his book Dragon Lady, the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China, wrote, “He (Robert Hart) had just turned twenty. Ayaou was barely past puberty but was wise beyond her years.”

If Ayaou, one of the concubines in the novel, was barely 14, then there was only a six-year gap between the two, while Hart’s arranged marriage to a young Irish woman named Hester Jane Bredon a decade later sees the gap double to twelve years when he was thirty and she was eighteen. Seagrave says, “He (Hart) sought a wife as straightforwardly as he had bought a concubine.” After returning to Ireland for a brief stay in 1866, Robert proposed marriage to Hester five days after he met her. The courtship lasted three months before they were married.

Should authors ignore historical fact and rewrite history to reflect the moral sensitivities of today’s readers?

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

A1 on March 13 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel

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4 Responses to The Statutory Woman

  1. Isham Cook says:

    It’s unfortunate the US has increasingly since the 1990s been caught up in an extreme, hysterical social anxiety concerning the “age of consent,” with more and more States creeping up to 18 (I wonder if they’ll soon make it 21), and punishing relatively minor violators (e.g. 18-year olds who have consensual sex with 17-year olds) ever more severely. Even the “Romeo” laws no longer apply in some States (according to a current shocking article in the New Yorker), and children of any age can be prosecuted for sexual offenses or abuse of children younger than them (this would apply to, say, innocent sex play between young teens or children as young as 9 or 10); and these convicted children can be put on the sex offenders public registry for years or their whole life, ruining their life, for benign, natural sexual behavior they engaged in during their early years. It will make authors think twice about writing fiction (even historically accurate fiction like Lloyd’s novel), for fear of potentially being singled out for child porn, if any characters engaging in sexual activity under any circumstances are under 18. It’s unfortunate that readers often lack the historical awareness to understand these bizarre developments and project their own anxiety — and channel the State’s anxiety — onto perfectly legitimate fiction such as Lloyd’s novel in this derogatory manner. Only in the US is this madness happening; in no other country would this ever be an issue.

    • Case in point – the most recent 1-star review of My Splendid Concubine, a novel based on a true story where I turned to the main character’s own journals and letters to guide me while writing this story.

      Loves to Read (who doesn’t seem to read much when you check out the page for all their reviews) wrote, “Couldn’t get past the first few pages as I found the content to be offensive and in poor taste. There is much better out there.”

      If you click on the link to this reviewer’s page and scroll through the books and items reviewed, you will find a coffee mug for a Dog Lover, a review for a bag of cookies, old fashioned rolled oats, luggage, dishes, etc. One of the 5-star book reviews was for a gluten free recipe book for school lunches.

      There is no sex in the first few pages of My Splendid Concubine. In fact, there is no sex for the first several chapters. But the main character, based on what he wrote in his own journals, thinks about having sex with the Chinese girls and women he sees who are not biological children. However, in the first chapter during his first few days in China while staying in Hong Kong before sailing to Shanghai, he is urged by a young Chinese boy, working in the British consulate, to buy a concubine to keep him warm at night—as Robert Hart described in his own journals.

      This tragic trend in the U.S. started before 1990 under GOP President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and accelerated under GOP resident Reagan in the 1980s when the private sector, for profit, prison industry was born—an industry that has lobbied for decades to increase the laws and prison sentences that leads to more profits. Before these two GOP presidents, the US had an annual prison population less than 300,000. Today the U.S. has the largest prison population on the planet with almost 2.4 million locked up in prisons and even more serving jail time. It’s estimated that about 13 million are locked up in local jails annually.

      The country with the second largest prison population is China but China has almost five times the people and still locks up about 1.6 million people or several hundred thousand less than the so-called Land of the Free that a total nut case called Donald Trump, one of several scary GOP psychopaths running for president, wants to make America Great Again. But what does Trump mean by GREAT—he never explains what he means by that? In fact, he seldom explains any of his claims that are often found to be exaggerated lies impossible to do as President with the U.S. Constitution that guides the government of this country. Fact check sites list his lies and his truths and he lies more than 90% of the time. Yet, Donald Trump is currently winning the race to become the GOP candidate to run for president in 2016. The U.S. is on the fast track to become a third world country led by Puritan lunatics who base life on profits for the few, low wages for workers and no benefits for most Americans.

      • Isham Cook says:

        Yep. I agree with you on all of this Lloyd. Trump is an opportunist; he’ll say anything to get elected, and he doesn’t seem to believe in anything except himself and his wealth. But he’s appealing to a lot of very ignorant people, a lot of young people who have no perspective or experience on anything. He’s tapping into all this so-called “anger” and “rage” out there, yet when you try to understand what people are supposed to be angry about, it’s just smoke and mirrors. If Trump really is elected, then people will start having a lot of reasons to be angry–at the consequences of electing a demagogue and proto-fascist.

      • Thump is not as disturbing as the millions of registered Republicans who are voting for Trump in the primaries. Is this a warning that a majority of Amreican citizens are ready to throw away their republic and democracy and turn it over to a dictator, a strong man who will ruthlessly cleanse our society of those he doesn’t approve of and deliver on his outrageous and autocratic, racist promises and claims? A former friend I have known since I was a child, someone who has been seduced by the dark side of the GOP, libertarian, born again Christian faction that wants to control how the rest of us live our lives, said as much — that it was time to let a billionaire fix America and “Make America Great Again”. We haven’t shared any e-mails since. My reply was the title of a piece published by Mother Jones Magazine, “It’s the Inequality, Stupid,” and I provided the link. His answer was that I’d called him stupid and our friendship, that was already on shaky ground due to his constant opinionated preaching that he couldn’t’ support with facts from reputable sources, was over—obvious evidence he didn’t bother to click the link or see the quote marks around the name of the title.

        This YouTube video makes the same case that my former friend ignored as he focused on one word and then decided to become outraged.

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