There is a Sexual Revolution Taking Place in China.

November 28, 2017

A review of “Behind the Red Door” by Richard Burger
Review by Tom Carter

Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of taboo topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd.  Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don’t seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger’s new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best known for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China’s longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and, ahem, no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang.  Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty – recognized as China’s cultural zenith – which Burger’s research surmises is no mere coincidence.


In this video, “The sexual revolution in China is underway, but not without its contradictions. The ‘sexless China’ over three decades ago is long gone, but gays still enter sham marriages, some women have hymen restorations before their weddings, and some men have a second ‘wife’ or a mistress. In an interview with Xinhua, Richard Burger, author of ‘Behind the Red Door: Sex in China,’ explains the ongoing Chinese sexual revolution.”

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only “for the purpose of producing heirs.”  As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work.  But in typical fashion, laws were taken too far; within 20 years, China under Mao became a wholly androgynous state.

We then transition from China’s red past into the pink-lit present, whence prostitution is just a karaoke bar away, yet possession of pornography is punishable by imprisonment – despite the fact that millions of single Chinese men (called bare branches) will never have wives or even girlfriends due to gross gender imbalance.

Burger laudably also tackles the sex trade from a female’s perspective, including an interview with a housewife-turned-hair-salon hostess who, ironically, finds greater success with foreigners than with her own sex-starved albeit ageist countrymen.

Western dating practices among hip, urban Chinese are duly contrasted with traditional courtship conventions, though, when it comes down to settling down, Burger points out that the Chinese are still generally resistant to the idea that marriage can be based on love.  This topic naturally segues into the all-but-acceptable custom of kept women (little third), as well as homowives, those tens of millions of straight women trapped in passionless unions with closeted gay men out of filial piety.

Behind the Red Door concludes by stressing that while the Chinese remain a sexually open society at heart, contradictive policies (enforced by dubious statistics) designed to discard human desire are written into law yet seldom enforced, simply because “sexual contentment is seen as an important pacifier to keep society stable and harmonious.”

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2-years across the 33-provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in  China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

This guest post by Tom Carter first appeared in China in City Weekend Magazine. Reblogged with permission of Tom Carter. Behind the Red Door was published by Earnshaw Books.

Tom Carter is married to a Chinese citizen, and he lives and works in China.


Shanghai Love – a book review

June 15, 2016

From the title, Shanghai Love, we already know that Layne Wong’s story is about love in Shanghai, and it doesn’t take long to discover who the two main characters are.

It is 1938, and in chapter one in China we are introduced to Peilin. In chapter two we meet Henri in Nazi Germany.

The love story isn’t what made this novel worth reading. It was the journey the two characters take to find each other. They are both doctors. Henri is Jewish and trained in western medicine. He has to leave his family behind in Germany and flee to China to avoid Hitler’s Nazis who are hunting for him because he dared to love a woman who was not Jewish.

Peilin was trained by her grandfather in Chinese herbal medicine, and by the time Henri meets her, she has already been married to a ghost.

As a young girl, a marriage was arranged to a boy almost twice Peilin’s age, but when he was a young man—before the marriage—he was killed in combat fighting the Japanese who invaded China in July of 1937. By the time Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese in December 1941, China has already been fighting Japan for more than four years. To give you an idea of how horrible it was, by the end of World War II, China had lost ten to twenty million people (troops and civilians) to the war compared to 418,500 for the United States.

One would think with her fiancé dead, Peilin would be free to move on with her life, but no—because in China at the time it was expected that Peilin must still marry the man’s ghost, stay a virgin for life and live with her in-laws who bought a baby for her to raise as if she was its biological mother and the dead man its father.

In addition, the story is set in an era when both the Chinese and Europeans disapproved of interracial relationships. In Germany, there was racism against the Jews. But in China, there is prejudice from some Chinese because Henri is white. In addition, many of the Jewish refugees look down on the Chinese culture and disapprove of Henri spending time with Peilin. It seems that these two can’t win and are fated to be star-crossed lovers.

I recommend reading this story because it offers a reminder of the horrors of war and racism. During World War II, more than 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world that put no limits on the number of Jews it accepted.

Another plot thread that runs through the novel is the focus on Chinese herbal medicine and how different it is from the western concept of medical care. The Chinese were studying advanced medical care long before the West. In fact, Chinese medical tradition is more than 5,000 years old including herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise and dietary therapy—concepts that the West didn’t pay serious attention to until near the end of the 20th century.

I’m not going to tell you how the love story turns out between Henri and Peilin. You’ll have to buy and read the novel to discover what happens.

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.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Stealing the Secrets of Tea Built a Bloody Empire

April 26, 2016

If you are interested in a real-life 19th century collision between the West and China, I highly recommend Sarah Rose’s nonfiction work For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. You will discover that the British Empire and its merchants were successful, because they were more ruthless and devious than anyone else on the Earth.

In fact, you also might be interested in the list of wars that involved the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1701 – 2011. Be prepared for jaw dropping shock if you don’t already know this history, because the price of empire is lots of spilled blood.

At its greatest extent, the British Empire was known as the largest in history, and it covered more than thirteen-million square miles (20,921,472 square kilometers), which is about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area, and it ruled over more than 500 million people—a quarter of the world’s population at the time.

The British Empire spread the English language—not the United States that Donald Trump wants to make great again (whatever that means)—and English is the second most-widely spoken language in the world today  According to Statista.com, 1.5 billion people speak English, and Chinese, ranked second, is spoken by 1.1 billion.

But to make English the most spoken language on the planet, the British Empire became a thief and the largest drug cartel in human history.

In her book Sarah Rose wrote a fascinating story of Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) and one of, if not the largest, acts of corporate espionage and theft in history. Her book is about how the British stole tea plants and the method of producing tea from China and successfully transplanted this industry to India.

For example, if you drink Darjeeling Tea from India, you are drinking a product that was a result of theft from China by Robert Fortune in the early half of the 19th century.

But there is much more to this story than the theft of tea from the country that may have invented it almost five thousand years ago. In fact, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BCE.

First, I want to dispel a misconception I discovered from a two-star Amazon reader review of the book that said, “I was a little skeptical about her comment in the notes ‘As this is a work of popular history, not a scholarly undertaking, I have avoided the use of footnotes and tried to steer clear of mentioning sources in the body of the text. Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction …’ ”

That unfair review left off the rest of Sarah Rose’s quote: “Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction, and anything in quotes comes from a letter, memoir, newspaper or other contemporaneous sources.

“I have relied heavily on Robert Fortune’s four memoires, his letters to the East India Company and other company documents housed in the British Library. Over five hundred books and documents were consulted in putting this project together.” (pg. 251, hardcover)

On page 227 of the hardcover, Rose wrote, “By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them, it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices.”

In addition, “Tea likewise revolutionized Britain’s capital and banking systems and influenced the rapid growth of trade networks in the Far East. It was instrumental in extending the reach of British colonialism as the empire expanded to include countries such as Burma, Ceylon, East Africa and others where tea could be grown …”

On page 178, we learn that, “It was through drug-based commercial enterprises such as the tea and opium trade that Britain became the greatest of all hegemonic empires. The British campaign to sell opium in China was tremendously profitable. … Britain’s all-conquering naval fleet was able to be constantly improved with newly minted capital from the sugar, tea and opium trades. Without opium, the India trade would not have flourished and without India, Britain’s post-Napoleonic global ascendency could well have collapsed.”

These few quotes do not do justice to Robert Fortune’s adventure in China. He successfully passed himself off as a citizen of the Qing Empire dressed in mandarin robes. He even had a queue, a braid of hair worn hanging down behind the head, sewn to his scalp and had his head shaved to match the style of the time.

“He eventfully became proficient enough with speaking Mandarin that he was able to adopt the local dress and move among the populous largely unnoticed. By shaving his head and adopting a ponytail, this rather gruff Scotsman was able to effectively blend in. So well in fact, that he was able to enter the forbidden city of Souchow (now Wuhsien) unchallenged.” Source: Planet Explorers.com

Besides being loaded with facts, this book is also an adventure and/or spy thriller based on a real person and his mission of intrigue—if caught, he would have been executed. To pull off the biggest heist of all time, Fortune traveled to areas of China that no foreigner had ever visited before, and his only companions were Chinese that he had bribed to work for him.

Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world combined– including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol. In fact, China is still the leading tea producer in the world, and in 2010 China produced 1,467,467 tons (32.5% of the world’s tea) compared to second place India at 991,180 tons (21.9%). Third place went to Kenya at 399,000 tons (8.83%).

In addition, consumption of tea in 2010 grew at a faster rate than global production. In the United States alone in 2011, the US tea industry’s gross revenue through all foodservice and retail outlets was greater than $27-billion (and twelve countries consumed more tea than the US). That makes tea more popular than Hollywood, because ticket sales for the US domestic movie market were only $11.1 billion in 2015.

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.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 2 of 2

February 24, 2016

In the first 122 pages of Country DrivingPeter Hessler sets out to drive the entire length of the Great Wall in a rented Chinese made Jeep Cherokee, and he achieves his goal. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians claim it was. Yes, in several thousand years, the wall failed a few times but it served its purpose and did protect China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall but he wrote that there are amateur experts, and we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China.

In Part II, Hessler takes us into a small village a few hours drive outside Beijing where he rents a house and becomes accepted by the insular-rural village community. Along the way, he makes friends and becomes involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the Chinese Communist Party (there are about 80 million CCP members in China) and uses this to his advantage as he continues to improve the quality of his family’s lifestyle.

In Part III, Hessler travels to the city of Winzhou in Southern China where he spends time developing relationships with factory bosses and workers.  In this section, the Chinese people he meets are open and friendly. Hessler sees a side of China that few witness, and it is obvious that the factory workers are not victims because of low pay and long work hours. Instead, they see this new life as an opportunity.


Peter Hessler discussing his novel “Oracle Bones”

When I finished Hessler’s memoir, I walked away feeling as if I had experienced an in-depth taste of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China since Mao’s death in 1976. Since China’s critics mostly focus on the negative, which is the corruption and/or authoritarian one-party system, and never admit the good that the CCP has accomplished, most people would not understand what I discovered.  To understand what I mean, one must compare China before 1949, by reading such books like those written by Hessler and his wife.

Before 1949, more than 90% of the people in China lived in severe poverty, more than 80% were illiterate, the average lifespan was 35, few people owned land, and the risk of death from famine had been an annual threat for more than two thousand years. In fact, most rural Chinese were treated as if they were beasts of burden and not humans.

Today, according to the CIA Factbook, about 6.1% of Chinese live in severe poverty (living on $400 or less annually), and they mostly live in remote, rugged, and difficult to reach areas of China.  The average  lifespan is now 75.4 years and Helen H. Wang writing for Forbes.com (February 2011) reported that China’s middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States and is expected to reach 800 million in by 2026. In addition, no one has died of famine since 1959-1961.

I highly recommend Country Living for anyone that wants to learn more about today’s dramatically changing China from an unbiased and honest perspective.

Return to or start with Part 1

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.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

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Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 1 of 2

February 23, 2016

Most books that I’ve read of China cover its history up to Mao’s death and after 1949, it is difficult to trust almost anything one reads in the West or in China, since most of this work is either biased and/or propagandized in the West or propaganda in China since the mass media is owned by the State.

However, I’m glad that I read Peter Hessler’s memoir of China, Country Driving. Rarely does Hessler intrude with his own Western bias—if there is one—which appears to make a slight appearance near the end. I suspect that his editor at Harper Collins suggested that he add it to the story, and he complied, because the few opinions he expresses near the conclusion of his memoir do not match the experiences that he shares with his readers in the rest of the book. In fact, while reading the book, I grew to trust Hessler’s perspective of today’s China.

It is obvious that Hessler honestly loves/respects China and its people and this infatuation runs throughout the memoir. He also carefully or unintentionally avoids mention of what he thinks about his own culture.

Maybe the reason why he continues to return to China in his writing is because of this infatuation with a culture that values family more than most Western cultures do.  In fact, in the memoir’s acknowledgements, I discovered that Hessler was married to Leslie T. Chang.

Hessler’s wife is the author of Factory Girls, which is also about today’s China. Chang is Chinese-American and a graduate of Harvard. She is also an accomplished journalist and was raised outside New York City by immigrant parents, who forced her to attend Saturday-morning Chinese school.


Leslie Chang discussing her novel “Factory Girls”

Both Peter and Leslie have published work that went on to be honored as New York Times Notable Books.

Much of Hessler’s book was connected to projects he wrote at The New Yorker or National Geographic. The memoir is divided into three sections:  Book I, The Wall; Book II, The Village, and Book III, The Factory.

Throughout the book there is a common theme: the independence and individuality of most Chinese and the failure of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, that’s there but often ignored by most of the people unless they can use the CCP to their own advantage.  That doesn’t mean the propaganda has no influence but the people seldom let it get in their way as they work to improve the quality of their lifestyles.

In fact, it becomes clear in Hessler’s memoir that there are three Chinas: there is rural China, urban China and the Chinese Communist Party and many shades of gray between them.

Continued on February 24, 2016 in Part 2

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.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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