A Brief History of the Age of Consent

August 20, 2012

An honest 21st century review of The Concubine Saga at ColReads.com brought up a good subject for a post—the history of the changing attitudes of when a girl becomes a woman (You may want to click on the link to ColReads and read the entire review).

ColReads said, “The girls were younger than 15, for goodness sake. I had a hard time getting past that,” which is understandable when we take into account that in 21st century America the law makes a girl/woman a child until age 14, 15, 16, 17 or 18 depending on which U.S. state you live in (watch the video to discover the age of consent in each U.S. state).

However, the age of consent laws in the middle of the 19th century (the time period of The Concubine Saga, which is based on a real story) were not the same as they are today.

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 in Macau 18.

However, “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 to13 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).” In fact, “For most of Chinese history, the minimum marriage age suggested by the government had ranged between 12 and 16.” Source: Department of Psychiatry, University of Hong Kong

 

For a comparison, in 1875 in the UK, a concern that young girls were being sold into brothels let Parliament 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 law and the age of consent ranged from 10 to 12 years of age. It would not be until after the 1930s that the term “jail bait” came into use in America as the age of consent laws changed.

I could have sanitized The Concubine Saga and made both Ayaou and her sister Shao-mei much older to fit the attitudes of today but then 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 was barely 14, then there was only a six-year age 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. In fact, 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?

This post first appeared on June 15, 2012 at Lloyd Lofthouse.org

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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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The Concubine’s Journey

January 17, 2011

In 1999, I was introduced to two dead people. One was a white guy from Ireland that died a hundred years ago and the other was Ayaou, a Chinese woman that was a mystery since Robert Hart tried to erase her from his personal history.

I’m fortunate that Hart failed and traces of Ayaou survived.

Since I was a child of seven or eight, I’ve been writing stories. They were short with lots of bad drawings.

Soon after I was honorably discharged from the US Marine Corps in 1968, I took my first writing workshop at a community college. Then Ray Bradbury came to the campus to speak and although I never read his work, what he said inspired me to never stop writing.

Although I did receive a few encouraging rejections through the decades and was represented by two or three reputable agents before Amazon.com and eBooks were born, nothing I wrote was picked up by a traditional publisher.

Believing I wasn’t good enough, I decided to learn more of the writing craft by earning a BA in journalism. An MFA with a focus in twentieth century American literature came much later.

Between earning the two college degrees, I drove about 150 miles one day each week for seven years to attend a workshop out of UCLA’s writing extension program.

The teacher was a chain smoker with an explosive tempter but she was sharp and several of the writers in her workshop went on to publish their work. When she felt one of her students was ready, she went all out and even found an agent for the author. She found one for me, but that’s another story.

When I published My Splendid Concubine in 2008, I held my breath wondering if anyone would read it and enjoy the lusty, violent story of Robert Hart and Ayaou in the middle of 19th century China immersed in the smoke of the Opium Wars and the oceans of blood of the Taiping Rebellion.

On May 12, 2009, an Amazon reader, an anonymous person in Hong Kong, posted a one-star review of My Splendid Concubine.

The anonymous reader wrote, “As a great fan of Robert Hart’s, I was very eager to get my hands on this book. And what a huge disappointment it proved to be, for many reasons…”

One of those reasons was a “g” missing from one of five “Tang Dynasties” in the novel.

This one-star review was of the first edition. By the time it appeared on Amazon, the second revised edition was out and some of the anonymous reader’s complaints had been corrected.

In three years, My Splendid Concubine earned three honorable mentions in city book festival literary contests then Our Hart earned another four honorable mentions and became a finalist for a national writing award.

About a year ago, the sequel, Our Hart, was submitted to the 18th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

Recently, an envelope arrived from Writer’s Digest.

Jessica Strawser, the editor of Writer’s Digest, wrote that the competition was particularly fierce this year…

Our Hart didn’t win.


This is the book trailer I produced in 2008 of the first edition of
My Splendid Concubine. My wife has been telling me I need a better one and to delete this version.

 

However, when you enter a book to this Writer’s Digest literary award, a judge writes a commentary of your work and ranks it for plot, grammar, character development, production quality and cover design, which helped dispel the criticism of that one-star review that discovered a missing “g” from one of five “Tang Dynasties” in My Splendid Concubine.

The Writer’s Digest judge, a professional in the publishing industry, awarded grammar a five with five being the highest score.

The judge wrote, “In Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine, author Lloyd Lofthouse has penned an intriguing story set in an ancient Chinese dynasty. Political intrigue and matters of the heart are both fully explored. The book is meticulously researched and the author’s enthusiasm for his subject is evident.… The author has an ear for natural-sounding dialogue, making Our Hart an engaging read.… That said, readers who enjoy vicariously experiencing other times and cultures will find Our Hart a fascinating journey.”

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