The Complex Evolution of Sex in China

October 10, 2012

A Guest Post by Richard Burger of The Peking Duck

One of the questions I hear the most is whether the Chinese people’s attitude toward sex is conservative or open-minded. And the answer is that it’s complicated.

First, there is more than one China: there’s rich China and poor China, urban and rural China, young China and older China.

Generalizations are tricky, and there always have to be qualifiers. It’s safe to say that in the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai people are far less hung up than they were about sex twenty years ago.

Even in most of the second-tier cities you’ll find gay bars, sex shops, young couples holding hands and a lot of young people finding one-night stands over the Internet.

Sexologist Li Yinhe estimates that more than 50 percent of young urban Chinese have premarital sex, something that was unheard of thirty-five years ago. In the countryside that number is probably far lower, but most young people are leaving their rural hometowns to find work in the larger cities.

At the same time, however, traditional Chinese beliefs still hold sway over many of these young people.

For example, sex is not something you talk about openly.

In addition, when it comes time to choose a spouse, nearly all young Chinese will include their parents in the process, striving to make it a family decision.

Many if not most husbands still place a high premium on virginity and expect to see blood on the sheets the night of their honeymoon. This attitude is so fixed that every year hundreds of thousands of Chinese women have an operation to restore their hymens, or buy inexpensive artificial hymens that seep artificial blood.

This is an anomaly: more Chinese young people are having premarital sex yet men still expect their wives to be virgins.

China is in a tug of war between its conservative past and the lure of Western-style sexual freedom.

Looking at the trends and how quickly China’s sexual revolution has progressed, I would have to predict that sexual openness and tolerance will increase, and eventually China will shake off the vestiges of the sexual puritanism that prevailed under Mao.

However, for now, sex remains a touchy subject, even in the cities. Sex education, for example, is mandatory but often biology teachers who are supposed to teach it are too squeamish and simply skip to the next chapter. When they do teach this subject, the focus is on biology and anatomy, with little or no reference to contraception or sexual morality, such as the woman’s right to say no.

Here, too, there are signs of improvement in the larger cities, but it is very slow going. Sex remains a taboo subject that most Chinese are not comfortable discussing outside of their bedroom.

Discover more of China’s Sexual Revolution

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China’s sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 2/2

May 29, 2012

In the first 122 pages of Country Driving, Peter 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 wrote there are amateur experts (we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China) that have proven through historical research that the wall did work.

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 making friends and becoming involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the CCP (there are only about 80 million members in China) and then 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 hours of work but 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 with today by reading such books as 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 human.

Today, about 13% live in severe poverty and those people mostly live in remote, rugged, difficult to reach areas of China.  The lifespan is now about 73 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 fifteen years (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 perspective.

Return to Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 1

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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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Harlequin Romance Invades China – a guest post by Tom Carter

April 30, 2012

Growing up in a rural, slate-roofed village deep in the countryside of southeast China, the only English books my Chinese wife had to read back then were a brittle copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and a set of Harlequin novels.

Yes, I’m talking about Harlequin, those pulpy paperbacks found on revolving wire racks at supermarket checkout aisles across North America and the UK. Their enticing cover art – usually, nay, always featuring shirtless, square-jawed men hovering millimeters away from the glistening-red lips of a damsel in distress – and formulaic flirt/fight/fall-in-love storylines mercilessly targeted housewives and secretaries longing for a 200-page escape from the dirty diapers and pot-bellied husbands of their mid-life realities.

As it turns out, it was by reading books like “Stormy Voyage” by Sally Wentworth and Roberta Leigh’s “Two-Timing Man” (bought used for 7 RMB out of a sidewalk vendor’s book cart), amongst other Harlequin classics, that my wife managed to teach herself English (which explains her tendency to throw her head back dramatically whenever we kiss).

Curious how Harlequin, the forbidden fruit of literature, could be found anywhere in a Communist republic that has the world’s most strict state-sponsored vetting process for publications, I was surprised to learn that in 1995 (about when my fiancée found her copies) Harlequin received official, red star-stamped permission to place half a million copies of twenty titles in Mandarin and a quarter-million copies of ten English versions on the shelves of Xinhua.

Harlequin’s stated goal: “to bring romance to millions of Chinese Women.”

A China.org article on the increasing popularity of romance books in the P.R.C. concurred with Harlequin’s audacious move: “Chinese women today have new demands for their Prince Charming: first, he must be powerful and distinguished…next, he must have unlimited financial resources.”

Wosai! No wonder China has become home to the world’s highest surplus of single men!

Harlequin, which puts out 1,500 new titles annually in over 100 international markets, has yet to think up a romance set in present-day China (Possible storyline: wealthy, second-generation Beijing businessman seduces sexy xiaojie with his shiny black Audie, pleather man-purse and a thick stack of redbacks; he agrees to save her Anhui village from being bulldozed by corrupt cadres if she will become his kept woman.).

Until that day, we will have to entertain ourselves with stories set in China’s olden times starring princesses and concubines.

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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.

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Note: This guest post first appeared December 8, 2010


The Power of e-bikes and Public Debate in China

April 16, 2012

If you have been led to believe that the Chinese people do not have a voice in China, think again. It may not be a voice expressing political opinions, but it is a voice.

One example of the power of those voices happened December 2009 and had to do with electric bikes. When new regulations threatened to restrict the use of e-bikes and ban them from public roads, opposition from the e-bike industry and bike riders stopped the regulations in their tracks.

Tim Snaith said, “I’m not surprised that Chinese riders are up in arms. A huge amount of the population rely on electric bikes on a daily basis in a way that UK riders don’t.”  Source: Bike Radar.com

Adrienne Mong of NBC News said, “The news triggered a heated debate that was played out all over the Chinese-language media and on the Internet. Eventually, the government backed down, and it’s been left up to industry groups to figure out new guidelines.” Source: Gr-r-r-r! Why I hate China’s e-bikes

When we visit China, we mostly walk (long distances), take taxis or use the subways, but I have admired the electric bikes that crowd China’s streets.

However, don’t count on us changing how we get around when in China, since many of the drivers in China drive crazy. The crowded urban streets behave more like an NFL game in the Super Bowl. I’ve often observed that red lights at intersection are ignored and crossing any street and sometimes even using sidewalks is risky and the only thing lower in the food chain than an electric bike are pedestrians risking lives as they cross streets even legally in a crosswalk.

That e-bike debate sounds similar to America where public debates often have an impact on government policy since the majority rules. Well, in theory the majority rules, since in America the majority is often ignored while we constantly hear from loud minorities such as the Tea Party or Occupy Movement, PETA, or the Million Woman March, which has only a few thousand members.

It also doesn’t help that about half of eligible voters in the U.S. seldom or never vote and the U.S. president is not elected by the popular vote but by a few hundred loyal party members (Republican and/or Democratic) in the Electoral College.

However, back in China, more than two years after the e-bike protest, Tea Leaf Nation reported on February 23, 2012 about a weibo Blog that was deleted by Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging platform, but what was deleted was soon restored thanks to widespread outrage and threats that the majority of Chinese would switch to Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, the Reuters Institute ran a piece about the power of the Chinese netizen and how microblogging is changing Chinese journalism. Zhou Kangliang, a Chinese journalist, concludes that “as Chinese online microblogging services grow and traditional journalism grows with them, it is learning from lessons and experience…”

In fact, The Washington Post reported, “In a country where most media are controlled by the state, information is heavily censored and free-flowing opinions are sharply constricted, Chinese have turned to a new platform to openly exchange unfettered news and views: microblogs, similar to Twitter.”

Xie Gengyun, a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University, recently completed a report on microblogging and said weibo is the most popular choice for trustworthy information, ahead of newspapers, online forums and blogs.

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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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Note: This edited and revised post first appeared on April 29, 2010


Americans doing Business in China – Part 12/16

March 3, 2012

Note from Blog host — another example of East meets West through business and trade: China Tour Online.com says of Pizza Hut in Shanghai, “Good dining environment and palatable pizza with tasty side dishes. It is always crowded during dining time, you need to wait in line. The recommended food include pizza, roast chicken wing, clam soup and cakes.”

WeninChina.com says, “Pizza Hut entered (China) in 1990 and has steadily grown to 520 restaurants in 2011.”

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Guest Post by Bob Grant — publisher/editor for Speak Without Interruption, an international online magazine.

(Note: The photos included with this guest post are from my collection. Click on Originally Published to see more from Bob Grant.)

One of the aspects of my trips to China, that I truly enjoyed, was seeing all of the flowers, greenery, and gardens along the way. I wanted to specifically mention this fact, and state, the photos you might have seen of typical Chinese landscapes are true.

In fact, there were many more beautiful sights – of plants and flowers – than I had anticipated. I saw them in cities – in the country – in hotels – in restaurants – in offices – and other places too numerous to mention. Our office was in southern China – with a tropical climate – so there were flowers and greenery there any time of the year I visited.

As you go farther north, in China, there are the four seasons; however, even when it was too cold for outdoor plants there were many indoor ones wherever I went.

I do not enjoy planting or maintaining plants but I certainly like looking at them. The growing scenery I saw in China always gave me a feeling of tranquility.

I had once thought about buying a condo in Shenzhen so I could stay longer when I visited. One of the condos had a small patio (this was a multistoried condo building) and each patio came with a beautifully planted garden with flowers, plants, and trees. It was a place where I would have enjoyed going every evening and just sitting. It was covered so I could have enjoyed it in most types of weather.

Because I never stayed in the Western type hotels – rather staying where my Chinese associates stayed – I was treated to a unique insight on how some of the Chinese population lived.

Some of the hotels – where I stayed – were literally right next to apartment buildings. I could actually look out my window into those apartments.

I can’t say that I saw anything “personal” in nature but I did get to see how some Chinese decorated their apartments and balconies. I could also see the gardens many planted on the rooftops of their apartment buildings. Staying in those places certainly gave me even more appreciation of the Chinese people in that I saw a side of their lives that most “Westerners” would never see unless they stayed in places where I stayed.

I will always have fond memories of the many beautiful things I saw growing in China – it is a picture that will remain with me forever.

Note from Blog host – If you plan to do business in China, I recommend visiting the China Law Blog first.

Continued March 4, 2012 in Americans working in China – Part 13 (a guest post) or return to Part 11

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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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Note:  This guest post first appeared on March 17, 2010


Americans doing Business in China – Part 11/16

March 2, 2012

Note from Blog host — another example of East meets West through business and trade: Sexy Beijing says they are an “Internet TV station run by an in-house production team. We also work with a handful of contributors in the editing room and on productions. Our shows have also aired on NBC in Los Angeles, Hunan TV, China Educational TV, and many other stations around China as well as conferences around the world… From the BBC to CNN.com to Hunan Satellite TV, Sexy Beijing has been glowingly covered on television, radio and in print, in both the English-language and Chinese media.”

New Yorker.com says, “Sexy Beijing’s creator is Anna Sophie Loewenberg (Note: she graduated from University of California at Santa Cruz with a BA in Literature and went on to earn a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Sophie arrived in China in 1996). She is the star and producer of ‘Sexy Beijing,’ an online series of sly, knowing videos about a hapless, curious foreigner which has proved popular among expats, language students, and mainland Chinese.”

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The following guest post was originally published by Bob Grant, publisher/editor, at  Speak Without Interruption.

(Note: There are more photos at the original site. The Nanjing Road photo here does not appear at Speak Without Interruption.)

Wherever people normally congregate in groups—shopping areas, elevators, subways, airports, city streets, and the like—there are a lot more people in China congregating in those same places. Again, I can only use my own experiences – in these types of crowds in China – but I was amazed how tolerant people were of each other.

In some cases I was squeezed to the people next to me so closely that I could almost feel their hearts beating. In these situations – personal space was at zero.

I was crammed into a subway once and could literally stand – without holding on to anything – because we were packed so close together (not that I really had anything to hold on to anyway). The exit from this subway was orderly and people were polite to each other – and me. At our stop, we had to ask people to move, which was difficult for them, but we got off with no problems or delays.

Normal crowd for Nanjing Road in Shanghai

I am not certain the Chinese people have a choice living – and working – among that many other people. However, I saw it as another attribute of China and its people.

As a “Westerner” I could have easily been accosted by anyone in these large crowds as most of the time I was the only non-Chinese among them. But this never happened. No one stared at me or otherwise acknowledged me as anything other than one of them.

Perhaps I am reading too much into these situations, but I will go with my feelings here and believe this is a nation of extremely tolerant individuals.

Places I went did not always have these types of crowds, but in the locations where large crowds congregated, I was always impressed by the politeness of my fellow “Crowdies”. I can’t say the same for other crowds, in which I have found myself, in the US and other parts of the world. I think China is unique in this area and its people have Tolerance to Infinity.

Note from Blog host – If you plan to do business in China, I recommend visiting the China Law Blog first.

Continued March 3, 2012 in Americans doing Business in China – Part 12 (a guest post) or return to Part 10

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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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Note:  This guest post first appeared on March 13, 2010


Americans doing Business in China – Part 9/16

February 29, 2012

Note from Blog host — another example of East meets West through business and trade: Higher education is a business, and the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities reached 723,277 during the 2010-11 academic year.  China, the top country of origin for international students, sent 157,558 undergraduate and graduate students to America, up 23% from the previous year.

International students and their dependents contributed more than $20 billion to the U.S. economy that academic year. For Chinese students, that means about $4.4 billion came from China.

Ann Stock, assistant secretary of the US State Department says, “Young people who study abroad gain the global skills necessary to create solutions to 21st-century challenges. In turn, international students globalize our campuses and communities.” SOURCE: USA Today

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Guest Post by Bob Grant — publisher/editor for Speak Without Interruption, an international online magazine.

On October 1, 1949 the People’s Republic of China was formally established in a speech given by Mao Zedong from the Imperial Gate at Tiananmen Square. I stood at the very spot where Mao gave his speech and took a photo. From speaking with people – in China – who lived through his reign it was beyond believable. What he put his people through is an unforgivable act of power and brutality.

However, it is images from Mao’s era that some – outside of China – still have of the Chinese people. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I never met a Chinese government official – did not even see one at least that I can recall. What I did meet were the people of China – the people with whom I had my business and personal interactions. I did not ask them questions about their government nor did they ask questions of mine.

The only political statement that I ever heard was a reference that China’s policy would probably change when the younger generation came into power, someday.

In meetings, over two years ago, I heard about the oil pipeline being built directly from Iran to China. None of the people in that meeting expressed an opinion one way or the other regarding this pipeline. It was a decision the Chinese government made.

Maybe my associates did not approve of dealing with Iran—maybe they did? The point being here is their government made this decision—not my associates.

Whether the officials in power in the US are republican or democrat, they have all made decisions of which I don’t agree. They did not consult me or ask my opinion—am I my government in these situations?

The point I am trying to make is that I found the Chinese people I met just like me in a lot of respects. I enjoyed doing business with them – learning their culture – and becoming their friend. No government – or its actions – is ever going to change that for me!

Note from Blog host – If you plan to do business in China, I recommend visiting the China Law Blog first.

Continued March 1, 2012 in  Americans doing Business in China – Part 10 (a guest post) or return to Part 8

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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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Note:  This guest post first appeared on March 9, 2010