TABOO IS THE NEW NORMAL

October 1, 2012

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.

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.

Also by Tom Carter Eating Smoke — a question and answer with author, Chris Thrall in addition to Harlequin Romance Invades China

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Note: 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


The Music of China – the Erhu

September 25, 2012

An erhu is a Chinese two-stringed instrument similar to a fiddle. The erhu has a thin, slightly reedy sound. Since the erhu is so widely used, foreigners see it as an example of Chinese music.

The erhu

However, once you recognize the sound of an erhu, it can usually be readily picked out from other musical instruments, because it is unique.

The history of the erhu spans more than a thousand years. The first erhu was heard during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

Since the traditional Chinese character for “erhu” indicates it has two strings, the erhu has probably changed little over the centuries. Alternate names for the erhu include huqin or hu, and Westerners sometimes call the instrument a “Chinese violin”.

If you enjoyed learning about and listening to the erhu, discover Mao Wei-Tao’s Chinese Yu Opera

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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 First Cinderella was Chinese

August 7, 2012

Since I wrote about rural children living alone yesterday, I thought I’d write about a fairy tale today and let you know that the first known literary version of Cinderella in the world was published in China.

There is a myth that an earlier version existed in Egypt around the first century. If true, since Egypt did not have printing presses then, this may have been an oral story told around camp fires.

However, in 850 AD during the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese version of Cinderella was about a girl called Yeh-hsien. Source: Tales of Faerie

Although this video claims the Chinese Cinderella had bound feet, according to Bound Feet Women, foot binding didn’t appear in China until the Sung Dynasty (960-1276 AD), more than a century after Cinderella was first published.

The French version of Cinderella wouldn’t be published by Charles Perrault until 1697 — more than eight centuries later.

Another version of Cinderella would appear in 1867 and again in 1894 in England.

In 1945, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow would present the premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet of Cinderella.

Walt Disney wouldn’t publish a version of Cinderella until 1946, more than a thousand years after Cinderella first appeared in China.

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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 post first appeared December 23, 2010


Ancient Feminism in China

February 6, 2012

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia says Feminism is a social movement that seeks equal rights for women.

The dates the Britannica throws out are the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which called for full legal equality with men.

Merriam-Webster’s definition is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

In fact, for centuries, Western women had been treated as chattel—the property of men.

After watching the video and reading the entry in Britannica and the definition in Merriam-Webster, it’s obvious that feminism was alive and well in China more than a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, Emperor Wu Zetian (625 to 705 AD) was a very early feminist that ruled the Tang Dynasty as an emperor and was China’s only woman emperor.

The Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet (for a few more centuries) or lead submissive lives. It was a time in which a number of exceptional women contributed in the areas of culture and politics. Source: Women in World History

Wu Zetian demanded the right of an emperor and kept male concubines. She also challenged Confucian beliefs against rule by women and started a campaign to elevate the position of women.

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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 post first appeared on November 08, 2010


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 1/5

January 17, 2012

My weekend cup of Numi Organic Pu’erh tea reaches back into China and Tibet’s history almost two thousand years. The journey this tea takes starts in China’s Southwest Yunnan province along the border of Laos and Vietnam.

There are several varieties of tea — white, black, scented and green to name a few.

The mountainous region of southwest China in Yunnan Province produces a special tea called “Puer”.

The custom with “Puer” is to pick new tea and drink old tea. This refers to a practice unique for “Puer” tea of aging the tea in storage to obtain the unique flavor.

In addition, modern science has recognized “Puer” for its health benefits beyond black tea.


Chinese Puer tea – Part 1/3

In 225 A.D., when China was divided into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu, the prime minister of Shu led a military expedition to Yunnan.

Historical records say that many of the Shu troops came down with eye diseases. After they drank the boiled tea, it is believed that the troops were cured.

The leaves came from a tea tree in Yunnan. Over time, tea drinking for health benefits became a tradition in other areas of China including Tibet.

There is an old saying in Tibet. “Better three days without food than a day without tea.” Historical records show that Tibetans started drinking tea during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) in 641.

Tibet does not grow tea trees, so the famous Tea Horse Road from Tibet to Yunnan was opened. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of horses were traded with China for tea.

In the early 19th century, Emperor Daoguang named “Puer” tea as a “Divine Tribute to the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Continued on January 18, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 2

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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 five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.