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


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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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 12/12

December 8, 2011

Note from Blog host: Troy Parfitt’s closing statement of about 500 words appears first. To read Lloyd Lofthouse’s closing statement, you may have to scroll down this page.

Closing Statement [Parfitt]:

I would like to thank Tom Carter for suggesting and facilitating this debate. But most of all, I would like to thank Lloyd Lofthouse. True, this is his website, but Lloyd’s been key in getting this organized, and has been nothing but helpful, positive, and polite.

Between the episodes of verbal jousting, which hopefully have kept you interested and entertained, we’ve communicated amicably about China and related topics, which is great. Two literary publications have refused to review my book, one citing arrogance, the other controversy and bigotry. It’s a sign of the times (you have total intellectual freedom to say anything you want, except things people don’t want to hear), so good on Lloyd for being so tolerant of someone like me, whose views on China have little overlap with his.

China is a complicated subject, and because debate about it is so divisive, it’s sometimes difficult for people with only a casual interest to sort fact from fiction. To come to any kind of understanding, you’ve got to spend a lot of time reading about China, and it helps enormously to understand Mandarin and travel or live there.

The West has some serious problems; it always has and it always will. Somber problems are normal for human societies; we’re a troubled species. In light of Western inadequacy and hypocrisy, it’s tempting to see China as a land of answers and alternatives. China can appear as the great Other: the feminine to the West’s masculine; grace to aggression; cultivation to calculation. But that’s a romanticized construct located in the recesses of the Western psyche, with little basis in reality.

That’s not to say China isn’t a noteworthy subject; it’s a fascinating one. Nevertheless, determined and altruistic cadres, heroic Communist leaders, an overriding system of guanxi, a citizenry instilled with the wisdom and morality of Confucianism, a harmonious society, a glorious past, and a mission to help neighboring states, are concepts that exist largely in people’s imaginations. They are myths, both Chinese and Western, that mainly block the view.

People like myths; they’re easy to latch on to; easy to remember; they cover up what isn’t flattering; they justify, and can make you feel good. But they won’t bring anyone closer to understanding what China is, how it got that way, and where it might be headed. To do that, one needs to research, observe, and apply critical thinking. Counter evidence cannot be denied, dubious sources should be treated as such, and a sense of fairness must always be employed. Once you’ve got a working theory about China, its nature, and so on, you must test that hypothesis constantly; that’s how you’ll discover the wonderful and terrible truth.

Again, I’d like to thank Tom and Lloyd for setting this debate up. It was good for me to defend and reflect on my ideas, and China is such an important topic; debate about it is crucial.

Thank you very much.

Troy Parfitt

Closing Statement [Lofthouse]:

In the prologue of Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People, the author says few in the West understand the Chinese and their culture. He writes, “It is difficult to deny the Old China Hand (Note—foreigners that lived or are still living in China) the right to write books and articles about China…”

Lin Yutang says that only one in ten thousand of these “Old China Hands” understands China, while the other 9,999 results in a “constant, unintelligent elaboration of the Chinaman”. He mentions Sir Robert Hart and Bertrand Russell as examples of the few that understand China.

At the urging of Pearl S. Buck, “My Country and My People” was written and then published in 1935 and what Lin Yutang wrote then is still relevant today.

Pearl S. Buck writes in the book’s Introduction that when China was “not able to meet the dangerous and aggressive modernity of the West… They forced out of existence the old dynastic rule, they changed with incredible speed the system of education, and with indefatigable zeal they planned and set up a scheme of modern government”.

This metamorphosis of China that we have witnessed in the last few decades has almost eradicated severe poverty from more than 70% in 1949 to 2.5% of the population today in addition to the growth of a modern, Western style urban consumer middle class that is still a work in progress. This transformation took a literacy rate of 20% in 1976 and increased it to more than 90% today.

In 1949, we witnessed an element of that transformation as Mao declared war on Confucianism and then again as the age of Mao gave way to Deng Xiaoping’s “Getting Rich is Glorious” era, which turned China into the world’s factory floor. Then in 1982, China wrote a new constitution and started a process to reinvent its legal system to be more Western in its structure and laws.

I thank Mr. Troy Parfitt for his participating in this debate. However, he is not a Sir Robert Hart or Bertrand Russell.

In Part 1, he claimed that “face” was a license to behave however one pleases, which is not the case.

He then inferred that because Jonathan Spence never mentions Mao’s war on Confucianism in his biography of Mao that it never happened.

Yet, Henry Kissinger in On China made it clear that Mao was passionately and publicly anti-Confucian. Zhou Enlai even told Kissinger that Confucianism was a doctrine of class oppression.

Parfitt’s “gossip” includes his opinion of “Confucianism”, “face”, “Guanxi”, the “Mandate of Heaven”, corruption in China, and Mao being a monster that deliberately caused millions of deaths from a famine, which took place during the Great Leap Forward in a few of China’s provinces.

As Lin Yutang says, “It is difficult to deny the “Old China Hand” the right to write books and articles about China… Nevertheless, such books and articles must necessarily remain on the level of the gossip along the world’s longest bar.”

Return to the Discussion with Troy Parfitt – Part 11, author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas“, or start with Part 1.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


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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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 11/12

December 7, 2011

Tenth Question [Parfitt]:

What’s your take on Chinese education?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

China faces many challenges educating its youth. The Compulsory Education law took effect in 1986. In addition, because urban teachers continue to earn more than their rural counterparts do and because academic standards in the countryside are lower, it remains difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas, so China faces an acute shortage of qualified teachers.

It didn’t help that during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the education system was gutted and literacy dropped to 20%.  However, today, literacy is above 90% and improving.

After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping enacted gradual reforms that included not only the economy but education. One of the first changes was to get rid of Mao’s Little Red Book that inflamed a generation of radical youths during the Cultural Revolution.  Today, dogmatic Party slogans have no place in China’s classrooms.

While Chinese education stood still for twenty-seven years under Mao, Western educational science evolved emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving skills over rote learning, and now China is learning those methods and introducing them slowly as teachers are trained.

One component of change sees hundreds of thousands of university students earning degrees in America and other Western nations and then taking that knowledge back to China. In fact, many children of China’s top leaders are attending universities in the West such as Harvard or Stanford.

The first schools to see changes were in Shanghai about 18 years ago, and the results were dramatic when fifteen-year-old Shanghai students took first place in every category in the 2009 international PISA test, which has components that test critical thinking and problem solving skills.

However, China’s central government was quick to announce that the rest of China would take about fifteen to twenty years to catch up to Shanghai.

I understand that over the doorway of classrooms in Shanghai are signs that says something like “there is more than one answers for each question” and the dogmatic methods used for centuries are being phased out as teachers are retrained but change is slow and the challenges many. Teaching an old dog new tricks is not easy.

Response [Parfitt]:

I taught in Taiwan, where, like China, schooling is test-based, geared toward entrance exams, and bolstered by rote memorization. School days are long (8 to 13 hours), homework received in heaps, and evenings, if free, filled with cram-school classes.

The goal is admission to National Taiwan University, nationally number 1. Globally, it has a Times Higher Education World University Ranking of 115.

In that index’s top 100, China has only 3 entries. Australia has 5, America 52. China’s flagship, Peking University, is ranked 37.

“More than one possible answer,” is great, but I wonder how China can transition to Western education without belittling Confucian principles. I also wonder about returning students, who sometimes find it difficult to assimilate after Western exposure. Returning scientists have said it’s most important to report what superiors want to hear, and that they are powerless to change things. Change requires freedom; freedom is impossible.

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Most students in collective Confucian cultures have no problems learning from Western educational techniques while surviving the influence of Western values after returning home.

In Singapore, Confucian beliefs are so autocratic, parents face harsh penalties and jail time if a student’s schoolwork suffers. In addition, Singapore students face caning when breaking rules, yet fifteen-year-old students in Singapore placed fifth in the 2009 international PISA test.

In fact, among the top eleven nations that scored significantly above the OECD average in the PISA test, five were cultures influenced by Confucius.

Shanghai-China placed first, South Korea second, Hong Kong-China fourth, Singapore fifth and Japan eighth, while the US placed seventeenth.

In addition, the US may have 52 of the top 100 universities but 62% of foreign students attending US universities are from countries influenced by Confucius, and Doctoral-level institutions, for example, reported an increase of 130 percent, on average, in Chinese students.

Continued on December 8, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 12 or return to Part 10.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


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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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 10/12

December 6, 2011

Ninth Question [Lofthouse]:

What is your opinion on Tibet as part of China and how would you describe the Tibet issue?

Answer [Parfitt]:

Westerns tend to idealize Tibet and know little about its history or society. I wonder how many readers are aware, for example, that Tibet was invaded by Britain in 1903, with the British killing 3,000 Tibetans and sending the Dalai Lama fleeing to Mongolia.

Tibet remains an acutely backward society, filled with superstition, quackery, sorcery…. Until recently, mutilation was considered a valid punishment.

Tibetan history is riddled with violence; Tibet was once an ambitious military state. Tibetans often fought against, and defeated, the Chinese. They toppled China’s emperor in Xian in the eight century, illustrating that the mighty Han were really limp wristed. The Tibetans withdrew after the Chinese acknowledged the Sino-Tibetan border, etc., but the Chinese never forgot how the long-haired barbarians caused them to lose face. Revenge is such a potent element in Chinese culture; an ever-present theme.

Savage-brimming “borderlands,” like Mongolia, Tibet, and Taiwan would have to be Sinicized. Taiwan got away. Mongolia became a Soviet suzerainty in exchange for aid. Tibet, which had swapped its martial tradition for Buddhism, was ripe for the picking. With the Korean War, larger powers were distracted. There were several reasons for China’s invasion and annexation of Tibet, but the paramount one was revenge.

Chinese rule in Tibet vacillates between cultural suffocation and cultural genocide. Oh, and murder. It isn’t known how many Tibetans have died under Chinese occupation. Thousands, tens of thousands…. Nobody is sure, and estimates from Dharamsala have been unreliable. Tibetans are forced to sign conduct agreements; life in Lhasa is closely monitored by the police; there are informants, spies; Tibetans who aren’t deemed patriotic citizens are jailed, tortured…. It’s a shitty situation.

Probably the saddest part, beyond the death and repression, is that Western governments have been reluctant to act. UN resolutions are useless, too. The West criticizes China’s involvement in Africa, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of doing business with any two-bit thug-state, but China represents the biggest thug-state on Earth, only its leaders often wear nicer suits and have American PhDs.

For further reading, see Patrick French’s Tibet, Tibet and Ma Jian’s Stick Out Your Tongue.

Response [Lofthouse]:

In October 1885, Robert Hart wrote a letter to his London agent saying China did not want Tibet exposed to Western trade and influence.

Then in a 1903 letter, Hart mentioned the 2,000 British troops that invaded Tibet. Since China claimed Tibet as its territory, the British were warned to leave or risk war.

As for claims of cultural suffocation and genocide in today’s Tibet, anyone that reads the article in the October 1912 issue of National Geographic Magazine by a Chinese medical doctor sent to Tibet in 1907 would discover that Tibetans are better off today.

If Tibet returned to the situation Dr. Shaoching H. Chuan described in National Geographic [including many photos], it would be an inhuman act. Under the CCP, the quality of life in Tibet has improved dramatically from that feudal culture where 99% of the people were slaves to a dogmatic religion and rich landowners.

Final Word [Parfitt]:

Stick Out Your Tongue, which should erase any idealized notions of Tibet, was blasted by the CCP for failing to depict “the great strides the Tibetan people have made in building a united, prosperous, and civilized Socialist Tibet.”

Yes, China has made improvements in Tibet. Even the Dalai Lama admits this.


Canada is less advanced than America. Canadian news stories sometimes conclude: ‘Unlike the US, Canada doesn’t have a law/committee/policy/plan to deal with ‘subject.’ But I don’t think America should invade, force the government to London, destroy the hockey rinks, ban national institutions, torture new and ungrateful “American citizens,” or put them in front of firing squads – to rescue them from their own ignorance.

If China hadn’t invaded, Tibet might have gotten assistance from the West. But China’s concern about Western influence in Tibet was one reason it invaded.

It was not for Tibetans that China annexed Tibet.

Continued on December 7, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 11 or return to Part 9.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


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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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 9/12

December 5, 2011

Eighth Question [Parfitt]:

Martin Jacque’s When China Rules the World seems to speak to a contemporary belief that China has what it takes, not only to become a nation among nations, but to dominate in the 21st century and beyond. Do you think Jacques presents a solid case? Why or why not?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

Jacques bases his flawed theory on the fact that according to even the most conservative estimates, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2027 and will ascend to the position of world economic leader by 2050.

He then predicts that when China is the dominant power, it will make the rules and spread its values as the US has attempted since World War II.

However, China may learn from the West that attempting to spread its values to every section of the globe leads to failure and thus avoid what already happened to the British Empire.

For example, today, the US (like the British Empire) has fought a string of wars contributing to a national debt of more than $14 trillion.

In 2008 dollars, Korea (1950-1953) cost $320 billion; Vietnam (1965-1975) $686 billion; Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) $96 billion; Iraq (2003-present) $648 billion; Afghanistan (2001-present) $171 billion; and Operation Noble Eagle (2001-present) $33 billion.

To discover what China might do once it is the world’s economic leader, all one need do is learn what happened with Ancient China’s Armada, or read Henry Kissinger, who wrote that China does not claim its contemporary institutions are relevant outside China.

In addition, China may heed Amy Chua of Tiger Mother fame.  In World on Fire, Chua, a Yale Law Professor, makes a strong case that spreading the values of a super power to other countries only breeds ethnic hatred and global instability.

Then in Days of Empire, Chua examines the most powerful cultures in history—from the ancient empires of Persia and China to the recent global empires of England and the United States—and reveals the reasons behind their success, as well as the roots of their ultimate demise.

No, I doubt that China will attempt to rule the world.  Although one cannot predict with accuracy what the future might bring, if China’s leadership stays on course, it will be satisfied to achieve its goal of converting China to a consumer economy similar to the US with a middle class approaching 800 million people.

Response [Parfitt]:

I agree Jacque’s theory is wayward (an exercise in wishful thinking) and concur America has been involved in pointless and costly wars, but I don’t see how military campaigns are examples of America “attempting to spread its values.”

Nor do I see the relevance.

Amy Chua is eminently unintelligent and Henry Kissinger should be taken with a grain of salt. His claim regarding China’s lack of a claim that its institutions are relevant outside China constitutes a logical fallacy – ‘appeal to ignorance,’ which occurs when an arguer treats a dearth of evidence as reason to believe a claim is true or false. Whatever the Chinese claim (seldom where you’ll find the truth) they believe, wholeheartedly, that their culture, conventions, institutions, etc. are superior to all others. Chinese writer and critic Bo Yang said Chinese people believe their culture is “indestructible,” and cite the Sinicization of other nations as proof.

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Parfitt claims “New York Times Bestseller” Amy Chua is “eminently unintelligent”.  However, “The Economist” selected “World on Fire” as one of the “Best Books of 2003”, while “The Guardian” said it was a “Top Political Read”.

More examples of America’s “attempt to spread its values” may be found in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and The Office of International Religious Freedom with its mission to promote religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and its amendment of 1999 mandates that nations that do not comply with these American values are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions.

As for Bo Yang’s opinion that China’s collective culture is “indestructible”, he is referring to the fact that other countries have been “strongly” influenced by Confucian humanistic values such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Continued on December 6, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 10 or return to Part 8.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


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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