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


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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Oprah Times Four in China

August 13, 2012

Oprah may have retired in America, but her Chinese counterparts are still at work with a combined audience approaching one billion people.

After doing research for this post, I thought, how could these four Chinese women be compared to Oprah when her average US audience was a little more than 7 million? Source:

The four women I discovered in China that have been described as an Oprah are Chen Luyu, Yue-sai Khan, Hung Huang, and Yang Lan.

I’ve written about Luyu before at You’ve Come a Long Ways, Babe.

Luyu’s audience in China averages 140 million. Her show is called A Date With Luyu, which tackles issues that traditionally have been censored by Chinese media officials. The show’s guests have included people who are HIV-positive, lesbians and transsexuals.

Of Yue-sai Kan, The Conversation: The Most Famous Woman in China says she is a journalist, television host, entrepreneur and author and has been a key figure in modern Chinese culture for 20 years. About 300 million Chinese watch her show.

People Magazine called Yue-sai Kan the most famous woman in China. Money Magazine described her as a Modern Day Marco Polo.

After Kan hosted a live broadcast from China in 1984 for PBS, China’s government asked her to produce One World, the first television series ever produced and hosted by an American on China’s only national network, CCTV. Source: Women of China

The next Chinese Oprah is Hong Huang, who hosts a TV show called Crossing Over. Huang’s mother was Mao Zedong’s English teacher. She was sent to the U.S. for an education as a teenager and returned to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Chinese print media.

Hung Huang is the chief executive of the China Interactive Media Group and publishes fashion magazines such as I Look, Time Out and Seventeen. Her Blog, which has an audience of about 15 million, is one of China’s most popular and continues to be one of the top five on

The fourth Chinese Oprah I discovered was Yang Lan, who rose to fame as the host of the Zheng Da Variety Show, which often has an audience of 200 million viewers.

In the following YouTube video clip, Yang Lan talks about how Chinese women are making their mark on China’s future.

She says the younger generation in China is turning away from television and using the Internet for entertainment and information.

If you do the math, you will discover that these four Chinese Oprahs reach an audience of about 700 million compared to America’s Oprah, which had an average audience of seven million when she was still on the air.

Maybe the US Oprah’s claim to fame is because she was the first one, and it has nothing to do with the size of the audience. Did you notice that all of these Chinese Oprahs speak excellent English? I am sure that America’s Oprah doesn’t speak Mandarin.

Now that the US Oprah is gone, her audience may want to see if they can switch to one of China’s four Oprahs.


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 revised and edited post first appeared on November 24, 2010

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 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.


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

China’s Educated Women Work to Bring about Change from Within

March 12, 2012

“You must matter,” she tells the girls that are her students. “You must be independent.”

The teacher wants her students to know the alternatives so they have choices. She says, “You don’t change overnight. It takes time. The ideas have to sink in.” This also applies to a country where less than a century ago women were the property of men and their feet were broken as children and bound to restrict growth.

The students are schoolteachers from China’s rural areas. They have come to Beijing for workplace training and to learn more about themselves.

Moreover, this is happening in Communist China and most Western critics have no idea this is going on.

The rural teachers in this program study the Chinese Constitution to learn about their rights and responsibilities.

After all, men and women are equal under the law in China, but there is a long way to go to change the old habits and ways of thinking to achieve all that equality offers.

As in the US, women in China are not paid the same as men for the same jobs.

One of the schoolteachers from rural China said, “You come to believe that you are not as good as men. But I hope when I return to my town that I will have the strength to stand up for myself.”

In October 2011, Chen Zhili, vice-chairperson of the National Congress Standing Committee and president of the All-China Women’s Federation, joined representatives from eleven other Asian and African countries and regions at a conference in Seoul, South Korea.  In her speech at the conference, she “emphasized the four concepts of education as a fundamental right; of education as a means to achieving gender equality and empowering women; of the health and social benefits to be gained from investing in women and girls’ education; and of the responsibility all state governments and international society bear in promoting gender equality.” Source: Women of China

In addition, “Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows that women in China ages 18 to 64 have had an average of 8.8 years of education compared to 9.1 years for men. The gender gap in average years of education has decreased from 1.5 years in 2000 to 0.3 years in 2010.” Source WIA Report – Tracking the Progress of Women in Academia

worth watching if you have the time – a PBS 2007 documentary running almost one hour


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 revised and edited post first appeared November 8, 2010

Random thoughts thanks to “Anais Nin” and “Amy Chua/Tan”

July 8, 2011

What kicked off these random thoughts was caused by a Chinese friend quoting Anais Nin, “The only thing psychoanalysis achieves is to make one more conscious of one’s misfortunes.”

I Googled the quote from Anis Nin and found it on Solar Powered Visions and then found the following quote from PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE by Richard L. Rubens, Ph.D., “To undertake such a journey is what is asked of patients in psychoanalysis. It is a journey into territory neither analyst nor patient knows completely, and both participants must recognize that they cannot know in advance what they will ultimately discover.… It (psychoanalysis) calls on man (or woman) to recognize his (or her) position in the forward sweep of time and to choose to live his (or her) life in full awareness of the loss that is inextricably bound up with the process of growth and change.”

That resulted in my thinking of two of Amy Chua’s critics on the Amazon Forum for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and that these two are unable to grow and change from what they have learned.

One of these anonymous critics calls herself Mandy Wu and the other JLee—both claim to be Asian and/or Chinese.  In fact, JLee started out claiming to speak for all Chinese women when she voiced her opinions as a fact that Chinese mothers are not like Amy Chua. Later, the China Daily would prove her wrong, which led to JLee calling me a Cyber bully.

Both Mandy Wu and JLee have demonstrated that Western psychoanalysis has made them aware of how miserable they are and they have identified this misfortune with Amy Chua’s parenting style as described in her memoir. These two critics are unable to recognize their position in the forward sweep of time and to live in full awareness with the process of growth and change. They are stuck.

I replied to my friend, “Amy Chua’s critics should just ‘eat bitterness’ and get over it.”

He said, “That’s not what ‘eating bitterness’ means.  It really means to endure hardship in order to build a better life.”

I asked, “Does that apply to both physical and mental hardships such as depression?”

He said yes.

As I walked away, I thought of, “Amy Chua and Amy Tan.”  I turned around and asked, “Why is Amy such a popular name among Chinese?”

My friend laughed and replied, “In Chinese ‘Amy’ means ‘love rice’ and Amy is one of the most popular names that Cantonese give to their female children.”

I then went to the MDBG online Chinese dictionary and discovered that “Ai” means love , which in Chinese is pronounced the same as the beginning of “Amy” and then I typed in “rice”, which appeared as “mi” or .  In Chinese, Amy is written as .

Discover Amy Chua Debates Former White House “Court Jester” Larry Summers


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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