09 Feb

Why Write About Sex in China?

Posted By Politybooks

Haiqing YuWhen friends heard that I was writing a book with Elaine Jeffeys on sex in China, many of them raised their eyebrows, smiled (awkwardly), and asked, “That’s exciting. Tell me more about it. Do the Chinese do sex differently from most people (meaning ‘non-Chinese’)?”

When I told them it was not a book about doing sex and that I was by no means a sex expert (and therefore could not offer any advice on doing sex—or does it have to taught?), they felt a bit relaxed, and pressed me to tell them more about the book. I told them it was a book about China’s sexual culture—how it has been transformed, governed, represented, and debated—in the last 30 years.

What Elaine and I have produced is a book that situates China’s changing sexual culture in the socio-political history of the PRC as it gradually integrated into the global capitalism. It does not just discuss sex and sexuality in contemporary China, but engage with public concerns and debates on sex-related issues in and outside China. Hence it also offers insights on gender, health, rights and citizenship in the globalised and high mediatised world. In the book we have looked at:

  • The one-child policy and its impact on the concepts of marriage, sex, and family
  • Marriage, de facto marriage, cooperative/fake marriage, and fake divorce
  • Youth sexual culture, its performative quality, consumerist orientation, as well as conformist tendency
  • Sexual minorities, gay rights, struggles, representations, and dilemmas
  • Sex industry, the policing of prostitution and its counter arguments
  • HIV/AIDS and sexual health, the paradox of China’s AIDS governance
  • Sex studies, its history, development, and leading voices

In Sex in China, Elaine and I demonstrate that the emergence of new sex-related behaviours and discourses in China (and non-Western societies) is bound up with changing domestic and local policies, concerns, and cultures, often associated with technological development (such as the Internet digital communication technologies), not just international/Western influences.

We caution against the ‘repressive hypothesis’ that often identifies the Party-state as the repressor of sexual freedom and speakers or writers of sexual rights as fighters for democracy. Instead we call for attention to the complexities and nuances surrounding the newfound prominence of ‘sex’ in China today, and particularly the interplay between ‘sex’ and ‘power’ as the state authorities and individual sexed bodies and subjects all seek to shape or challenge sex and sexuality in China.

I encourage specialist and non-specialist readers to get hold a copy of our new book. We welcome your review/comment/feedback.

Haiqing Yu is Senior Lecturer of Chinese Media and Culture at the University of New South Wales, Australian.  Sex in China, is part of Polity’s ‘China Today’ series, and was published in February 2015.