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Sex in the Chinese city
By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING - A succession of "kiss and tell" books and "one-night stand" diaries, full of what officials call pornographic detail, have both fascinated and shocked Chinese readers in recent months, marking the emergence of the topic of sex out of the closet.

Long a social taboo, sex has somewhat overnight become a boldly public subject, drawing attention from university auditoriums to press rooms and publishing houses. Scholars on sexology and sociology have just unveiled their list of China's "top 10 sex-related news stories in 2003" and announced that they will make their evaluation an annual event.

University academics have termed the burgeoning changes in sex culture a Chinese "sex revolution", drawing parallels with the 1960s sexual liberation movement in the West. So as not to be left behind, publishing houses have scrambled to roll out a stack of sexually explicit books, which, much to their expectations, have scaled the bestsellers' list in Chinese bookstores this year.

Break-up Dawn, a book documenting 19 women's one-night stand experiences in search of sexual fulfillment, has sold nearly 200,000 copies in Shanghai alone since it was published in May. Two other titles are vying for the top spot on the same bestseller list - Happiness that Lasts Half-day Long and V-I Want to Lay You on a Bed of Roses, both unabashed erotica reads.

"Talking and writing about sex is no longer a clandestine affair," says Wang Ming, a university professor who teaches Chinese language and literature. "Students like to be different from their parents even if this means showing too much affection in public places. Writing about sex has also become a way of asserting one's individual freedom."

Fashioning herself as the Chinese soul mate of Catherine Millet, the French art critic who shocked audiences by graphically describing her one-night stands with a succession of men, a journalist in southern China has launched an online sex diary talking in detail about her multiple sexual encounters.

Muzimei's sex diaries, published on beginning in summer, have become the talk of the town, setting off public debate about whether love and sex go their own separate ways. More than 160,000 people had logged on to the site by mid-November, and the number was growing by 6,000 a day, the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News reported. However, the links to Muzimei's diary have been shut down twice after thousands of the site's readers insulted the writer over the web.

"I record my life faithfully, despite disturbances and men's repulsion," the 25-year-old author wrote in one of her entries. A columnist with the Guangzhou City Pictorial magazine, Li Li - her pen name is Muzimei - claims to have had sexual relations with 65 men, both Chinese and foreign. "I have a job that keeps me busy, and in my spare time I have a very humanistic hobby - making love," Li writes. "The partner I take in my hobby is one I choose and always changes. I rely on a sufficient supply pool. I do not need to take any responsibility for them; neither should I give them love. They will not be trouble for me. They are like CDs, which will not make a sound unless I play."

News reports say that Muzimei's diary has attracted frowns from the government, and this month she voluntarily stopped uploading on the website and left her columnist job. Catherine Millet, whose 2001 autobiography The Sexual Life of Catherine M became a phenomenal bestseller in France and other countries in which it has been published, remained discreet about the real identities of her numerous lovers whom she met in the single clubs of Paris and in the Bois de Boulogne.

Li Li, however, caused a storm when she divulged details of her affair with the member of a popular Guangzhou rock band. Many felt betrayed that instead of remaining a warrior for sexual freedom, Li had sought cheap fame by generating celebrity gossip. An online survey by, one of China's major Internet portals, showed that 22 percent of the people who visited Muzimei's site thought that she was seeking fame at any price. Some 18 percent of the 38,000 people surveyed condemned her behavior as shameful. However, another 23 percent thought that her attitude toward sex was nevertheless a demonstration of sexual freedom and a challenge to China's priggish moral standards.

Whether a true account of libertine philosophy or a straight-talking testimony of sexual exploits, Muzimei's diary is a reflection of a sea of change in China's attitudes and the country's behavior toward sex. There is no regret expressed about her life of sensual pleasure, not a trace of guilt in her accounts and no underlying chronicle of use and abuse. The diary also confirms new findings by Chinese sexual sociologists over the last few years that virginity has lost its traditional social value as a crucial part of China's sexual morality.

And as the country quietly copes with a subtle sexual revolution, premarital sex has become the norm rather than the exception. According to research by Li Yinhe, a researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences, in 1980 the rate of premarital sex in Beijing stood at only 15 percent. But the same study revealed that by 2002 this rate has already reached 80 percent.

Li, who has been surveying attitudes towards premarital sex for more than 20 years, also found that China has overcome its preoccupation with virginity. Furthermore, a look through China's "top sex stories of 2003" reveals how liberalized attitudes towards sex, virginity and cohabitation are spearheading changes in law and education. One of the stories tells of a dispute between a local police station in western Shaanxi province and a couple who were detained for watching pornographic films at home. After a much-publicized lawsuit, the couple won the suit against the police, who were charged with intruding on their privacy at home.

(Inter Press Service)
Dec 3, 2003


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