Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

China, Sex and Book Reviews

Posted by w_thames_the_d on September 14, 2013


I was listening to sinica and heard an interview of some guy who wrote a book about sex and China. To me the author sounded like a perv/creeper but I checked out the book review to see what had been written about it.

In the comments section, there was a bevy of pandering foreigners trying to outdo themselves while fawning over China and how unique it is. In other words, a bunch of people who faced with limited opportunities in civilization who need to cling to China like life support, lest they be forced to return home.

The following review is excellent as it nails China at so many levels. First off, I would like to share this segment which argues against China actually progressing.

Excerpt”The author falls into the same trap as many China watchers that “change is happening because it just MUST,” (as if it’s an iron law of history) even as he has cited several examples of the long stasis of Chinese society. I believe that Nassim Taleb (he of The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: “On Robustness and Fragility”) has pointed out that if you look at the behavior of something that has been static for a very long time up close (say something that has been static for a week at 5 minute intervals– or as the case is here, something that has been static for 2,300 years at 5/10 year intervals), you could come to the conclusion that great change/ volatility was afoot. But in point of fact, the net change is zero. The same mistakes have been repeated and the same lessons have NOT been learned over and over and over again. I can’t say that I agree with the author’s conclusion that the future will be any different to the past.”

With that said, and digested, here is part of the rest of his review, written by By
Lemas Mitchell “Libertarian/ Empiricist”

. He is reviewing Behind the Red Door, Sex in China.

“Burger states his position at the outset that he will be a bricoleur and that this is not an exhaustive or directed research text– rather an expository and impressionistic piece. Nonetheless, the range of sources he cited was barely passable and *might* make for good further reading for someone who is interested (unlike the present reviewer). One book that he cited that I emphatically recommend that anyone avoid is Mara Hvistendahl’s garbage screed, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. The total bibliography ran to 2 pages and 18 sources. One was an undergraduate thesis, another was a MS thesis, two were from an encyclopedia, and another was from a website.

There were a few weird things/ lines of reasoning:

1. The first thing is that the author tries to tell us that China’s ideas about sexuality didn’t follow the Western progression. But first he tries to convince us that it did/should have and then devotes several pages (at recurring intervals) to explaining why that’s wrong. (Real academic style stuff here– convincing us of something that is obviously false in order to give the writer a platform for expostulation.)

2. The author went into a lot of weird Western (self-) flagellation in the chapter on homosexuality. (Have you ever noticed that academics try to make *every single ill* in the world the fault of the United States/ Western world?) What he wanted us to believe was that homosexuality was something that was tolerated for dozens of centuries until the *very moment* that China came in contact with the West and its warped (read: Christian) ideas. And then, it became unacceptable. Point #1: This is in spite of the fact of his stating several times that (in the Chinese conceptual space) the purpose of unions is procreating and continuing the Chinese bloodline (and so therefore anything that interfered with that would be viewed dimly–including homosexuality). As someone who has boots on the ground (at the time of this writing), I could honestly say that most people (insofar as they are aware) couldn’t care less. Point #2: China has been in contact with the Western world for a long time and many other ideas have not seeped in. Law enforcement. Gender equality. Contracts. Why only use the “pernicious Western influence” argument as dispositive when it obviously doesn’t work in so many other realms?

EXCELLENT EXAMPLE

3. In the SAME chapter, he reverses himself again and says that the CCP government saw homosexuality as an import from the West and “spiritual pollution” (p. 137). Which one is it? Did the country import homophobia from the West after centuries of tolerance? Or was homosexuality the Western import after centuries of Chinese moral purity?

4. The author also flaps on as if to make us believe that the government (at that time) could/ did successfully eliminate people’s desire to procreate/ have sex. Um, the population of China doubled during the time that Mao was in power (lots of illegitimate babies were born). Prostitution stayed in business the WHOLE time. I think it’s safe to say that there has never been a single year that prostitution was not in business (in some way or another) in the whole of China’s history.

5. The author just kept taking slaps at the church throughout the book. It got a bit annoying after a while. News flash: 1) Not everyone who is Christian takes a negative view of sex; 2) Not only Christians take a negative view of sex; 3) Not every Western view of sex is pathological/ neurotic (p. 103).

A lot of other things are not a surprise:

1. The author tells us that there is no clear policy/ legislation about how far people can go in their sex lives. News flash! There is no clear policy or legislation about that or *any other thing* in China. (I think the proverb is something about a tiger searching to find the size of his cage.) In practice, if some person / group crosses a line, the authorities will let them know. And it could be this in any other situation.

2. There is corruption in law enforcement (gasp!) and the police depend on brothels to pay bribes and so they have an incentive to leave them alone. And so there is de facto accommodation.

3. The puritanism of the Communist government. Reason #1: The author mentions several times in this book that the purpose of a lot of the later legislation (of the CCP/ ROC) was to expand the influence of the state at the expense of the family. And so it would seem logical that the government would put things off limits for the sake of having a sphere of influence. Reason #2: The country was so dead-ass broke at that time, that sex was the only thing that people could do for fun. And so of course government officials would want to have more of it for themselves. What else could the orthodoxy be except chastity (for the hoi polloi, but not for the mandarins….for me, but not for thee) so that there is something for the government officials to have more of for themselves?

4. Young Chinese students are sexually naive. *Extremely* sexually naive. 21 years old is functionally equivalent to 6 years old. Nothing new here.

What did we learn?

1. Everyone has heard a lot of vague/ silly/ spacy talk about “yin” and “yang” and male/ female essence. This author gave us a conceptual framework by clarifying some of the origins of the terms in Daoism and how they relate to each other. (Incidentally, in clarifying the terms of Daoism, he gave us an idea of the origin of some of the quaint concepts in TCM [Chinese Traditional Medicine].)

2. Berger seems to imply that Daoism and Confucianism coexist in some uneasy way in the erotic spheres of life. That is a plausible explanation, given that other authors (Jasper Becker,The Chinese and WJF Jenner,The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis (Penguin History) ) have suggested that Legalism and Confucianism have had an uneasy co-existence in the political spheres of life for many centuries. Over the various dynasties, there has been a lot of ebb and flow of these different philosophies– starting out with sexually permissive Daoism and then moving on to much more Orthodox Confucianism as time passed.

3. Foot binding began around 1368, but was a custom of the elite even as far back as the Tang Dynasty.

There are some things that can be viewed another way:

1. Burger repeatedly refers to the attitude of the Qing authorities toward sexuality as “prudish.” But he neglects to mention that the Manchurians were “foreigners” and that they needed some type of “religion” as window dressing– and this (the adoption of some religion in order to use as a population-management tool) is not without precedent in other countries. (Think of the adoption of Christianity as the State religion by the Roman Empire. Or Juche as the official ideology of North Korea. Or Wahhabi Islam as the official religion of Saudi.)

2. The word “tolerance” is used again and again with respect to Chinese peoples’ attitude toward the sexuality of others. I think that “lack of interest” is more appropriate. Most people in China don’t care about *most* things insofar as it doesn’t affect their family. Alternative sexuality is no different to any other thing that doesn’t affect the immediate area of concern of most Chinese people (which is their own family and their own property).

3. Burger keeps portraying China as a society “finding its way” (in this desperate, groping, *conscious* evaluation of the issues) on the issue of sexuality. But the truth is that China has never had a civil society of any type (because that type of thing falls outside of the family and outside of the state), and so pressure groups will not be something that most people will find their way to. I don’t see any mass movement here as much as people who are just coming to some sort of equilibrium in a blind, thoughtless way.

GOOD POINT

Conclusion:

The author falls into the same trap as many China watchers that “change is happening because it just MUST,” (as if it’s an iron law of history) even as he has cited several examples of the long stasis of Chinese society. I believe that Nassim Taleb (he of The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: “On Robustness and Fragility”) has pointed out that if you look at the behavior of something that has been static for a very long time up close (say something that has been static for a week at 5 minute intervals– or as the case is here, something that has been static for 2,300 years at 5/10 year intervals), you could come to the conclusion that great change/ volatility was afoot. But in point of fact, the net change is zero. The same mistakes have been repeated and the same lessons have NOT been learned over and over and over again. I can’t say that I agree with the author’s conclusion that the future will be any different to the past.

Verdict:

This book is ONLY worth the Kindle price (as of the time of this writing about $9) and just about worth the three afternoons that it takes to breeze through it. I don’t think it will be worth reading a year later, and that is because the author put specific prices on various aspects of the sex industry and they will almost certainly be outdated by that time. I’d recommend reading this in tandem with Whispers and Moans: Interviews with the Men and Women of Hong Kong’s Sex Industry

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One Response to “China, Sex and Book Reviews”

  1. horseware said

    horseware

    […]China, Sex and Book Reviews « Understanding China, One Blog at a Time[…]

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