CCIES Home » China


(Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo)
(The People’s Republic of China)

Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and
M. P. Lau, M.D.*
Updates by F. Ruan and
Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.D.;
Comments by M. P. Lau

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*Communications: Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., P.O. 70571, Oakland, CA 94612-0571 USA; ruanff @; M. P. Lau, M.D., 280 Spadina Avenue, Suite 302A, Toronto, Ontario M5T 3A5 Canada.

Editor’s Note: In this chapter, Dr. Fang-fu Ruan’s report and analysis of sexual attitudes and behavior in China follows our standard 13-topic structure. In Part 2, Dr. M. P. Lau provides a summary and analysis of the Kinsey-like 1992 Sexual Behavior in Modern China: A Report of the Nationwide “Sex Civilization” Survey on 20,000 Subjects in China. Readers should consult Part 2 for additional information on specific topics discussed by Fang-fu Ruan in Part 1.
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  • Part 1   183
  1. Basic Sexological Premises 183
  2. Religious, Ethnic, and Gender Factors Affecting Sexuality 186
  3. Knowledge and Education about Sexuality 187
  4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns 188
  5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors 189
  6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Bisexual Behaviors 191
  7. Gender Diversity and Transgender Issues 193
  8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors 193
  9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning 195
  10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS 198
  11. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies 200
  12. Sex Research and Advanced Professional Education 200
  1. Ethnic Minority Resources 207
  2. Conclusion 208
  3. References and Suggested Readings 208

*A Note for Researchers:  The numbers included in the section titles in the Contents above refer to the page numbers in the print edition of the CCIES. For the convenience of researchers, an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file of this chapter is available for download above (click the PDF icon), which reflects the actual pagination of the book. This will allow scholarly writers to cite actual page numbers in the printed book for quoted material, as well as its availability on the Web and the URL if desired. See also How to Use This Encyclopedia.

Chapter URL:    Retrieved: 

[Note from the CCIES Website Editor:  Please send any additions, corrections, or updated information to:  Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.]

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Demographics and a Brief Historical Perspective


A. Demographics

The People’s Republic of China is the largest country in Eastern Asia, embracing 3.7 million square miles (9.58 km2). China is smaller than Russia and Canada, but slightly larger than the contiguous 48 United States. China is bordered by Korea in the east, Mongolia in the north, Russia in the northeast, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, and Tajikistan in the northwest, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the west, India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan in the southwest, and Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, and Vietnam in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the east. Only one tenth of the land is cultivated, although the eastern half of China is one of the best-watered lands in the world, with vast farmlands and three great rivers, the Yangtze or Chang, the Huang or Yellow River, and the Xi. In addition to the pressing issue of population control, China faces major environmental obstacles to its continued economic progress. China’s heavy reliance on coal as a fuel produces major problems from acid rain and air pollution from greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide. China also faces major water shortages, particularly in the north, water pollution from untreated wastes, and loss of an estimated one fifth of its agricultural land since 1949 from soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, and economic development.

In July 2002, China had an estimated population of 1.28 billion. (All data are from The World Factbook 2002 (CIA 2002) unless otherwise stated.)

Age Distribution and Sex Ratios: 0-14 years: 24.3% with 1.1 male(s) per female (sex ratio); 15-64 years: 68.4% with 1.06 male(s) per female; 65 years and over: 7.3% with 0.89 male(s) per female; Total population sex ratio: 1.06 male(s) to 1 female

Life Expectancy at Birth: Total Population: 71.86 years; male: 70.02 years; female: 73.86 years

Urban/Rural Distribution: 27% to 73%

Ethnic Distribution: The vast majority of Chinese people, 91.9%, are Hans (ethnic Chinese, or Han Chinese). The remaining 8.1%, over 91 million people, include 55 other ethnic groups. Minority nationalities with population of over one million are the Bai, Bouyei, Dai (Thai), Dong, Hani, Hui, Kazak, Korean, Li, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Tibetan, Tujia, Uighur, Yao, Yi, and Zhuang (see Section 13, Ethnic Minority Resources)

Religious Distribution: Officially atheistic, but traditionally pragmatic and eclectic, with Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhism the most common; Muslim: 2% to 3%; Christian: 1% (est.)

Birth Rate: 15.85 births per 1,000 population

Death Rate: 6.77 per 1,000 population

Infant Mortality Rate: 27.25 deaths per 1,000 live births

Net Migration Rate: –0.38 migrant(s) per 1,000 population

Total Fertility Rate: 1.82 children born per woman (1995 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.87%

HIV/AIDS (1999 est.): Adult prevalence: < 0.2%; Persons living with HIV/AIDS: 1.25 million (January 2001); Deaths: 17,000 (1999 est.). The Chinese government was challenged by the United Nations Secretary General to recognize the threat of HIV/AIDS among its 1.2 billion people and face a devastating epidemic that could destroy the nation. (For additional details from, see end of Section 10B.)

Literacy Rate (defined as those age 15 and over who can read and write): 81.5% (male: 89.9%, female: 72.7%). The 1992 literacy rate was 78%, with nine years schooling required and 96% attendance in primary school.

Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (purchasing power parity): $4,300 (2001 est.); Inflation: 0.8% (2001 est.); Unemployment: 10% among urban Chinese. China has a substantial unemployment and underemployment problem.

[Update 2002: As a developing country, China has the largest population in the world, 1.28 billion in July 2001, or 22% of the world’s population. The China Population and Information Network (China POPIN) estimates China’s population in 2010 will be 1.380 billion people. Despite family planning programs, China’s annual net population growth in recent years has still been around 13 million. China’s population is also very unevenly distributed, with 94% living in the southeastern part of the country, which occupies 43% of the country’s total land area. According to 1996 statistics, 71.63% of the population lives in the countryside, so the level of urbanization is very low. China’s arable land is only 7% of the world’s total, with a crop production that is only one quarter of the world per capita average crop. China’s per capita fresh water is also one quarter of the world average. For over four decades, China has witnessed dramatic economic development, but because of rapid expansion of the population, the indices related to living standards are still very low. China’s per capita grain production is less than 400 kilograms; per capita residential floor area in urban areas is 8.1 square meters; and the number of hospital beds for every 1,000 people is only 2.34. Of the country’s 2,143 counties, 592 are poverty ones with an annual per capita income of less than RMB Yuan 250 (US$43). Each year, one quarter of the increase in national income is used for the new increase in population. China has at least 20 million people reaching working age every year. Insufficient employment has produced a surplus labor force of over 100 million in the countryside. The huge population base and an annual population growth of 13 million are in serious conflict with the country’s socioeconomic development, utilization of natural resources, and environmental protection. It has become a major factor that restricts socioeconomic development and the improvement of people’s quality of life in China. (State Family Planning Commi ssion Of China:, on June 2, 1999.) (End of update by F. Ruan)]

B. A Brief Historical Perspective

The remains of various humanlike creatures, who lived as early as several hundred thousand years ago, have been found in many parts of modern China. The oldest human remains found in China were those of “Peking man,” who lived approximately 578,000 years ago. Neolithic agricultural settlements, dating from about 5000 B.C.E. have been found in the Huanghe basin. Imperial China lasted almost 4,000 years, from the Xia dynasty (c. 2200-1500 B.C.E.) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.). Bronze metallurgy reached a peak during the Shang dynasty of Northern China (c. 1500 B.C.E. to c. 1000 B.C.E.), along with Chinese pictographic writing. Imperial China was marked by a succession of dynasties and interdynastic warring kingdoms. The range of Chinese political and cultural domination waxed and waned, expanding from the north to the south and west at various times, as science, technology, and culture flourished in great sophistication. Rule by non-Hans (foreigners), the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), and the Manchus in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), did not alter the underlying Chinese character of the culture.

Cultural and political stagnation in the 19th century left China vulnerable to internal rebellions that left tens of millions dead and Russian, Japanese, British, and other foreign powers exercising control over some key parts of the country. Imperial rule ended in 1911 with the formation of the Republic of China in 1912. Between 1894 and 1945, China was involved in major conflicts with Japan. In 1895, China gave up Korea, Taiwan, and other territories. Japan seized the northeast provinces of Manchuria in 1931, and invaded China proper in 1937. Following World War II, China regained the territories it had previously lost to Japan. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong; the nationalist Republic of China (Kuomintang) retired to Taiwan.

The Great Leap Forward, 1958 to 1960, tried to force the pace of economic development through intensive labor on huge new rural communes and an emphasis on ideological purity. The program was abandoned when it encountered serious resistance. In 1965, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was launched in an effort to reestablish the revolutionary purity of the principles of Chairman Mao Zedong, with massive purges and the forced relocation of millions of urban teenagers into the countryside. This effort gradually petered out as pragmatism regained its influence. Despite the violent repression of democratic demonstrations by over 100,000 students and workers in the 1989 Tiananmen Square outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, China has followed a painfully slow, halting, but definite transition and adjustment to a partial free-market economy and more-democratic policies.

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1. Basic Sexological Premises

A. Character of Gender Roles

In order to understand and evaluate the recent situation of gender roles in China, it is necessary to begin with some understanding of the roots of female oppression in the traditional Chinese society and family. In its earliest history, China was a matriarchal society, until Confucius and Mencius defined the superior-inferior relationship between men and women as heaven-ordained more than 2,000 years ago. In traditional Chinese society, women should observe the Three Obediences and the Four Virtues. Women were to be obedient to the father and elder brothers when young, to the husband when married, and to the sons when widowed. Thus Chinese women were controlled and dominated by men from cradle to grave. The ideal of feminine behavior created a dependent being, at once inferior, passive, and obedient. Thus, for more than 2,000 years, for the vast majority of Chinese women, belonging to a home was the only means to economic survival. But they had no right to select a husband, let alone the right to divorce or to remarry if widowed. They had no right to their physical bodies. Those who defied such institutionalized oppression were persecuted, ostracized, and sometimes driven to suicide. [Comment 1997: This may not apply to the lower class and marginal people. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

The functional importance of all women in traditional China lay in their reproductive role: In such a patriarchal and authoritarian society, the function of women was to reproduce male descendents. Since descent was patrilineal, a woman’s position within her natal family was temporary and of no great importance. The predominant patrilineal household model, in combination with early marriage, meant that a young girl often left home before she was of significant labor value to her natal family. Hence, education or development of publicly useful skills for a girl was not encouraged in any way. Marriage was arranged by the parents with the family interests of continuity by bearing male children and running an efficient household in mind. Her position and security within her husband’s family remained ambiguous until she produced male heirs. [Comment 1997: Then she might become manipulative and exploitive. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)] In addition to the wife’s reproductive duties, the strict sexual division of labor demanded that she undertake total responsibility for childcare, cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks. Women were like slaves or merchandise.

A real liberation and revolution in the female’s role has occurred in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The first law enacted by the PRC government was the Marriage Law of 1950. The law is not only about marriage and divorce, but also is a legal statement on monogamy, equal rights of both sexes, and on the protection of the lawful interests of women and children. [Comment 1997: However, it took years for the law to become more than words on paper and move into real life. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

B. Sociolegal Status of Males and Females

The Changing/Unchanging Status of Women

In 1954, the constitution of the People’s Republic of China restated the 1950 principle of the equality of men and women and protection of women: “Article 96: Women in the People’s Republic of China enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic life.”

Under this principle, major changes happened in the social roles of women in the PRC, especially in the areas of work and employment, education, freedom in marriage and divorce, and family management. For example, 600,000 female workers and urban employees in China in 1949 accounted for 7.5% of the total workforce; in 1988, the female workforce had increased to 50,360,000 and 37.0% of the total. [Comment 1997: Most women continue to be employed as cheap labor, but this is not a condition limited to China. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

A neighborhood survey in Nanjing found that 70.6% of the women who married between 1950 and 1965 had jobs. Of the women who married between 1966 and 1976, the percentage of those employed stood at 91.7%; by 1982, 99.2% of married women were breadwinners.

A Shanghai neighborhood survey reported that 25% of the wives declared themselves boss of the family, while 45% said they shared the decision-making power in their families. Similar surveys in Beijing found that 11.6% of the husbands have the final say in household matters, while 15.8% of families have wives who dominate family decision-making. The other 72.6% have the husband and wife sharing in decision-making. A survey in Nanjing revealed that 40% of the husbands go shopping in the morning. Many husbands share kitchen work. Similar surveys of 323 families in Shanghai found 71.1% of husbands and wives sharing housework. (Dalin Liu’s study of Sexual Behavior in Modern China (1992) contains statistical data about domestic conflicts and the assignment of household chores.)

Although the situation of women has changed dramatically from what went before, in actuality, women still are not equal with men. For example, it is not unusual to find that some universities reject female graduate students, and some factories and government institutions refuse to hire women. The proportion of professional women is low. Women fill only 5.5% of the higher-level jobs such as technicians, clerks, and officials.’s In a country of 220 million illiterates, 70% are women. Women now make up only 37.4% of high school students and only 25.7% of the university-educated population. Moreover, actual discrimination against women still exists, and continues to develop. Many women have been laid off by enterprises that consider them surplus or redundant employees. Only 4.5% of the laid-off women continued to receive welfare benefits, including bonuses and stipends offered by their employers. Many enterprises have refused to employ women, contending their absences from work to have a baby or look after children are burdensome.

Male-Preferred, Female Infanticide, and the Sex Ratio Problem

China was, and in many ways still is, a Confucianist country. Confucianism said that: “There are three things which are unfilial, and to have no posterity is the greatest of them.” In Chinese society “having posterity” means “having a male child.” Therefore, not having a male offspring is regarded as the worst possible problem a family can have psychologically, economically, and sociologically.

[Update 2003: Even before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, at a time when very little or no contraception was available, and before the advent of the one-child-per-family policy in the PRC, female infanticide was widely used, as data on sex ratios clearly show (see Table 1).

Table 1                  

Sex Ratios in China (1948)

  Female Male     
Nationwide Average 100 109.6
Shandong (the lowest) 100 99.0
Hubei 100 109.1
Wuhan 100 124.1
Beijing 100 125.7
Zungqing 100 130.4
Dalian 100 194.0
From: Long Guanhai: Shehui Yu Ren [Society and
Human Beings
]. Taipei, Taiwan: Chuanji.

[According to a survey done by gynecology professor Gu Zusan, 80% of rural families want a boy, not a girl. Therefore, one of the side effects of the “one child” policy is the practice of female infanticide. Certainly, female infanticide has not been a critical problem nationwide yet. But, in some places it does happen; for example: The 1982 sex ratios in villages in Wuhan and Hubei were:

Sex ratios: in a Wuhan community in a Hubei village
Age Female Male      Female    Male        
0-1 100 154 100 503
0-3 100 124 100 384
0-5 100 112 100 182

(End of update by F. Ruan)]

In the 1970s, China’s newborn sex ratio was 106 males for every 100 females. It was probable that in Wuhan, Hubei, and other places as well, female infanticide was being practiced. In 1986, even the government Beijing newspaper Zhongguo Fazibao (China Law News) reported this problem (September 11, 1986): “According to the survey by Zungqing Women Association, there were 2,800 cases of female infanticide in Zungqing in 1984. It was a very serious and severe problem.” The newborn sex ratio in China has risen year by year: In 1986, it was 110 males for every 100 females; in 1987, 111; and in 1990, 112. In September and October 1992, a nationwide survey of 380,000 newborns showed the sex ratio was as high as 118.5:100.

[Update 2003: In a spring 2002 report in the journal International Security, demographers Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer estimate that China will have between 29 million and 33 million unmarried males ages 15 to 34 by the year 2020. Other estimates put the number of young, unmarried men, of guang guan (“bare branches” or “barren sticks”) in 2020 at 40 million. That number equals the combined female population of Taiwan and South Korea. The probable main but not sole cause, according to Chinese researcher Chu Junhong in a 2001 report in the Population and Development Review, is prenatal screening and selective abortion of female offspring. Despite a 1995 Maternal and Child Health Law that bans use of ultrasound scanning for selective abortion, one study found that 36% of the abortions reported in a rural Chinese county were done to weed out the girls. Chinese parents are generally willing to accept a firstborn daughter if they can have a second child. In Anhui and other provinces, the firstborn male-female ratio is 111 males to 100 females, but more than 3 to 1 for second births. To avoid adding more millions of males to this unprecedented and long-term crisis, China is urging provincial governments to pass and enforce very strong laws banning the use of ultrasound scanning and selective abortion. The male surplus is also increasing because female infants are breastfed for shorter periods than boys. Female infanticide and abandonment also contribute to the male surplus: In some areas, up to 90% of young children in orphanages are female (Wiseman 2002).

[Many Asian nations are experiencing a similar sex-ratio imbalance, although none as severe as China’s. Hudson and Boer estimate the number of missing women in China at 40.6 million, India 37.1 million, Bangladesh 3.5 million, Pakistan 3.3 million, Afghanistan 0.9, Taiwan 0.6 million, and Nepal 600,000.

[Social trends exacerbate the sex-ratio imbalance. There is a decline in arranged marriages, especially in the cities where women, not men, are doing the choosing. To be chosen by a woman, a man needs to be educated and have a stable good-paying job. Among unmarried rural men, 97% never finished high school and 40% are illiterate. In the migration from farm to city, women have turned to factory jobs on the booming eastern coast while the men are drawn to public-works projects in the nation’s interior. Zhang Yi, a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, found one factory town in the southeast province of Guandong with 200,000 migrant women and just 4,000 local men. Grossly outnumbered, the local women were very hostile to the female immigrant workers.

[Increasingly, the government and demographers are trying to anticipate the likely social consequences of this imbalance. In the mid-1800s, the Nien Rebellion broke out in the eastern city of Shandong where men outnumbered women 129 to 100. At that time, a quarter of all Chinese men could not find wives. The frustrated males turned to banditry and then to open rebellion against the Qing dynasty. At their height, 100,000 Nien rebels controlled territory with a population of 6 million. The rebels held out against the government for 17 years.

[Following historical precedents, the government may impose ever stricter authoritarian rule, thereby delaying the move to democracy. The government is already bringing poor young men into the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, which is assigned to crush riots and suppress other social disturbances. Another possibility would be to stir up border wars with its neighbors that would siphon off the surplus males. Huge construction projects and public works could also help absorb the surplus males (Wiseman 2002). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

C. General Concepts of Sexuality and Love

In mainland China today, the only sexual behavior that is acknowledged to be legally and morally permissible is heterosexual intercourse within monogamous marriage. A wide variety of sexual behaviors are explicitly proscribed. Thus, prostitution, polygamy, premarital and extramarital sex (including cohabitation arrangements), homosexuality, and variant sexual behaviors are all illegal. Because even normal sexual expression is viewed with contempt as a less important activity of life, not only are pornography and nudity banned, but any social activity with sexual implications—such as dancing—may be subject to restrictions. Even the marriage relationship is given little consideration. For example, according to official statistics, approximately 360,000 married persons live apart from their spouses, and this figure increases at a rate of 100,000 per year. Most of these separations occur because individual citizens are not free to move from one place to another, or to change their places of employment.

Public policy and law related to sexuality seriously and severely have an impact on individual and social lives. Contemporary China is a noteworthy example of a totalitarian government’s attempt to control or repress the sexual aspects of an individual’s life. It exemplifies, as well, how sexually repressive policies are not actually effective in inhibiting sexual desire in private lives, nor in curbing the struggle for human sexual rights and freedom.

[Update 2001: As an expression of the sex-negative policies in China, many sex-related behaviors were cited and punished as “gangster activities” in the 1980 Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. Homosexual behaviors and all kinds of paraphilias may be punished as “gangster activities.” A positive change occurred in 1997 with the Revised Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China: “gangster activities” were deleted from the Criminal Law that was adopted on March 14, 1997. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

The major move toward democracy in mainland China after Mao was the “Democracy Wall” movement during 1978 and 1979. During this brief period, the government allowed young people to express their desire for personal freedom and democracy by placing “big character” posters on a wall that came to be known as the “Democracy Wall.” The Democracy Wall was also used for advocating sexual liberation. The author vividly recalls visiting the wall on February 20, 1979, and seeing two poems about sexual rights. One was titled “The Eulogy of Sexual Desire,” the other “Open Sex.” In posters like these, China’s youth first made a courageous stand on the importance of sexual openness to their country’s modernization.

Students also carried posters advocating sexual freedom during the nationwide demonstration by university students in the winter of 1986-87. While sexual liberation was not a major explicit goal of the 1989 democracy movement, its importance was understood, and its value implicit in one of the loveliest events that occurred then: During a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square, a wedding was held for one of the demonstration leaders. The bride and groom, the maid of honor (General Commander Chai Ling, now an internationally known heroine of the struggle for democracy), and the best man (Chai’s husband, Vice General Commander Feng Congde) were all fasting, as were classmates attending the wedding. Yet all the celebrants were laughing joyously. The wedding was the ideal symbol of the connection between the longing for liberty and the desire for love, romance, marriage, personal happiness, and fulfillment.

[Update 1997: In 1996, Suiming Pan, head of the Institute for Research in Sexuality and Gender at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, analyzed 11 social surveys on sexuality in Chinese cities between 1986 and 1995 and reinterviewed 103 men and 73 women. The ten factors listed below, which Pan (1996) identified as affecting sexological research and studies in China, also reveal some important insights into the general concepts of love and sexuality that prevail in Chinese culture.

  1. For most people, the Chinese sexual vocabulary is either cryptic or considered dirty and abusive.
  2. The more familiar with each other people are, the more difficult it is to talk about sex.
  3. There is often a sexual undertone to the interaction between heterosexual interviewers and interviewees.
  4. Many tragic or socially illegitimate sexual matters would rather be forgotten than discussed with the interviewees.
  5. Female interviewers are often considered “bad women.”
  6. Chinese people view pornography, sex workers, and nonmarital sex as illegal.
  7. Ordinary people do not understand why researchers study sexuality.
  8. Most ordinary people are unable to evaluate and express their own sexual feelings, or even their behavior.
  9. Most females feel like vomiting when questioned about sexual matters.
  10. Ordinary people think that if you ask a question about a kind of sexual behavior or relationship, then it means that you really like it yourself.

The first nine of these ten points reflect ignorance, stigma, and inhibition, with only the last point expressing a common viewpoint frequently encountered in other countries. (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

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2. Religious, Ethnic, and Gender Factors Affecting Sexuality

A. Source and Character of Religious Values

China is a multi-religion country, with a vast proportion of the population professing no religion. Some worship ancestors and/or Shens (“kindly spirits”). Many subscribe to more than one of the main religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, several major Protestant religions, and Confucianism. As a religion, Taoism is considered a genuine indigenous religion of China in the sense that Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism were imported from foreign countries, while Confucianism is taken to be more secularly oriented in doctrine.

Confucianism is based on writings which are attributed to Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.), the first great educator, philosopher, and statesman of China, and his followers, including Mencius (372-289 B.C.E.), a political thinker who believed in democracy. Confucianism dominated Chinese sociopolitical life for most of Chinese history.

Confucius and Mencius themselves expressed a rather positive view of human sexuality. For example, The Master (Confucius) said, “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves sex” (Confucian Analects Book IX, chapter 17); “Food and drink and the sexual relation between men and women compose the major human desires” (The Book of Rites, one of the major Confucianism classics, chapter 9). In The Works of Mencius, one of the major Confucianism classics (book 6, part 1), we find: “Eating food and having sex are both of human nature.”

It was not until much later that sexual conservatism became a feature of Neo-Confucian philosophy. The crucial change was initiated by several famous Neo-Confucianists, including Ch’eng I (1033-1107), and Chu Hsi (1130-1200). Ch’eng I summarized the Neo-Confucian viewpoint as “Discard human desires to retain the heavenly principles.”

When asked whether it was justifiable for a widow to remarry when pressed by poverty and hunger, he replied, “It is a small matter to die as a result of starvation, but a serious evil to lose chastity toward one’s dead husband by remarrying.” Chu Hsi stressed the inferiority of women and the strict separation of the sexes, and forbade any manifestation of heterosexual love outside of wedlock. Chu Hsi laid the foundations of Neo-Confucianism as the sole state religion. It encouraged a puritanical and strictly authoritarian form of government, including the establishment of censorship and thought control. However, the government had difficulty enforcing these views on the lower class or sciao-ren (the non-exemplary class of people).

Taoism has both a philosophical and a religious tradition in China. Although philosophical Taoism flourished early in the 5th century B.C.E., Taoism as a religion did not develop until the 1st century of the Common Era. Next to Confucianism, it ranks as the second major belief system in traditional Chinese thought. The philosophy of Taoism outlined in Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching offers a practical way of life. Both philosophical and religious Taoism included in their classics some positive ideas about sex. For example, from Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching: “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing male. When male and female combine, all things achieve harmony” (chapter 42, translated by S. Mitchell, Harper & Row, 1988). And from Taiping Jing (The Canon of Peace and Tranquility), an early classic of religious Taoism: “Through the way of copulation between husband and wife, the Yin and Yang all obtain what they need and Heaven and Earth become peace and tranquility;” “Based on one Yin and one Yang, Heaven allows both man and woman to exist and to be sexually attractive to each other, therefore life can be continued.”

Yin-Yang is a major philosophical concept developed during the Zhou dynasty (1027-221 B.C.E.). The concepts of Yin and Yang may be found in the majority of important Chinese classics, including such a major classic of Confucianism as the I-Ching, and such a Taoist classic as the Tao-te-ching. Thus, the Yin-Yang philosophy is among the most important unifying concepts of Chinese culture. According to the Yin-Yang philosophy, all objects and events are the products of two elements, forces, or principles: Yin, which is negative, passive, weak, and destructive; and Yang, which is positive, active, strong, and constructive. It was very natural for the Yin-Yang doctrine to become the basis of Chinese sexual philosophy. The Chinese have used the words Yin and Yang to refer to sexual organs and sexual behavior for several thousand years. Thus Yin Fu, “the door of Yin” means vulva, Yin Dao, “the passageway of Yin” means vagina, and Yang Ju, “the organ of Yang” means penis. The combination of these words into the phrases Huo Yin Yang or Yin Yang Huo He—“the union or combination of Yin and Yang”—describes the act of sexual intercourse.

Buddhism was first introduced into China in the 1st century C.E. from India. Chinese Buddhism was of the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) school, so named to distinguish it from the earlier form of Buddhism known as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). Among Tibetan peoples, it is distinguished by its emphasis on the Buddhist Tantras. Most Buddhist schools denied sexual desire, and traditionally Buddhist monks have been celibate. But, it is not the case of the school of Mi-tsung (Mantrayana, or Tantrism). Sex was the major subject of Mi-tsung. Mi-tsung was very similar to some sects of Taoism, and stressed the sexual union.

Even Mi-tsung said that Buddhatvam yosidyonisamas-ritam (“Buddheity is in the female generative organs”). In China, “Tibetan Esoteric Sect” (Tibetan Mi-tsung) flourished in the Yuan dynasty, especially from the time of Kubilai Khan (1216-1294 C.E.).

Islam reached China in the mid-7th century through Arab and Persian merchants. Islam has a large following among ten of China’s minorities: Hui, Uighur, Kazak, Tatar, Kirghiz, Tajik, Ozbek, Dongxiang, Salar, and Bonan. The number of believers is about 14 million, mostly in Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Yunnan, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Hubei, Shandong, Liaoning, Beijing, and Tianjin.

Catholicism was introduced into China as early as 635 C.E. By 1949, the number of Catholics in China had reached 2.7 million. Protestantism was introduced into China in 1807. After the Opium War, missionary activity increased and Christianity became a part of the Chinese culture. For example, T’ai-p’ing-T’ian-Kuo, a great peasant rebellion in the Ging dynasty, from 1851 to 1864, was conducted under the banner of God and Christianity. By 1949, China had 700,000 Christians. Generally speaking, Catholicism and Protestantism strengthened the sex-negative and repressive attitudes in China on an official level.

B. Source and Character of Ethnic Values

There are some differences in sexual lifestyles among the different ethnic groups in China. For example, among Tibetan ethnics, plural marriages including polygyny and polyandry exist beside monogamous marriages. In some Tibetan families, brothers may share one woman as a common wife. There is also great variety in the way one religious factor has an impact on the sexual attitudes in different ethnic groups. For example, Islam takes on slightly different expressions among its many followers in ten of China’s minority nationalities: Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Tatar, Kirgiz, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar, and Bonan. [Comment 1997: Similar accounts of the material in this section can be found in Ng and Lau (1990) and Bullough (1976). The Yearbooks of the Encyclopedia Britannica provide the latest updates on the religious and ethnic composition of the population. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

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3. Knowledge and Education about Sexuality

A. Government Policies and Programs for Sex Education

In line with its general policy of suppressing any discussion of sexuality, the Chinese government neglected the development of sex education courses for the general curriculum. It was not until the early 1980s that model programs were developed, and even then, discussion was usually limited to the necessity of using contraception to limit population growth. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, not only was there a complete lack of systematic sex education, but only a few booklets on sexuality had been published. The most popular one, Knowledge of Sex (Xing-di-zhi-shi), was published in 1957. Most of these booklets are devoted to social topics, such as love and marriage, and medical topics, such as sexual dysfunctions. Only a few pages discuss aspects of sexual relationships, such as arousal, sexual responses, and frequency of intercourse. Yet, for more than 20 years, Knowledge of Sex was virtually the only sex booklet available to a population of 800 to 900 million people. (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, and C, College Students.)

In 1980, heartened by the end of the Cultural Revolution, a few authors and publishers began to produce new materials. The first effort was a new edition of Knowledge of Sex published by People’s Medical Publishing House. The first printing of 2.5 million copies, released in June 1980, was sold out almost immediately, and some people resold their copies at nearly double the original price.

Between 1980 and 1984, more than ten new sex booklets were published. Two of them became bestsellers. The first, Required Readings in Wedding Hygiene was originally published in September 1980, and by November 1981 had already been reprinted eight times, for a total of more than 7.5 million copies. The second, Questions and Answers about Wedding Hygiene, was published in July 1984 with a printing of 4.2 million copies.

Finally, in the mid-1980s, four major types of pressure led national and local officials to acknowledge the need for sex education programs. First, the population growth continued to be a very serious problem. A birth control program had been instituted in January 1973, but it became unavoidably clear that to implement the program effectively, young people would have to be given sexual information essential to understanding and using contraception. Second, rates of teenage pregnancy, juvenile sex crime, and sexually transmitted diseases seemed to be increasing. It was stated that sex education offered the best hope for diminishing these problems. Third, medical professionals felt that the numbers of patients they were treating for sexual dysfunction demonstrated a need for improved education. And finally, as a result of the new “open-door” policy of receptiveness to Western cultural influence, and a simultaneous increase in personal freedoms, the Chinese people were expressing a desire to improve their lives, including their sexual lives.

The first high school sex education courses were introduced in 1981 in Shanghai. In early 1986, 40 Shanghai middle schools, about 10% of the city’s total, introduced an experimental sex education course for coed classes in the 12- to 13-year age group. In addition to helping students understand the physiological and psychological changes they were undergoing, the course was designed to teach hygiene and sexual morality. By June 1986, nearly a 100 Shanghai middle schools gave sex education courses. And, by February 1988, 6,000 middle schools all over China had instituted sex education courses: Thirteen of the 28 provinces, including Shanghai, Jiangsu, Tianjin, and Helongjiang, had made sex education courses part of the standard middle school curriculum. In February 1988, the State Council announced that sex education courses would be established in middle schools nationwide.

From January to October 1985, a special series of columns titled “Essays on Sex Education” by the author of this chapter was published in Required Readings for Parents, the leading national monthly magazine on child and adolescent education (Ruan 1985). The series consisted of ten rather long articles on various aspects of sexuality and sex education. It was the first systematic treatment of such topics to be published since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The “First National Workshop on Sex Education” was held in Shanghai on July 22 to August 7, 1985. This was the first such conference convened in mainland China since 1949. It was an interdisciplinary workshop, attended by more than 80 professionals from 18 provinces, most them of in the fields of birth control, sociology, urology, and high school and college education. The author was the major instructor. Also in 1985, the author served as chief editor, and as a major contributor, for a large updated volume of the Handbook of Sex Knowledge, published by the Scientific and Technological Literature Publishing House in Beijing. Although it was intended to be the most up-to-date text of its kind, the book could not include any descriptions of sexual positions or any nude illustrations (except anatomical drawings). Despite these self-imposed restrictions, the first printing was limited to 500,000 copies by the government. After the author left China for the United States at the end of 1985, he was asked to prepare a new version to include knowledge on the prevention of AIDS. In 1988, the revised edition was jointly published by the Scientific and Technological Literature Publishing House and the People’s Medical Publishing House (Ruan 1985/1988), one of the two publishers officially permitted to publish books on sex. Yet in 1988, the government allowed the showing of a film that explicitly referred to the Handbook. The movie, titled Mandarin Duck Apartments (to the Chinese, a pair of mandarin ducks symb olizes an affectionate couple), includes a scene in which an old woman counsels a young newlywed who feels that sex is dirty and shameful. The old woman shows her the Handbook, explaining that findings in sexual science show that women have as much right as men to enjoy sex.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the government fell into its old habit of including sexual restrictions in a wave of political repression. But, because of huge pressure to deal with population control, STDs, and the prevention of teenager pregnancy, the government can no longer inhibit and stop sex education. Sex education classes, exhibitions, meetings, and publications are still continuing and developing in China today. [Comment 1997: Pei-Kum Yao has chronicled in detail the development of adolescent sex education since 1920 in Appendix III of Dalin Liu’s Sexual Behavior in Modern China, 1992. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

[Update 2001: Ren Zhi Chu, a nationwide monthly sexuality education journal, is the most popular and only journal of its kind in China. This journal, which was started in 1990 by the Guangdong Committee of Family Planning in Guangzhou, has had phenomenal growth. Recent annual circulation has been one million to 1.2 million copies. In 1999, its circulation was ranked 28th among social-cultural journals in the world. (Hongling Wei, an editor of Ren Zhi Chu, personal communication). (End of update by F. Ruan)]

[Update 2002: Several mid-2002 reports in the Beijing Star Daily and the People’s Daily described important new developments in sex education in China.

[While it has been widely acknowledged that sex and sex education have long been a sensitive issue in China and many people are too embarrassed to talk openly about the subject, Rong Hua, vice-chairwoman of the Beijing Municipal Women’s Federation, described the results of a survey of 1,500 Beijing families as “astonishing.” Most parents, Rong pointed out, try to avoid answering their children’s questions and do not know what to do when they find their children are making opposite-sex friends.

[Seventy-four percent of the parents surveyed admitted they did not give their children any sex education at all; about 50% admitted they were too embarrassed to do so. While 28% of parents gave their children simple explanations when they asked about sex, only 3% gave detailed explanations. Some parents offered appropriate books to their children and some take them to educational exhibitions on the topic.

[According to Rong and other experts, the survey underlined the need for parents to give truthful answers to their children’s questions on sex and for more sex education to be included in family education programs.

[Meanwhile, the Beijing Star Daily announced publication of new sex education textbooks for middle-school students that open up discussion of sex, drugs, and contraception. The Haidian District in Beijing, home to several prestigious universities, will take the lead in introducing the textbooks, the first of their kind in Beijing, to its middle schools in September 2002. The books break new ground in teaching youngsters how to deal with sexual harassment, take emergency contraception measures, and keep away from drugs. They also cover AIDS, venereal diseases, “on-line love,” and premarital sex.

[Publication of the pilot series was a major step forward within the educational system, but teachers and parents were playing a more crucial role in guiding teenagers towards healthy ideas on sex-related issues, experts noted. At the same time, adults are being urged to overcome their embarrassment and openly talk about sex for the healthy physical and psychological growth of the younger generation.

[In June 2002, South China’s Hainan province began distribution of a television series, Sex Education for Children in Primary and High Schools, on video compact disc. Jointly produced by the Central China University of Science and Technology and the Hainan Yongyu Filming and Cultural Communication Limited Company, the series is China’s first sex-related popular-science television program targeting young people. The 10-lecture program teaches youngsters about basic sex knowledge, self-protection, sex hygiene, and how to deal with their developing sexuality. The series comes in three versions, a primary, junior high, and senior high school edition. Initially, only the primary school edition will be available on video compact disc. Because the series is specially made for children’s psychology and is easy to understand, analysts said it will spare parents and schoolteachers the awkwardness that usually accompanies sex education. (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

B. Informal Sources of Sexual Knowledge

Given the government’s authoritarian control described in the section above, it is obvious that informal sources of sexual information, such as television talk shows, radio phone-in programs, and popular magazines, commonly found in more democratic and open countries, are very limited in China because they are illegal and are severely punished. [Comment 1997: Underground sources continue to flourish, and official control has been relaxing as more emphasis has been shifted from ideology to economy. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

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4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns

Self-pleasuring is still condemned by most of the Chinese people, including even some sex educators and sex researchers. It is widely said that frequent self-pleasuring will cause neuroses, sexual dysfunctions, and even severe diseases. Although in 1985, the author pointed out in his popular article, “On Masturbation”, and in his Handbook of Sex Knowledge, that self-pleasuring is normal sexual behavior, neither harmful nor sinful, it will take time for people to accept this updated viewpoint on self-pleasuring. According to A Report of the Nationwide “Sex Civilization” Survey on 20,000 Subjects in China (1992), only 39.0% of college and university students said that they engaged in self-pleasuring, male students (59.0%) much higher than female students (16.5%). But Dr. Lee’s survey in 1989 in Shanghai showed that 93.1% of male students at colleges and universities said that they engaged in this behavior. In the “Sex Civilization” Survey, 15.9% of married couples said that they engaged in self-pleasuring. (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, C, College Students, and D, Married Couples, for data on masturbation in the nationwide survey by Dalin Liu.)

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5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors

A/B. Children/Adolescents

Because of the pervasive social pressures, reinforced by some messages given by some medical practitioners and the lack of sexual education, sexual expression other than heterosexual marital sex, (including sexual play and sex rehearsal play, both alone and with peers), is punished when discovered. Such behavior is seldom, if ever, reported or commented on in public. No puberty rites are observed to mark sexual maturation.

Premarital Sexual Activities and Relationships

A study in a major city in Quangdong province found that of 123 young women undergoing premarital examinations, 75 (61%) had already experienced intercourse. In a 1991 survey in which questionnaires were distributed to a random sample of 1,003 unmarried university students in Beijing, including equal numbers of men and women, of 559 respondents, 106 (19%) said they had engaged in sex. Lack of private space is a major problem for young lovers. Many young people have little choice but to meet in parks. And where, five years ago, couples were likely to sit demurely together on a bench, it is now acceptable to hug and kiss, ignoring people passing by only a few feet away. Some couples disappear into the bushes. In Dalin Liu’s 1992 survey, 18% of the married couples admitted to having sex with a previous partner; 86.3% of those sampled approved of such encounters. (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, and C, College Students, for data on premarital courtship and sexual attitudes and behavior among adolescent males and females and college students in the 1992 nationwide survey.)

C. Adults

Unmarried Adults

For several thousand years, the Chinese people have tried to adhere to the simple dictum: “Get married at a marriageable age.” And for centuries it would have been true to say that no Chinese would want to remain single for his or her entire life. But in recent years, China’s unmarried population has been growing at a steady rate. For example, in 1982, there were 11,267,000 unmarried Chinese people aged between 28 and 49 years old, or 4.36% of the total population in the 28-to-49 age range. Of these, 10,556,000 were male (93.67%) and 714,000 female (6.33%). (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections C, College Students, and D, Married Couples, for data on premarital sexual attitudes in the nationwide survey.)

Recently, the Chinese people have started to replace their old-fashioned social concepts with ones that respect the rights of the unmarried; to remain single is now as much a personal right as the right to marry. An important factor in this shift was a greater respect for the rights of freedom, which should prove a blessing both to individuals and society.

[Update 1997: In every public park in China, a large billboard at every entrance warns against “offence against public decency,” just as there are notices in dance halls prohibiting anyone from “dancing with faces or cheeks touching the partner’s.” In reality, such “indecencies” are practiced by most people, and law enforcers are becoming more and more tolerant.

[An analysis of detailed observations of courtship and petting behaviors engaged in by married, unmarried, and status-unknown couples in 13 public parks in six Chinese cities, Beijing, Guangzhou, Zheng-zhou, Hohehaote, Chong-qing, and Xian, during the summers between 1985 and 1989, provides an insight into the heterosexual courtship behavior of young Chinese couples in that era: In the five years, from 1985 to 1989, petting behavior in public parks increased, forcing authorities to be more tolerant of behavior that previously was unacceptable. The decreasing social control by the authorities reflected more tolerance in the society’s political direction. Attitudes toward public petting were the most diversified in Beijing. The most permissiveness was found mainly in parks used mostly by blue-collar workers, as compared to parks used mostly by white-collar workers and “cadres.” Finally, in a country with a strong tradition of double standards in sexual morals for females and males, it was surprising that in Beijing, only 31 to 40% of the females were fully passive, and at least 18 to 27% initiated petting to a small degree when it came to less intimate petting behavior in more-private settings in the parks. “It could never be imagined in the old days that so many females would allow themselves to be petted in public, even if they were absolutely passive” (Pan 1993, 184).

[In 1987, there was the movement against “bourgeoisie liberalization,” and in 1989, a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” in Beijing. It is uncertain whether and how these efforts could or did affect the petting limits, but it seems that the grimmer a movement is, the more timid the petting couples are, and the less permissive the nearby people are to the petting. It is also interesting to note that no amount of social control, be it by propaganda, moral condemnation, or daily administrative measures, is as effective as a large-scale political movement once every few years in reinstating the official petting limits (Pan 1993, 192; Burton 1988). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]


Beginning in the late 1970s, the increased tolerance of nonmarital cohabitation in the West began to influence China’s younger generation. College students and young intellectuals, in particular, were attracted to this lifestyle. Some of the younger or more open-minded sociologists also asserted the necessity of overcoming the disadvantages of traditional marriage. Actually, the act of cohabitation might be an act of defiance and courage, or simply a consequence of overcrowding and the lack of living space. These young Chinese risked being arrested.

The definition of unmarried cohabitation used in compiling official statistics makes it difficult to estimate the popularity of this behavior in the sense it is understood in the West. The official figure of 2.69 million couples in unmarried cohabitation in 1989 seems low, considering that some areas report that as many as 50% of couples living together live in unmarried cohabitation. As for couples marrying under the legal age (22 for males; 20 for females), China’s State Family Planning Commission reports that 6.1 million such marriages took place in 1987 alone. According to China’s 1990 census, 5.8% of 15- to 21-year-old males and 15- to 19-year-old females were “married.” That means that 8.5 million Chinese “married” under the legal age. Two and a half million babies—10% of all births—were born to underage couples in that year. The same news article reports an estimate by the Marriage Administration Division of the National Department of Civil Administration that 30% of China’s “married” couples are living together without having received an official marriage certificate, and that the number is growing (see Section 9D, Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning, Population Control Efforts).

Marriage and the Family

Although China has a long history of polygamy, in contemporary mainland China, only monogamy is legal and morally permissible. On May 1, 1950, a new Marriage Law was promulgated. It stated that “The New-Democratic marriage system, which is based on the free choice of partners, on monogamy, on equal rights of both sexes, and on the protection of the lawful interests of women and children, shall be put into effect,” and that “Bigamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the remarriage of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage, shall be prohibited.” The revised marriage law of 1980 followed the same principles as the 1950 law.

Marital Sex

A surprising 91% of the 8,000 married couples interviewed by Dalin Liu (1992) in cities and rural areas expressed satisfaction with their spouse. However, when Dalin looked deeper, he found that the average Chinese couple has intercourse four to seven times a month, with peasants invariably reporting 25% more sex than city couples. However, 34.1% of the rural couples and 17.2% of city couples admit to less than one minute of foreplay or none at all. Consequently, 44.7% of urban wives and 37% of rural wives experience pain during intercourse. Only 16.8% of rural couples kiss or embrace apart from lovemaking. (See also Part 2. The 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Section D, Married Couples, for data on marital sex and satisfaction in the 1992 nationwide survey.)

Marital dissatisfaction is very common in China today. Some estimate that as many as 60% of the Chinese are unhappy with their marriages. A survey of 3,000 young people in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, showed that only 20% of respondents were satisfied with their marriage. In a survey of 600 couples, all residents of big cities, 70% said they were unhappy with their sex lives. A random survey of married couples in Shanghai found that 45% were unhappy with their sexual relationships. A survey of 6,000 divorce cases in five large cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou (Canton), Wuhan, and Xi’an, by ten newspapers showed that 72% of divorces are caused by disharmony in sexual life. [Update 2001: A four-year survey of “The Quality of Marriage in China” found that only 3% of the couples surveyed rated their marital sex as “fully satisfying,” 75% rated it “so-so,” while 22% rated it “low quality.” (December 2, 2000, Shenzhen Evening News). (End of update by F. Ruan)]


Although the divorce rate is not very high in China, it is increasing rapidly. In 1978, some 170,449 couples divorced; in 1979, 192,894 couples; in 1980, 180,378 couples; 186,891 couples in 1981; 210,930 couples in 1982, 420,000 couples in 1983, and 450,000 couples in 1984. In 1985 and 1986, the annual average was 500,000 couples. The divorce figure rose to 587,000 couples in 1987, and 630,000 couples in 1988. In 1989, nationwide official statistics showed that 9,851,000 couple applied for marriage; 9,348,000 couples, about 95%, were approved and given a marriage certificate. In the same year, 1,307,000 couples applied for divorce; 752,000, about 58%, were approved and given divorce certificates. The marriage rate was 16.8 per 1,000 persons and the divorce rate 1.35 per 1,000 persons.

[Update 1997: With rapid economic growth creating new hopes and expectations, and Government interference in personal lives receding steadily, the divorce rate in Beijing more than doubled from 12% in 1990 to 24.4% in 1994, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. This statistic compares the number of marriages and divorces in a given year. While the national divorce rate in mid-1995 was 10.4, far behind that in the United States and European nations, officials admit that the divorce rate is rising all over China, and faster in the cities than in rural areas. Among the factors contributing to the new trend are the new social and economic freedoms, the rising expectations that women bring to marriage, and a remarkable increase in extramarital affairs. More than 70% of divorces are currently initiated by women with the most common reason being an extramarital affair on the part of the husband.

[Increasingly, among urban Chinese and even among government officials who once actively opposed divorce, divorce is being viewed as a an acceptable alternative to an unhappy marriage. Many officials even recognize a positive side to divorce. When both parties agree, a divorce can be granted in three days; not long ago, the wait was years. Important as the government’s attitudinal shift is, the larger factors are the growing expectations women bring to marriage today and their growing demands in an era of expanding opportunity. In the past, women were happy to settle for a stable income, a home, and children. To these expectations, women are now adding romance, sex, and affection. While women increasingly enjoy more independence and choices in career, place to live, husband, and lover, they are also more subject to unemployment. Meanwhile, the shift has also brought a resurgence of traditional male values, including the right to have an affair.

[Prior to the current surge in divorces, China experienced two other waves of rapidly rising divorce rates: The first occurred in the 1950s when returning victorious Communist soldiers abandoned their farms and rural wives to move to the city; the second came during and just after the Cultural Revolution, between 1966 and 1980 (Faison 1995). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]


[Update 2003: For thousands of years, Chinese emperors and government officials surrounded themselves with concubines, while traders and businessmen maintained a wife in every port. Under British rule (1841 to 1997), concubines were legal in Hong Kong. In the past generation, enough Hong Kong men have led the double life to father an estimated 520,000 children. In 1999, a local Hong Kong court exercised its separate legal jurisdiction to grant Hong Kong residency to the half-million children born to the second wives of Hong Kong men. That decision would have added significantly to Hong Kong’s 6.5 million people packed into a very limited 416 square miles (1,077 km2). It also created some serious legal consequences for the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Not surprisingly, a mainland Chinese court overturned the local decree.

[With Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macao now under mainland Chinese rule, the borders are increasingly porous, and concentrations of second wives and concubines are expanding in small cities and suburbs within commuting distance of Hong Kong and Macao and along the main rail lines from Hong Kong and Macao to Guangzhou, as well as across southeast China.

[Concerned about the negative effects of the concubine tradition on China’s family-planning policies of one child per family in the cities and a tolerated two children in the rural areas, the government is now trying to eliminate or at least reduce concubinage. This will not be easy, for both economic and jurisdictional reasons.

[Mass migration and economic dislocation have made concubines a major problem across the country wherever rural poverty meets the affluence of the new free market’s restrained capitalist economy. For a modest $200 monthly rent in a village of concubines, a moderately affluent married businessman can enjoy the comfort of an attractive devoted second wife. Second wives are easy to find on farms just outside cities. There is also a flourishing business of go-betweens who recruit young women happy to trade the hard life on a poor farm in some distant province for the luxury of a two-bedroom apartment with some modern conveniences in the bustling suburb of a modern city.

[The government tries to combat migration from the farms to the cities by issuing every adult a work permit allowing that person to work legally only within a certain distance of their birthplace. Permits to migrate to a city are strictly limited. In becoming a concubine, a young woman can leave her rural home without a work permit and be supported by a “husband.”

[A law introduced in 2000 in Shenzhen, just outside Hong Kong’s Kowloon destrict, provides a prison sentence of 10 months for “factual bigamy”; a single act of adultery is still not a crime. Under a new law in Guangdong province, which includes both Shenzhen and Dongguan, long-term cohabitation by an unmarried couple is now a crime and can bring a two-year sentence to a labor camp. However, the police face a near insurmountable obstacle proving long-term cohabitation when a monthly lease or no lease enables a man to move his second wife to a new apartment on very short notice.

[The current separate legal jurisdictions of Hong Kong, Macao, and China also make prosecution very difficult. If a Hong Kong woman wants to take her bigamist husband into a Chinese court, she must first make sure that the Chinese police can prove that the husband is living with his mistress somewhere in one of the populous mainland villages of concubines (Landler 2000; Luk 2002). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

Extramarital Sexual Activities

Sex between consenting adults is technically not illegal in China, but the police have broad powers to suppress activities that they consider antisocial. Elderly women who staff local “neighborhood committees,” the grassroots eyes and ears of the government, also try to stop activities of which they disapprove. But discreet affairs have a good chance of escaping detection and interference. Means of birth control were not always available to unmarried youths, but women knew they could get an abortion. Extramarital affairs seem to occur much more than generally believed, although they are conducted in such secrecy that little statistical information is available. Perhaps the best evidence of these affairs is divorce rates: about one third of the divorces in Beijing from 1984 to 1985 were caused by extramarital relationships. In the Third Symposium of Family Problems in 1991, an expert said that 40% of divorces are caused by extramarital sexual relationships. If these findings are at all typical, then the increasing divorce rate must reflect an increase in the number of extramarital relationships.

A survey in Beijing found that members of at least 10% of the sample of 600 couples had had extramarital sex. Perhaps most significant is a nationwide survey that showed that 69% of the people surveyed did not think extramarital affairs are wrong. In Dalin Liu’s 1992 survey, 69% condoned extramarital sexual relations.

Incidence of Oral and Anal Sex

Several factors influence both attitudes towards and experience with oral and anal sex. In a 1989 survey with 1,279 respondents in 27 cities, nearly seven out of ten Chinese reported that they have had anal sex with heterosexual partners. Professor Pan found that only 6% of the 600 heterosexual couples he surveyed in big cities had had anal intercourse at least once.

In ancient erotic art and fiction, oral sex, including mutual “69” oral sex, is not unusual. Considering the lack of information about sexual behaviors that prevailed until recently, and Dalin Liu’s finding that 34% of rural couples and 17% of urban couples engaged in less than a minute of foreplay, it is not likely that oral sex is as common as it was in ancient China. No general survey data is available. Many modern Chinese think oral sex is too “dirty.” In 1988, a survey of 140 homosexual males in Shanghai revealed that only 19 persons, 13.6%, said they had had oral sex, and only four persons, 2.8%, had experienced anal sex. At a 1990 World Health Organization meeting on the spread of AIDS in China, Pan reported that 7.7 out of 10 Chinese have had anal sex with a heterosexual partner. Few data are available on anal sex among homosexuals because of the taboo character of that population as well as studies of same-sex behavior (Burton 1990). (Dalin Liu’s Sex Culture in Ancient China provides extensive information about sexual deviance in China.)

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6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Bisexual Behaviors

Male homosexuality may have been a familiar feature of Chinese life in remote ancient times. The official Chinese historical records indicate that during the Spring-Autumn and Chin-Han Era (770 B.C.E. to 24 C.E.), male same-sex behavior was not a crime or considered immoral behavior. On the contrary, it was sometimes the noble thing to do. For example, in Western Han (206 B.C.E. to 8 C.E.), ten of the 11 emperors each had at least one homosexual lover or shared some same-sex behavior. During the Western and Eastern Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties (256 to 581 C.E.), male homosexuality seemed also acceptable in the broader upper-class society.

Considering the many and varied records of homosexuality in ancient China, one would expect to find evidence of homosexuality in modern China. However, literature regarding contemporary homosexuality is scarce at best, although it is available in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Thus it was a genuine breakthrough when, through a rather unique and unexpected set of events, the situation of homosexuality in China was openly discussed for the first time in a positive context: In 1985, Ruan, the author of this chapter, using a pen name, Jin-ma Hua, published an article in a widely circulated Chinese health magazine, To Your Good Health. The article pointed out that homosexuality has occurred in all nations, all social strata, and in all eras in human history, and that homosexuals deserve a reasonable social status. Many of the readers of To Your Good Health, most of them gay, wrote to the magazine’s editor in response to the article.

By April 1986, a total of 60 letters had been received by the editor of To Your Good Health, and forwarded to Ruan. A striking aspect of the letters from gay men is their immense relief at having an opportunity to express their feelings. Many letters expressed the writers’ pain and conflicting desires for both confidentiality and a chance to overcome their isolation. Clearly, the chief source of pain for China’s gay men derives from the fear of societal punishment, including arrest, and possible sentence to labor reform camp or prison.

The mental pressure and anguish arising from the fear that their true identity might be discovered is often unbearable. The social pressure, pain, and inner conflict homosexuals suffer can be so intense that they come to consider or even attempt suicide. Of the 56 who responded to Hua’s article, 15, or more than 25%, mentioned suicide attempts. Of all the hopes and dreams expressed in these moving letters, three types of aspirations were outstanding. The first concerned the human rights issue—the belief that society should accept homosexuals and their right to express their sexuality without social or legal condemnation. The second concerned the issue of freedom to interact with other homosexuals—the wish that society would provide them with means to make contacts and form relationships, just as it does for heterosexuals. The third concerned the issue of knowledge—the wish that objective and scientific studies would be conducted and publicized in order to improve societal understanding. In 20 letters, the hope that some agency would facilitate social contacts among homosexuals took the form of a request that “Dr. Hua” or his publishers do so. In Hua’s article, two actual cases of gay life in Hubei and Shanghai had been described. All 20 letters requested the names and addresses of these two men in order to establish contact with them. Some men, though they did not use the word for “club,” expressed the wish to create this type of organization. There were 18 letters pointing out the need for development and/or publication of more information about homosexuality.

Regarding the legal situation of homosexuals in mainland China now, although there is no specific statement concerning the status of homosexuals in the current Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, Article 106 says, “All hooliganism should be subjected to arrest and sentence.” In practice, homosexual activity has been included in “hooliganism.” As noted above, even the small sample of letters Ruan received contained a report of a man who received a five-year jail term for homosexuality.

Silence, especially a silence based on repression and enforced ignorance, must not be mistaken for approval or tolerance. When public figures do speak out on homosexuality, it is usually to condemn it. For example, in the 1990s, a famous attorney even wrote that “homosexuality . . . disrupts social order, invades personal privacy and rights and leads to criminal behavior.” A leading forensic psychiatrist said that “homosexuality is against social morality, interferes with social security, damages the physical and mental health of adolescents, and ought to be a crime.”

Another common reaction to the suggestion that homosexuality exists in China is denial. Clear evidence of the official denial of homosexuality was provided by the internationally well-known sexologist, Dr. Richard Green, the series editor of “Perspectives in Sexuality: Behavior, Research, and Therapy.” In his “Series Editor’s Comment” for Ruan’s book Sex in China: Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture, he wrote:

Less than a year before the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen square, I lectured on human sexuality at Peking Union Medical College. I described my research on the nonsexual behaviors of young boys that predicted later homosexuality. I asked the physicians in the audience whether comparable childhood behaviors were found among Chinese boys. I was told that there were no homosexuals in China. (Ruan 1991)

But, this official attitude of denying homosexuality in China can no longer be justified. In late 1991, officials in Shanghai, the largest city in China, recognized that there are about 10,000 homosexuals in the city. Actually, the number of homosexuals may be over 200,000, according to the World Weekly (September 1, 1991). Changzheng Hospital in Tianjin, the third largest city in China, reported in a medical paper that in the past four years, out of 366 STD cases, at least 61 cases of syphilis resulted from male homosexual behavior; 80% of the cases involved anal sex, 10% oral sex, and other 10% anal plus oral sex. Most of the cases (80%) involved sexual activity in public toilets. More than 80% of the homosexual partners were strangers. Their ages ranged from 16 years to 60 years, with two thirds of the group falling between 20 and 30 years of age. Most of them were workers, some were cadres, teachers, and others.

Yet another reaction is to admit that perhaps homosexuality does exist in China, but to insist that, when it occurs, it is the result of Western influence; it was referred to as “spiritual pollution,” and “Western social diseases,” originating in “Western ideology and thoughts.”

Finally, there are those who, when faced with undeniable evidence of homosexuality, respond by seeking to eliminate it. Even many physicians still fail to recognize homosexuality as simply one possible sexual orientation. For example, in Harbin, one of the largest cities in northeastern China, physicians now use the discredited approach of “treating” homosexuality with electric shock therapy to discourage erotic thoughts.

In ancient times, Chinese culture was characterized by a very tolerant attitude toward same-sex female behavior. Lesbians in China today are even more closeted than gay males. (See also Xiaomingxiong—alias Samshasha 1984, and Lau & Ng 1989).

When Ruan received letters from homosexuals all over China in 1985 and 1986, not one was from a woman. The only women who are willing to discuss their homosexuality are the few who have already been imprisoned for this behavior and have little to lose. An exception to the usual difficulty in locating lesbians is the experience of Chinese journalists, He and Fang, who were actually more successful in contacting lesbians than gay males in their 1989 survey of homosexuality in China. They wrote six stories about lesbians compared to one about gay males.

He and Fang had to rely on interviews with women who were jailed for “sex crimes,” or crimes of violence inspired by sexual jealousy. Because so many investigations of female homosexuality are based on interviews with prisoners, it has been all too easy for Chinese people to develop a stereotype of lesbians as immoral, frustrated people (Sheridan & Salaff 1984).

In early 1992, a new and more humane homosexual policy emerged. This started with two young lesbians in Wuwei County, Anhui province, whose parents opposed their homosexual relationship very much. The angry parents finally reported the affair to the local police department. After several months of investigation, the police department of Wuwei County arrested these two female lovers and restrained them 15 days on charges of “misconduct.”

The Wuwei County police department then referred the case to higher institutions until the Public Security Department of Central Government in Beijing heard the case. The Public Security Department replied and instructed the county police that because, under current laws, there was no article that specifies punishment for such behavior and relationship, it could not treated as “misconduct.” Therefore, the Wuwei Police Department released the two women and let them live together as “husband” and “wife.” Usually the older woman takes the role of “husband,” and wears male clothing, while the younger one takes the role of “wife” and prefers to stay in the home. It is a very good signal to show that, at least some police officers, especially senior ones, have started to change their attitude toward homosexuality and other sexual variations. But, recently a reversal still occurred. In May 1993, the government closed down the first gay saloon, “Men’s World,” located in Beijing. It had opened appeared on November 22, 1992, and came out in public on February 14, 1993.

(See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, C, College Students, and D, Married Couples, for data on views of homosexuality and the incidence of same-sex behavior among adolescents, college students, and married couples in the nationwide survey.)

[Update 2001: Hongling Wei, editor of Ren Zhi Chu (sexual education journal), estimates that about 36 million to 48 million mainland Chinese men, 3 to 4% of the population, are homosexual or bisexual (Personal communication to Ruan).

[Research on homosexuality in China was pioneered in the 1990s by three noted scholars. Dr. Yinghe Li, a sociologist of sex who studied at the University of Pittsburgh (USA), Dr. Beichuan Zhang, a researcher on same-sex love, and Professor Suiming Pan, a sociologist of sex and Director of the Institute for Sociology of Sex at The People’s University, Beijing. Dr. Li has interviewed and surveyed homosexuals and authored a monograph Subculture of Homosexuality (1998, Beijing). Dr. Zhang wrote the most comprehensive academic Chinese monograph on Same Sex Love (1994, Jinan: Shangdong Scientific and Technic Press). In his early investigation of homosexual behaviors in 1997 to 1998, Dr. Zhang discovered that only one third of the over 400 homosexuals he interviewed used condoms (Beichuan Zhang: “Men, sexual relationships, AIDS,” Ren Zhi Chu 1999, 9:36). Table 2 lists the results of a 1998 nationwide random investigation of sexual attitudes toward homosexuality among ordinary Chinese.

Table 2                  

Chinese Attitudes Toward Homosexuality

Homosexuality . . .
Do not
Is an inversion 52.2% 30.8% 10.0% 3.7%
Is immoral 17.2% 22.6% 43.3% 13.6%
Is biological 10.1% 28.9% 32.9% 23.3%
Is normal 5.5% 12.4% 26.6% 51.6%
Gay marriage OK 4.5% 6.3% 20.2% 65.3%

[In early 2001, the 8,000-member Chinese Psychiatric Association concluded that homosexuality is not a perversion and removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in its new diagnostic manual. The step added to a growing tolerance of gays and lesbians in China, where an underground culture of gay bars, websites, and sports clubs flourishes. Taking advantage of loosening social restrictions over the past two decades, gay couples now live together discreetly. In major cities like Shanghai, some musicians and artists are openly gay, although many homosexuals endure harassment. The diagnostic manual retains an entry on homosexuality as a possible cause of depression, and other problems for patients who are uncomfortable with their orientation. Treatment can include therapy meant to change a patient’s orientation to heterosexual, but such therapy was rare in China. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

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7. Gender Diversity and Transgender Issues

Recognition of transsexualism in human society is a relatively recent phenomenon, especially in the closed society of mainland China. In January 1983, with the author’s assistance, the first male-to-female transsexual surgery was performed in the Plastic Surgery Department of the Third Hospital of Beijing Medical University.

The greatest difficulty facing transsexuals in China is that of gaining the acceptance of their families and society. It is nearly impossible to obtain permission to perform transsexual surgery. A psychiatrist told the author that he had seen two transsexual patients who, after being repeatedly denied transsexual surgery, used knives to remove the penis by themselves. The problem is not a lack of appropriate surgical techniques and facilities. In fact, both general plastic surgery and such precise surgical techniques as reimplantation of severed fingers are very advanced in China. Dr. Xia, in the Plastic Surgery Department of the Third Hospital of Beijing Medical University, has successfully operated simultaneously on a male-to-female transsexual and a female-to-male transsexual with mutual exchange and transplantation of ovaries and testicles; this surgery took 19 hours. If permission were given, transsexual surgery could be performed with little difficulty in most large hospitals. The problem is really perceptual and ideological. The absence of scientific research on the subject means that there is nothing to counteract the statements of the popular press, which describes transsexualism as not merely outlandish, but as evidence of the inroads of “decadent Western culture.” This ideological tone effectively inhibits surgeons’ willingness to perform transsexual surgery.

[Comment 1997: In early Chinese history, hundreds of males were castrated every year to become eunuchs. Some of these were transsexuals. In other words, transsexuals in the past had a legal option transsexuals do not have in China today. (End of comment by M. P. Lau)]

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8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors

A. Coercive Sex

Rape and Pedophilia

Rape, pedophilia, and any behavior which “subjects women to indignities or carries out other gangster activities,” are all clearly illegal, according to Articles 139 and 160 of the 1980 Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. It is very interesting to note that although China has an official policy severely repressing sex and heavily punishing sex crime, nevertheless, such crimes in mainland China continue to increase from year to year. The Chinese government does not publicize the number of sex crimes, but some figures are available from academic articles. For example, in Shanghai, the largest city in China, the number of rapes increased from 100% (as the basis for comparison) in 1979 to 377% in 1983. Nationwide, the number of reported rapes rose from a base 100% in 1979 to 340% in 1983. (See also Part 2. The 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Section E, Sex Offenders, for data in the 1992 nationwide survey.)

Teenage rapists, in particular, increased from a base of 100% in 1980, to 150% in 1981, 192% in 1982, and 311% in 1983. While there was a slight decrease in 1984, the absolute number still increased, and in 1985, it increased by 42.5% in Shanghai over the previous year.

In China, every year, a lot of people were shot by the government as the penalty for crime. Many of them were related to crimes of sex, love, and marriage. In Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic, for instance, out of 52 cases for which executions were carried out in 1984, crimes of sex, love, and marriage accounted for 67.4% of all death penalties.

The juvenile crime rate from 1979 to 1981 increased more than 25%. Statistics from three cities from 1980 to 1983 showed 13% of juvenile crimes involved sex crimes. Most of them involved 13- to 15-year-olds. Forty percent of male delinquents charged by the Juvenile Delinquent Correction Institution were charged with “sexual crimes and mistakes”; 95% of the female delinquents, some as young as 12 years, were charged with sexual violations, which may or may not have involved rape.

Incest and Sexual Harassment

Certainly, incest and sexual harassment exist in China. No general survey data are available. “Sexual harassment” as a new word in Chinese (Xingsaorao) translated from English, is now used in China. Traditionally, it was included in the concept of liumong xingwei or tiaoxi funu, both terms indicating any behavior which sexually subjects women to indignities. Liumong xingwei and tiaoxi funu are clearly illegal, according to Articles 139 and 160 of the 1980 Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.

[Sexual Violence and Crimes of Passion

[Update 2001: In early 2001, Shanghai’s State Prosecutor reported that China’s massive floating population of rural migrants was playing a major role in the dramatic rise in extramarital affairs, divorces, and domestic violence. In 1999, the Prosecutor reported that over one million of the eight million Chinese in the city of Shanghai proper had obtained a divorce. Domestic violence reportedly affected a third of Shanghai’s families and half of the city’s homicides were crimes of passion. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

B. Prostitution

China’s first brothels were likely established in the Spring-and-Autumn period (770 B.C.E. to 476 B.C.E.) by the famous statesman and philosopher Guan Zhong (? to 645 B.C.E.), who used them as a means of increasing the state’s income. It is clear that the institution of government-run prostitution reached its peak in the Tang (618 to 905 C.E.) and Sung (960 to 1279 C.E.) Dynasties. In ancient China, where most women had no opportunity to acquire an education, and formal contact between men and women was frowned upon, it was the role of the courtesan to entertain a man and be his friend. Every prominent official, writer, artist, or merchant customarily left his wife at home when he traveled; instead, he was accompanied by women skilled in making men feel comfortable. Courtesans with literary, musical, or dancing ability were especially desirable companions, and many became famous historical figures. However, the prostitutes working in privately owned brothels mainly provided sexual services. (See also the profile of a female prostitute in Part 2. The 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Section E, Sex Offenders, for data on prostitution in the 1992 nationwide survey.)

From the Sung to the Ming Dynasties, government-run and privately owned prostitution existed side by side in China. Early in the Ging dynasty, from 1651 to 1673 C.E., the Manchu Emperors Shun-chih and Kang-hsi gradually abolished both local and imperial governmental involvement in operating prostitution. Thus, for most of the Ching dynasty, prostitution in China was a private enterprise. For most of the Republican period in mainland China (1912 to 1949), some prostitutes were registered while others plied their trade illegally.

When the Chinese Communists took power, one of the first social changes they introduced was the abolition of prostitution. Only one month after the Communist army took control of Beijing (Peking) on February 3, 1949, the new municipal government announced a policy of limiting and controlling the brothels. Less that eight weeks after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on October 1, 1949, more than 2,000 Beijing policemen raided and closed all 224 of the city’s brothels, arresting 1,286 prostitutes and 424 owners, procurers, and pimps. Other cities soon followed suit. In Shanghai, China’s most populous city, there were 5,333 arrests of prostitutes between 1950 and 1955.

In October 1957, in a new attempt to maintain order, the 81st Session of the Standing Committee of the First National People’s Congress adopted a new law titled Rules on the Control of and Punishment Concerning Public Security of the People’s Republic of China. The legislation announced the policy on banning prostitution. In 1979, at its Second Session, the Fifth National People’s Congress adopted the first criminal law in the PRC, The Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, which took effect January 1, 1980. Under this Law, the punishment for coercing prostitution was more severe: “Article 140: Whoever forces a female to engage in prostitution shall be sentenced to a fixed term of imprisonment of 3 to 10 years.”

The severe repression of prostitution did not prevent its accelerated revival in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The first official report of the recurrence and development of prostitution in mainland China appeared in March 1983. It reported that

According to the incomplete statistics from the three largest cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and four provinces, Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Liaoning, from January, 1982 to November, 1982, more than 11,500 persons were discovered to be involved in prostitution. More than 1,200 persons were owners and pimps of underground brothels; more than 4,200 women were prostitutes; and 1,800 persons, including 223 visitors from foreign countries, Hong Kong and Macao, were customers of prostitutes. Fifteen hundred people were fined, 790 were detained, 691 were arrested, and 662 were sent to labor camps. More than 900 underground brothels were banned and closed.

The growth of prostitution in Guangzhou (Canton) alone was amazing. In 1979, only 49 pimps, prostitutes, and customers were caught. In 1985, this number had increased to approximately 2,000. In one month of 1987, 11,946 people were arrested for involvement in prostitution, and in both the preceding and following months, the figures rose to more than 13,000.

Prostitutes and their customers appeared everywhere, in hotels, inns, hair salons, single-family homes, apartments, dormitories, underground brothels, and taxis, in every city and every province. Between January 1986 and July 1987, 18 prison camps for prostitutes were opened, and by December, the number of camps had more than tripled to 62.

Statistics collected in 1986 in the city of Guangzhou (Canton), in Guangdong province, supply some information about the men who patronize prostitutes. In 1986, of 1,580 customers who were caught, 41% were from the city, 34.5% from other parts of the province, 15.3% from other provinces, 6.1% from Hong Kong and Macao, and 3.7% from other countries. Fully two thirds of the customers were Communist Party members and county officials.

There is no doubt that economic motives fuel the current rapid growth of prostitution in mainland China. The possibility of earning as much as 10,000 Yuan new income in only two or three months, versus the average Chinese income of only about 100 Yuan per month, is a powerful incentive.

Since the late 1980s, even harsher measures were taken in the effort to curtail prostitution, including arrests of foreign citizens. In June 1988, in the Shenzhen Economic Zone, which abuts Hong Kong, there was a mass arrest of 122 prostitutes and 100 customers. In the small town of Deqing, about a 100 miles (160 km) west of Canton, a man accused of being a pimp was executed.

The opposition to prostitution also has an ideological basis. In the lexicon of China’s Communist leadership, “prostitution” is a very bad word. Deng Xiaoping, the top leader in China, is particularly strong in his opposition to prostitution and advocates severe penalties, because he believes it tarnishes his country’s reputation. According to a formal report, more than 200,000 prostitutes and customers were caught in 1991 alone, and more than 30,000 prostitutes were sent to forced labor camps, 80% of them streetwalkers.

Some of those arrested in the anti-prostitution movement received sentences as severe as the death penalty. In Wenzhou city, Zhenjiang province, a woman and a man were sentenced to death because they had owned several underground brothels, employing 14 prostitutes. In Beijing, a 55-year-old man was given a death sentence because in 1988 he had allowed prostitutes to use the offices in a hospital about 20 times.

[Update 2001: China currently has an estimated three million female commercial sex workers, according to a personal communiqué from Hongling Wei, editor of Ren Zhi Chu. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

C. Pornography and Erotica

In China, erotic painting and erotic fiction occurred over 1,000 years ago, in the Tang dynasty. The official prohibition of erotic art and literature started as early as about 800 years ago, in the Yuan dynasty. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, a strict ban on erotic fiction and pornography of any kind was imposed nationwide. In the 1950s and 1960s, the policy of banning erotica was very effective. In the whole country, almost no erotic material was to be found. There were few difficulties implementing this policy until the mid-1970s.

Then, the legalization and wide availability of pornography in several Western countries during the late 1960s and early 1970s, coupled with China’s growing openness to the outside world, increased the supply of such material available for underground circulation.

In recent years, the suppression of pornography has become a very serious political and legislative concern. The number of arrests and the severity of sentences on people involved in pornography have both increased in the attempt to suppress it entirely.

By the late 1970s, “X-rated” films and videotapes were being smuggled into China from Hong Kong and other countries. (In China, these are known as “yellow videos” and “yellow” refers to erotica). Yellow videos quickly became a fad. At first, the only people who could view these tapes were rather highly placed Party members and their families, because only they had access to videotape players, which were very rare and expensive in China at that time. Before long, however, “yellow videos,” including the well-known American pornographic movie Deep Throat, were available to more people, although still very secretly and only through small underground circles. Some people used the tapes to make money; tickets for video shows were very expensive, usually 5-10 Yuan per person (at the time most people’s monthly salary was only about 40 to 50 Yuan).

Sometimes, people who were watching these tapes engaged in sexual activity, even group sex. Because yellow videos were usually shown in small private rooms to very small audiences whose members knew each other well, a party atmosphere often prevailed. It was very easy for young people to initiate sexual activity when they were aroused by what they saw.

At about the same time, erotic photographs, reproductions of paintings, and books were also smuggled into mainland China. They, too, were sold at a great profit. One small card with a nude photo would cost as much as 5 to 10 Yuan.

There was a strong reaction at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government. The police were ordered to confiscate every type of pornographic material, from hand-copied books to “yellow” audiotapes and films. Severe penalties were ordered for all people involved in the showing or viewing of “yellow” videos, and, in April 1985, a new antipornography law was promulgated. The nationwide crackdown on pornography led to numerous arrests and confiscations in city after city. For example, by October 1987 in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, 44 dealers in pornography had been arrested and 80,000 erotic books and magazines confiscated. It was reported that an underground publishing house with 600 salesmen had been circulating erotic materials in 23 of China’s 28 provinces, making a profit of 1,000,000 Yuan (in that period about US$300,000) in two years.

A Shanghai Railway Station employee was sentenced to death because he and four other persons organized sex parties on nine different occasions; during these, they showed pornographic videotapes and engaged in sexual activity with female viewers. The other organizers were sentenced to prison, some for life.

The climax of this wave of repression seemed to occur on January 21, 1988, when the 24th session of the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People’s Congress adopted supplemental regulations imposing stiffer penalties on dealers in pornography. Under these regulations, if the total value of the pornographic materials is between 150,000 Yuan and 500,000 Yuan, the dealer shall be sentenced to life imprisonment.

In a nationwide strike against pornography beginning a few weeks after the Tiananmen Square massacre, on July 11, 1989, 65,000 policemen and other bureaucrats were mobilized to investigate publishing houses, distributors, and booksellers. By August 21, more than 11,000,000 books and magazines had been confiscated, and about 2,000 publishing and distributing centers, and 100 private booksellers were forced out of business. But then Deng Xiaoping, China’s top leader, went further by declaring that some publishers of erotica deserved the death penalty. It may be at least one of the most severe political punishments against “pornography” ever suggested by a national leader anywhere in the world. After this, in July 1990, the Supreme People’s Court issued a new decree stating that the death sentence is the proper penalty for traffickers in prostitution and/or pornography.

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9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning

A. Contraception

All kinds of contraceptive measures, from condom to pill, are available and used in China’s practice of family planning. In 1989, it was estimated that more than 70% of couples of child-bearing age were using contraceptives, over 8.8 million males had undergone sterilization injections or operations, including a new reversible sterility operation. For females, the most popular birth control method was the intrauterine device (IUD). Used by 60 million women in the country, the IUD accounts for 41% of the total contraceptive measures; female sterilization operations constitute 36%. Research on a variety of oral contraceptives in the country has also reached advanced levels, and these contraceptives are available to the public. Breakthroughs have recently been reported in the development of medicines for terminating early pregnancy. In 1992, a survey showed that 83.4% of married couples have adopted contraceptive practices. [Update 2002: Table 3 shows a comparison between 1992 and 1997 contraceptive usage. (End of update by F. Ruan)] (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, C, College Students, and D, Married Couples, for additional data on contraception usage in the nationwide survey.)

Table 3                  

Contraceptive Methods in China in 1992 and 1997

  1992 1997
Vasectomy 12.0% 9.2%
Female Sterilization 39.0% 40.0%
IUD 40.0% 43.4%
Implant 0.5%  
Pill 5   % 2.1%
Condom 4   % 4.0%
Spermicide 0.2%  
Others 0.6%  
From: China Population Information and Research Center,, on June 11, 1999.

B. Unmarried Teenage Pregnancies

See Section 5, Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors.

C. Abortion

In China, abortion as a secondary measure to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is not only a legal right, it is even a legal responsibility. If a woman already has a child, she will be asked to terminate her unplanned pregnancy by abortion in the first trimester, and even as late as the second trimester. Generally speaking, in mainland China, one third of pregnant women have undergone an abortion. From 1985 to 1987, 32 million abortions were done, 80% of these pregnancies being the result of failed contraception. (See the discussion of “Fewer births—the one-child policy,” in Section D below).

D. Population Control Efforts

China’s population policy consists of two components: decreasing and limiting the quantity of the population, and improving the quality of the population. To reduce the numerical growth of the population, three main measures are practiced: late marriage, late childbearing, and fewer births—the “one-couple-one-child policy.” The basic measure used to improve the quality of the population involves efforts to prevent birth defects. (See also Part 2, the 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Sections B, Adolescent Sexuality, C, College Students, and D, Married Couples, for data on attitudes toward government limitation of family size among adolescents, college students, and married couples in the 1992 nationwide survey.)

This dual population policy is proving to be effective: China had 200 million fewer babies born in 1988 than in 1970. The result has been a saving of 3 trillion Yuan ($802 billion). China has successfully controlled its annual population growth rate to less than 1.5%, as compared with 2.4% in underdeveloped countries and 2.2% in Asia. During the 1960s, the average Chinese woman gave birth 5.68 times (the figure includes infant deaths, stillbirths, and abortions). This dropped to 4.01 during the 1970s and to 2.47 in the 1980s. The average population growth rate dropped from 2.02% during the period from 1949 to 1973 to 1.38% from 1973 to 1988.

Later Marriage

Generally, until the recent past, the Chinese people were controlled on the local level by danwei—the unit or institution one belongs to. In order to marry, a couple must have a legal registration and a permit letter from his or her danwei. Usually one’s danwei leader checks one’s age—while the minimum legal marriageable age is 22 for males and 20 for females, “later marriage age” policy stipulates an age of 27 to 28 for males and 24 to 25 for females in order to help in the control of population.

A 1991 survey in Nanjing, the former capital of China and the capital of Jiangsu province, showed that the average marriage age was 27.5 for males and 25.8 for females. In 1949, the average first marriage age for females was 18.57, in 1982, it increased to 22.8 years old.

[Update 2003: In May 1971, Seymour Topping, assistant managing editor for The New York Times, was the first Western journalist to meet the Communist Army as it entered Nanjing, Chiang Kai-shek’s fallen capital. Late marriage was already a part of the new government’s population plan, as a physician at the commune hospital at the August First Commune north of Shenyang explained to Topping:

“We are encouraging the boys and girls to marry late. There is no fixed age, and postponing marriage is entirely voluntary. We suggest twenty-five for men and twenty-three for women in the countryside. We tell them late marriage is good for the country. It is better for their health, gives them more time to study and to make a bigger contribution to socialist construction.” In the urban areas even later marriage is urged, twenty-five or twenty-six for women and twenty-seven or twenty-eight for men. Under old Chinese customs it was common for families to arrange child marriages. (Topping 1972)

[Later Births

[Married women are urged not to have a baby before 25 to 28 years of age, but no later than 30 years of age, in order to achieve the twin goals of later childbearing and healthier birth.

[Fewer Births, the “One-Child Policy”

[From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, China’s family planning policy evolved from “One couple, two children,” to “One couple, better one child,” and then to “One couple, only one child.” From advocating “One couple, one child,” the government moved to punishing parents who have more than one child. In 1988, the “one-child policy” became a little more flexible to allow couples in rural areas with one daughter to have a second child, hopefully male, with planned spacing.

[On May 3, 1988, Ms. Peng Peiyun, the new minister in charge of the State Family Planning Commission, restated the official birth control policy at the opening ceremony of the International Conference on Strategic Management of Population in Beijing. Included was a statement of the long-term birth policy:

The country’s current family planning policy is to promote late marriage and late birth, fewer but healthier births, the practice of “one couple, one child”; to allow couples in rural areas with one daughter to have a second child with planned spacing; and to avoid second or multiple births outside their control. A certain flexibility will be given to ethnic minority peoples. (Cheng Hong: “Minister Restates Long-Term Birth Policy,” China Daily, May 4, 1988)

Allowing the peasants to have a second child was a welcome change. Hopefully, this will reduce the resistance to the original “one child” policy, so that China’s birth control policy will more effective. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

[Update 1997: By the mid-1990s, the “one-child policy” had produced an obvious but unintended and serious sex imbalance that is already producing some major improvements in the very low position women have traditionally held in this male-dominated society. Initially, the traditional preference for sons coupled with the “one-child policy” has led to ultrasound scans during pregnancy followed by selective abortion for female fetuses. In January 1994, a new family law took effect that prohibited ultrasound screening to ascertain the sex of a fetus, except when needed on medical grounds. Under the new law, physicians can lose their license if they provide sex-screening for a pregnant woman (Reuters 1994). Even after birth, “millions of Chinese girls have not survived to adulthood because of poor nutrition, inadequate medical care, desertion, and even murder at the hands of their parents” (Shenon 1994; see also Section 1B, Basic Sexological Premises, Sociolegal Status of Males and Females). (End of comment by F. Ruan)]

[Update 1997: [The 1990 census showed about 205 million Chinese over the age of 15 were single in a total population of 1.2 billion. Overall, three out of five single adults were male. However, government figures show that, while the vast majority marry before they turn 30, eight million Chinese in their 30s were still single in 1990, with men outnumbering women by nearly ten to one. Demographics suggested that by the turn of the 20th century, tens of millions of Chinese men will be unwilling or willing lifelong bachelors.

[A government-sponsored computer-dating service, the Great Wall Information Company, founded in Beijing in 1989, and others often sponsored by provincial and city governments, are swamped by eager men searching for a mate. One of the most popular television shows nationwide is “We Meet Tonight,” a cross between a talent show and the “Dating Game,” hosted by Ms. Yang Guang since its first showing in 1990.

[With women in short supply, the men are learning to be realistic and not set their expectations too high. In reality, the women now set the standards, making their choice of a prospective husband based on the intelligence, education, and financial status of many candidates. Another benefit for the women, prompted by the concurrent move towards a free-market economy in which scarcity equals value, is that women can no longer be treated as chattel.

[Custom has held that a man should marry a woman several years younger and with less education than he has. This left older unmarried women, especially those with more education, almost no hope of finding a husband. With the growing shortage of single women, increasing numbers of men are being forced to consider marrying an older woman. There is a saying being heard more commonly in the countryside that a man who marries a woman three or more years older has found a bar of gold and benefits from her maturity.

[On the negative side, Chinese sociologists and journalists have suggested that the drastic increase of unwilling bachelors in a society that values the family and sons above all else may well produce an increase in prostitution, rape, and male suicide. Bounty hunters have already found a lucrative market for abducting young city women and delivering them to rural farmers desperate for brides.

[To restore the balance of sexes, some observers suggest the government could be forced to offer incentives, like free higher education and tax breaks, to encourage couples to have girls. This could result in a huge change in the way women are treated throughout the society (Shenon 1994).

[India is facing a similar sex imbalance with similar factors, the value of male offspring and efforts to reduce population growth. With 900 million people, India has nearly 133 single men for every 100 single women. In the industrialized world, sex ratios are more balanced; in some cases, Japan and the United States in particular, unmarried women outnumber single men, 54 to 46 (Shenon 1994). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

Healthier Birth, or “Preventing Birth Defects”

Every year in China, 13 infants per 1,000 are found to suffer from physical defects. The death rate is 26.7 per 1,000 births and the deformity rate is 35.7 per 1,000. Most are the victims of inbreeding and such hereditary diseases as some mental illnesses, hemophilia, and chromosome defects. This is a big burden to society and the families that have a child with a serious birth defect.

Since 1988, Dr. Wu Ming, a famous expert in medical genetics, has joined the author of this chapter in publications, speeches, and lectures advocating the prevention of birth defects. The basic information was written by the author of this chapter in his book New Knowledge on Prevention of Birth Defects, published in Beijing by People’s Medical Publishing House (Ming 1981). This was the first book of its kind since 1949 and the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

In the early 1980s, the concept of healthier birth, or prevention of birth defects, had already become an important component of China’s policy on population control. In 1986, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Civil Administration stipulated that a medical examination would be a national requirement for marriage approval.

Gansu province is one of the poorer provinces in China. Out of its population of 23 million, more than 260,000 are mentally retarded. This has become a very severe social burden for the province. In 1988, Gansu province adopted a law to force persons who have severe hereditary or congenital mental retardation (I.Q. 1) to be sterilized before marriage, or abort any fetuses conceived, in order to prevent severe birth defects. From January 1989 to June 1991, 6,271 mentally retarded persons were sterilized. Later, several other provinces, including Fujian, Guangdong (Canton), Henan, Liaoning, and Sichuan, adopted the same law. Premier Li Peng and Ms. Peng Peiyun, the minister in charge of the State Family Planning Commission, have spoken out in support of this local law. This indicates that sterilization of mentally retarded persons may become national law in the near future.

In January 1994, a new family law went into effect that banned sex-screening of fetuses (mentioned above) and forbade couples carrying serious genetic diseases to have children. Marriage was prohibited for persons diagnosed with diseases that “may totally or partially deprive the victim of the ability to live independently, that are highly possible to recur in generations to come, and that are medically considered inappropriate for reproduction.” A list of the applicable diseases was published shortly after the law went into effect (Reuters 1994).

[Challenges and Problems

[Update 2002: China’s Huge Population Base and Unbalanced Regional Development. Despite advances in family planning, China’s huge population base increases by about 21 million births every year, producing an annual net increase of 13 million. Such a growth pattern will continue for a considerable period of time and it constitutes a heavy burden on China’s socioeconomic development. In addition, the regional development is unbalanced, with major differences between urban and rural areas, among cities of different sizes, among coastal, inland, and remote areas, coupled with differences in fertility levels and family planning activities that have produced inescapable difficulties.

[Enforcing Training of Family Planning Professionals. China’s population and family planning activities started at a time when its economy, culture, and education were still not developed. Although family planning professionals have combined learning with practices through trial and error and made achievements, their ideological, educational level, limited knowledge in some relevant fields, management methods, and professional skills are still not enough to keep track of the rapid developments in the natural and social sciences and technology. At present, the proportion of professionals with a college background is still rather low (14.07%). Professionals with medium and advanced levels of expertise account for 4.52% and 0.49%, respectively. Effective measures must be taken to enforce their training.

[Improve Family Planning Services for the Floating Population and Disadvantaged. Services for the migrant population, the unemployed, and non-resident people are new and difficult problems that have arisen with the establishment of a market economy and a series of associated social transformations. Solutions must be sought from the management mechanism and service provisions, and so on.

[Serving an Aging Population. The census in 1990 and the 1% population sample survey in 1995 showed that the old-age population, those over 65 years, grew from 5.58% in 1990 to 6.69% in 1995 (80.8 million people). The census result showed that the total dependency ratio of the population has been on the rise, from 49.86% in 1990 to 50.22% in 1995. Strategies for the problems of population aging and insurance for the aged need to be further clarified.

[China has developed and improved its population and family planning programs in response to the change and evolution of domestic and international situations. Since the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, China has given much publicity to the program of action formulated at the Conference. Through a series of meetings with various state departments, NGOs, scientists, and experts, the Chinese government has been trying to work out strategies for fulfilling the program of action of ICPD in accordance with China national characteristics. Solutions include:

  • Further clarify the guiding principle of coordinating population and family planning with socioeconomic development; make further efforts to control population growth; improve people’s quality of life; make general and comprehensive plans for environmental and resource protection and socioeconomic development, and maintain sustainable development.
  • Develop a change in the way of thinking and working: Adopt an integrated approach of closely combining the promotion of family planning with socioeconomic development, and take all measures to solve the population problems; realize a combination of social restrictions with a benefit-oriented mechanism, which is based on scientific management, including publicity and education, and the delivery of multiple services. For over a decade, Chinese family planning professionals have spared no effort to achieve the aim of controlling the population growth and improving people’s life quality, and making a contribution in stabilizing the population of the world. In the face of new conditions and new problems following socioeconomic development, people have awakened to the need and possibility of change. “Quality Services,” “Informed Choice,” and other pilot projects have provided examples and enlightenment for change. Many new experiences and practices fitting local characteristics have been created.
  • Combine family planning with reproductive healthcare, expand the scope of service, and improve the quality of service, as well as the reproductive health of all people.
  • Pay attention to studies and countermeasures to new conditions and problems. Emphasis has been put on the floating-population problem in urban family planning activities. A meeting on urban family planning was held in 1996. Puberty education will continue to be an object of major importance (SFPCC 1999).

[Male-preferred, Sex Ratio, and Birth Control. Relevant research shows that China’s high sex ratio is caused by failure to register baby girls and selective abortion. This phenomenon usually happens in rural areas where the fertility rate drops quickly, where family planning consultation and good services are scarce, and where people have a preference and need for baby boys. If left unattended, the problem will affect the health and status of women and baby girls and the stability of society in the future. Therefore, efforts should be kept on publicity and education, on implementing the relevant laws and statutes, and to ensure the correct recording of statistics (SFPCC 1999; Gao 1989; Legge 1970; Holly & Bransfield 1976).

[Chinese Male-Preferred Tradition. China was, and in many ways still is, a Confucianist country. Confucianism said that: “There are three things which are unfilial, and the greatest of these is to have no offspring.” In Chinese society “having posterity” means having a male child. Therefore, having no son is regarded as the worst possible problem a family can have, psychologically, economically, and sociologically. In traditional Chinese society and the family, women had no real identity until they married, and no security until they contributed sons to their husband’s patrilineage. A measure of the family’s fortunes was the number of sons who survived to adulthood, and, because females were married into other families at least by puberty, they did not represent an investment which would eventually pay off for the family (Holly & Bransfield). (End of update by F. Ruan)]

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10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS

A. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Since the 1980s, sexually transmitted diseases have been spreading to every province and all the major cities in China. Statistics show that in 16 major cities, the average incidence of STDs was 21.02 per 100,000 in 1987. In some cities, the incidence was as high as 336 per 100,000, resembling that in some Western countries. In Helongjiang province alone, the incidence of STDs increased at the rate of 8.9 times per year from 1982 to 1988. By the end of 1988, when this province had the fourth-highest incidence in the country, 4,558 cases had been reported; and it was estimated that reported cases represented only 20% of the total incidence. Nationwide, the number of STD cases reported from 1980 through the end of 1988 was 140,648, with more than 56,000, over 39% of these, occurring in 1988 alone. In 1992, the figure of 45,996 new reported STDs cases was 4.86% higher than in 1991.


In the mid-1990s, China claimed to have one of the lowest incidences of AIDS in the world. The first case of AIDS discovered in China, in June 1985, was that of an American tourist. As of August 1989, only three cases of AIDS had been discovered. All three were infected abroad. Also, by July 27, 1989, only 26 cases of HIV infection had been diagnosed. In October 1989, the first AIDS case in a native Chinese citizen was identified. The patient had sought medical care using an assumed name and was found to be suffering from secondary syphilis. The hospital later tested his blood serum and found it was HIV-antibody positive. By the time the young man was identified, he had already left the country. According to the head of the National AIDS Center, this patient said he had had homosexual relationships with foreigners. By December 1, 1992, 969 cases of HIV-positives and 12 cases of AIDS patients were reported; nine of the 12 AIDS patients had already passed away as of mid-1993. Gil (1991) has provided a valuable early ethnographic and epidemiological perspective on HIV/AIDS in the People’s Republic based on field visits to Beijing, Chengdu, and Kunming, the latter in Yunnan province, site of China’s most severe nidus of HIV infection.)

In December 1996, the Health Ministry announced an official count of 4,305 cases of HIV infection. Privately, experts admit the real number already exceeds 100,000 cases (Wehrfritz 1996).

The accelerating spread of HIV/AIDS in China has recently been linked with the cultural aversion to giving blood. This aversion fosters a seller’s market that all but guarantees an impending disaster. Most donors are poor migrants struggling to make ends meet. Some make their living as sex workers as well as from selling blood, and some are drug addicts. In addition, government clinics commonly reuse the needles used to draw blood, and only a third of the nation’s blood supply is screened for HIV contamination.

The sale of blood inevitably leads to people willing to exploit and profit from the shortage. The government has recently broken up rings of blood brokers, known as “bloodheads,” who have kidnapped or drafted people as donors by paying corrupt officials heading work units. The bloodheads then sell the blood to local government blood stations where directors may be willing to overlook the source and its risk just to have an adequate blood supply. In late 1996, a draft law was circulating among senior health officials that would outlaw the buying and selling of blood for clinical use. While such a law could definitely reduce the risk of HIV infection in the normal course of transfusions and surgery, it would leave China with a drastic shortage of essential blood. Officials could fall back on coercion, mandating regular blood donations for members of the military, police, and state unions. The cost of bringing the public health clinics’ blood donation practices up to minimal standards for this age of AIDS will be prohibitively expensive, although this has to be done to avert disaster. Another approach already initiated by the government is to reeducate the people. Pop star Jackie Cheung has been recruited by China’s Red Cross to help break the cultural aversion to donating blood with popular songs with the humanitarian appeal to “Reach out, spread some love today.” This approach has worked in Hong Kong, but the change in attitude there took 40 years (Wehrfritz 1996).

[Update 2002: China’s HIV/AIDS problem is extremely complex, and may involve four simultaneous epidemics. One is the result of transmission of contaminated blood in the Chinese blood-banking system just mentioned. A second epidemic involves the sex industry, primarily in eastern China; this is being fueled by the surplus of males and unofficial government estimates that as many as 13% of all Chinese women are involved in prostitution. Added to these two epidemics are at least two separate intravenous-drug abuse epidemics under way in the country (Garrett 2002).

[By September of 1999, official figures reported 15,088 HIV-infected persons, 477 cases of persons with AIDS, and 240 deaths because of the infection. The actual situation was much worse than these figures might indicate. One expert pointed out that before 1994 most HIV-positive persons were intravenous-drug users in Yunan province. By June 1998, HIV-positive persons were found in all 31 provinces of China. In 1993, China had an estimated 10,000 HIV-positive cases; in 1994, 30,000; in 1995, 100,000 cases; in 1998, 300,000 cases; and in 1999, over a half million cases. Nationwide, the number of infected persons is increasing at a rate of 30% each year (China News Weekly, September, 2000).

[The infection is spreading much faster than 30% a year. For example, in Guangdong province the current growing rate is 89.5% per year. In the four-year period between 1986 to 1989, Guangdong province reported discovering only four HIV-positives cases; by October 30, 2000, health officials reported 1,419 HIV-positives and AIDS patients, although the number of actual cases may already have reached more than 20,000 cases. Before 1996, the infections mainly were through sexual behaviors; from 1997 to the present, transmission has been mainly through intravenous-drug use and sharing needles (Yangcheng Evening News, December 8, 2000). In 2001, experts estimated that in the near future the annual cost of HIV/AIDS for China will be 770 billion Yuan or Chinese dollars, or about US$ 92.77 billion (China News Weekly, September 2000). (End of update by F. Ruan)]

[Update 2001: China has consistently issued totally unrealistic estimates of the number of STD and HIV/AIDS cases among its 1.2 billion people. That changed in early 2001 when the government raised its estimate of people with STDs by well over 800%, from 830,000 to more than eight million. That number is now estimated to be rising by almost 40% a year.

[In early 2001, China’s national registry listed 20,711 HIV/AIDS patients among 1.2 billion people. About the same time, the state-run China Daily estimated that more than a half-million Chinese were HIV-positive or had AIDS. Government experts warned that this half million could double in 2001 unless some strong, fast action was taken. Experts outside China estimated that in early 2001, at least 1.2 million Chinese were already infected. After years of silence, health minister Yin Dakui called on Chinese society “to go to war against HIV/AIDS,” stressing that “men are particularly important in this fight.” Film stars and popular writers joined the crusade.

[The city of Chengdu (Sichuan province) announced new AIDS Prevention and Management Regulations. Scheduled to go into effect in May 2001, the law prohibits persons with HIV/AIDS from marrying and requires police to test prostitutes, drug users, and other high-risk persons within five days of their being arrested. Any Chinese returning to China after a year abroad must be tested for HIV. Pregnant women with HIV/AIDS should be persuaded to have an abortion. The law also bans HIV/AIDS persons from working as kindergarten teachers, surgeons, and in other professions. The United Nations AIDS program in Beijing and Chinese experts quickly criticized the Chengdu regulations. The draconian character of the law is not unusual in China, but the serious public protests by The Chengdu Worker’s Daily and by Beijing-based government AIDS officials was a definitely new development.

[China faces several major obstacles in its effort to control STDs and HIV/AIDS. A widespread prejudice against people with the AIDS virus encourages local officials to conceal cases and block research, making an effective public health policy very difficult. Most Chinese doctors know very little about STDs and HIV/AIDS. The country’s medical services cannot keep up with the spread of syphilis and gonorrhea. Added to the medical scene is an early-stage sexual revolution that began with U.S. President Richard Nixon’s trip to China two decades ago and involves a rapid rise in prostitution and extramarital affairs, and continuing poor sex education. Patients are usually too shy to discuss their STD problem with any doctor, but they do frequent illegal roving clinics that advertise their quack remedies in public toilets. A final factor is the fact that the government has spent very little on programs to control STDs and HIV/AIDS. From 1996 to 1997, Thailand spent $74 million on AIDS prevention, India $7.4 million, and Vietnam $4.5 million. In the same two years, China spent only $2.75 million. (End of update by F. Ruan)]

[Update 2002: UNAIDS Epidemiological Assessment: HIV/AIDS was first reported in China in 1985. By September 2001, the cumulative reported number of people with HIV/AIDS reached 28,133, with a total of 1,208 AIDS cases and 641 AIDS-related deaths. An estimated 820,000 persons were living with HIV by the end of 2001. The prevalence rate among people aged 15 to 49 years is 0.11%. However, only about 5% of estimated HIV/AIDS are reported.

[HIV prevalence data indicated a focused, explosive spread of infections among injection-drug users and no significant spread in the non-injection drug-using population. Although HIV/AIDS cases have been detected in all provinces, HIV transmission is focused primarily among injection-drug users in certain provinces. For example, the HIV prevalence rate was found to range from 44% to 85% in selected communities of drug users in Yunnan and Xinjiang.

[The percentage of female prostitutes who do not use condoms decreased from 66.7% in 1999 to 49.1% in 2000 to 37.4% in 2001 (median). The percentage of injection-drug users who report sharing of equipment increased from 31.7% in 1999 to 33.7% in 2000 to 45% in 2001. Trichomoniasis and chlamydia infections are the most prevalent STDs.

[The estimated number of adults and children living with HIV/AIDS on January 1, 2002, were:

Adults ages 15-49: 850,000   (rate: 0.1%)
Women ages 15-49: 220,000  
Children ages 0-15: 2,000  

[An estimated 30,000 adults and children died of AIDS during 2001.

[At the end of 2001, an estimated 76,000 Chinese children under age 15 were living without one or both parents who had died of AIDS. (End of update by the Editors)]

[Update 2002: In October 2002, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that “The forecast for China is 5% orphans by 2010, of which 4.5% will be due to AIDS” (Garrett 2002). (See Table 4.) (End of update by the Editors)]

Table 4                  

Leaders in an Expanding Pandemic: Current and
Projected HIV/AIDS Infected Adults

  Current Number Infected 2010
(in millions) Government Data Expert Estimates Expert Estimates
India 4.0 5 to 8 20 to 25
Nigeria 3.5 4 to 6 10 to 15
Ethiopia 2.7 3 to 5 7 to 10
China 0.80 1 to 2 10 to 15
Russia 0.18 1 to 2 5 to 8*
*Garrett 2002

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11. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies

Professor Dalin Liu’s survey showed that 34% of rural couples and 17% of urban couples said they engaged in less than a minute of foreplay, sometimes none at all. Not surprisingly, 37% of rural wives described intercourse as painful. While urban couples may be more adventurous sexually, they are not necessarily more satisfied. Professor Suiming Pan’s sample of 600 couples were all residents of big cities, and 70% of them said they were unhappy with their sex lives, and a random survey of married couples living in Shanghai found that 45% were unhappy with their sexual relationships. According to Professor Kang Jin, president of the Shanghai Committee of Rehabilitation of Male Dysfunctions, in 1989 at least 20% of China’s adult male population was suffering from some type of sexual dysfunction. Now, clinics of sexual counseling, sex therapy, or Western and/or traditional Chinese sexual medicines have been established in most big cities (see Section 5C, Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors, Adults).

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12. Sex Research and Advanced Professional Education

No sex research existed between 1949, when Mao and his Communist Party took control over mainland China, and 1979. There were some studies on the reproductive system and reproductive endocrinology, but these were in the biological and medical fields, not behavioral studies. However, since 1979, and especially after 1985, sex research has become an apparently growing, even prosperous, field. China’s sex research was started and developed under the names of “sex education” and “sexual medicine,” two fields that are accepted and permitted by the government and society. Before the beginning of the open-door policy in 1979, even sex education and sexual medicine were nonexistent.

The year 1982 saw a breakthrough for sexology in China. In that year, Robert Kolodny, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson’s Textbook of Sexual Medicine (1979) was translated into Chinese under the guidance of Professor Wu Jieping, with the actual translation being done by his graduate students. The Chinese edition, titled Xingyixue [Sexual Medicine], was published by Scientific and Technological Literature Publishing House, Beijing. It is the first contemporary and updated Western sex book published in China since the founding of the PRC in 1949.

The year 1985 marked another turning point for sexuality education and sexology in China. In that year, Ruan’s article, “Outline of the Historical Development of Modern Sexual Medicine,” was published by the Encyclopedic Knowledge, and his series, “Essays on Sex Education: Ten Lectures,” were published in Required Readings for Parents. From July 22 to August 7, 1985, the First National Workshop on Sex Education was held in Shanghai, with Ruan as the major instructor. In October 1985, the Handbook of Sex Knowledge, the first large modern book on sexuality written by Chinese and in Chinese, was published in Beijing by Scientific and Technological Literature Publishing House, with Ruan as editor-in-chief. All of these events were strong signs indicating the establishment and development of sexology in China. More and more sexual social surveys, publications on sex, and development of academic sexological journals and societies have followed.

As early as 1984, a project on survey and analysis of sex, love, marriage, family conflict, and crimes was carried out by the Beijing Society for Studies on Marriage and Family. This project was headed by Ms. Wu Cangzhen, Associate Professor of Marriage Law at China Politics and Law University in Beijing.

The most famous and important sexual social survey is the Shanghai Sex Sociological Research Center’s National Sex Civilization Survey headed by Dalin Liu, professor at Shanghai University. Using 40 paid assistants and volunteer interviewers, between February 1989 and April 1990, the center obtained responses to 239 questions surveyed from 19,559 people in over half of China’s 27 provinces. The 1992 publication in China caused a sensation all over South-East Asia. Planned and executed from beginning to end without government order or interference, this survey was supported by private Chinese sponsorship. It has already greatly contributed to a more uninhibited dialogue about sexual issues within China, strengthened the status and prestige of Chinese sexologists, and facilitated the organization of various regional and national associations and national and international conferences. An American translation of this monumental work was published in 1997 by Continuum Publishing Company, New York. The most striking trend found in this study is the deterioration of the strong tie between sex and marriage. This survey was published in December 1992 in Shanghai by Joint Publishing, Sanlian Books Company, titled Zhongguo Dangdai Xingwenhua—Zhongguo Lianwanli “Xingwenming” Diaoza Baogao [Sexual Behavior in Modern China—A Report of the Nationwide “Sex Civilization” Survey on 20,000 Subjects in China]. It is a large volume, with 866 pages and 677,000 characters. (See Part 2. The 1992 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China, Addendum, for details on this nationwide survey.)

Between 1985 and 1991, sex researcher Pan Suiming, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology at the China Renmin University in Beijing, and his assistants conducted seven social surveys on sex. “Behavioral Analysis of Heterosexual Petting in Public—Observations on Chinese Civil Parks” reported on 23,532 cases between 1985 and 1989 in 13 parks in six cities. “Dissemination of Three Kinds of Sexual Information and the Accepter’s Response” involved 1,610 respondents in Shanghai, 1989; “Influence of Sex Knowledge and Attitude on Sexual Behavior—The Condition, Motive, and Orgasm” had 603 samples in Beijing, 1988-89, and “Relations Between Satisfaction of Sexual Life and the Marriage” was based on 977 samples in Beijing, 1989. Seven hundred sixty-six respondents participated in the “Chinese Readers’ Answers to the Questionnaire in the Chinese Edition of The Kinsey Report Since 1989,” with the research still in progress. “Deep Sexual Behavior Survey—Relations of Sexual Mores, Ideas, Affection, and Behavior,” with 1,279 samples in 27 cities, 1989, indicated that nearly seven out of ten Chinese have had anal sex with heterosexual partners, and that men reached orgasm about 70% of the time in contrast to 40% for women. “A Sampling Survey on Students’ Sexual Behavior in Every University and College in Beijing” examined 1,026 respondents in 1991.

Between 1985 and 1992, more than 300 books on sexuality were published in mainland China, including the Chinese translations of classical works by Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, Margaret Mead, Alfred C. Kinsey, and R. Van Gulik. The first professional academic journal of sexology, Sexology of China, was published in March 1992 by Beijing Medical University.

On May 23, 1988, the country’s first college-level sexology course was introduced at China People’s University in Beijing. This special two-week program, called “Training Workshop on Sex Science,” consisted of workshops on 20 topics, conducted by 17 professors and experts. The program was attended by 120 people from 26 of China’s 28 provinces. As of mid-1993, 26.7% of the universities and colleges in China have a course on human sexuality or sex education.

Since 1987, a series of six nationwide conferences on sexology have been held in China. For example, the “Sixth Chinese Congress of Science of Sex,” was held on May 3, 1992, in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. About 500 experts attended the congress, and over 400 academic papers in the fields of sex education, sociology of sex, psychology of sex, sexual medicine, and STDs were accepted by the Congress. The “First International Conference of Sexology” was held on September 12 to 15, 1992, in Shanghai. Over 20 participants came from 13 foreign countries, and over 300 participants from all over China. About 100 academic papers on sexual medicine, sex education, sociology of sex, and psychology of sex were accepted by the conference.

There are two important Chinese sexological periodicals:

  • Sexology (formerly Sexology of China, Journal of Chinese Sexology) (started in 1992). Journal Address: Beijing Medical University, 38 Xue Yuan Road, Beijing 100083, The People’s Republic of China. Editor’s Address: The Public Health Building (Fourth Floor), Beijing Medical University, No. 83 Hua Yuan Road, Beijing 100086, China
  • Apollo and Selene. A bilingual Chinese/English magazine of sexology published in Shanghai by the Asian Federation for Sexology started in the summer of 1993. Address: Asian Federation (Society) for Sexology, 2 Lane 31, Hua Ting Road, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.

The main sexological organizations in China are:

  • Chinese Sex Education Research Society. Director: Dr. Jiahuo Hong. (Founded in Shanghai in 1985.). Address: The Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 530 Ling Ling Road, Shanghai, 200032, People’s Republic of China.
  • Shanghai Sex Education Research Society, founded in Shanghai in 1986. Address: The Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 530 Ling Ling Road, Shanghai, 200032, People’s Republic of China.
  • Sexology of China Association (founded in Beijing in 1995; preparatory committee founded in 1990). Director: Professor Guangchao Wang, M.D. Address: Beijing Medical University, 38 Xue Yuan Road, Beijing, 100083, People’s Republic of China.
  • Institute for Research in Sexuality and Gender. Address: Professor Sui-ming Pan, Director, Post Office Box 23, Renmin University of China, 39# Hai Dian Road, Beijing 100872, People’s Republic of China; fax: 01-256-6380.
  • Chinese Association of Sex Education. Address: Mercy Memorial Foundation, 11F, 171 Roosevelt Road, Section 3, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China; phone: 886-2/369-6752; fax: 886-2/365-7410.
  • China Family Planning Association. Address: 1 Bci Li, Shengguzhuang, He Ping Li, Beijing, People’s Republic of China.
  • China Sexology Association. Address: Number 38, XueYuan Lu, Haidion, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China; phone: 86-1/209-1244; fax: 86-1/209-1548.
  • Shanghai Family Planning Association. Address: 122 South Shan Xi ltoad, Shanghai 200040, People’s Republic of China; phone: 86-21/ 2794968; fax: 86-21/2472262 Ext. 18.
  • Shanghai International Center for Population Communication China (SICPC). Address: 122 South Shan Xi Road, Shanghai 200040, People’s Republic of China; phone: 86-21/247-2262; fax: 86-21/247-3049.

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 M. P. LAU


*Editor’s Note: The following section is adapted from M. P. Lau’s detailed analysis of the original 1989-1990 Chinese version of the nationwide Kinsey-like survey of Sexual Behavior in China. This survey was published in Chinese in 1992; an English translation was published by Continuum (New York) in 1997. Lau’s review-essay was published in Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review (1995, vol. 32, pp. 137-156). The Encyclopedia’s editor, R. T. Francoeur greatly appreciates the permission of Dr. Lau and Laurence J. Kirmayer, M.D., editor of the Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review, to include Lau’s critique in this chapter.

A. The Survey

This is the report of a survey of sexual behavior in the People’s Republic of China, conducted from 1989 to 1990. Unprecedented in scope and scale, the survey involved 28 sites (cities, towns, and villages) in 15 of the 27 provinces or autonomous regions. A total of 21,500 questionnaires, with 239 items covering a wide range of variables were distributed, and 19,559 of the returned replies were found suitable for study. About 500 investigators were involved, including about 200 field workers, most of whom were female volunteers. There was a caucus of about 40 core leaders, with coordinating headquarters at the Shanghai Sex Sociology Research Center. The main academic leaders were Dalin Liu, Liping Chou, and Peikuan Yao of Shanghai and Minlun Wu (M. L. Ng) of Hong Kong.

This study has been compared to the Kinsey Reports (1948, 1953) in the popular media (Burton 1990). For the first time in history, we have extensive scientific data on the sexual behavior of the contemporary Chinese, who comprise 22% of the world population. Information is available on puberty, romantic love, mating, marriage, marital life, marital sex, premarital sex, extramarital sex, abortions, divorces, as well as data on family planning, women’s issues, prostitution, pornography, sexual transgressions, and sexual variances, both as to attitudes and behavior.

In this review-essay, I provide a synopsis of some of the major findings of the survey through eight profiles of male and female adolescents and college students, urban and rural married couples, a female prostitute, and a male sex offender. I will then present a brief critique of the study methodology and suggestions for future research.

B. Adolescent Sexuality

In this section, I present two composite profiles constructed from 91 tables of statistics compiled during the national survey of 28 secondary (or middle) schools in ten Chinese cities or suburbs. Secondary schools were not common in the countryside and the rural population was difficult to survey. In all, 6,900 questionnaires were issued and 6,092 were collected and analyzed. Each questionnaire contained 42 multiple-choice questions with some open-response categories. While the sample surveyed is not representative of all secondary schools owing to resource constraints, attempts were made to achieve as much diversity as possible. Some significant influences on sexual attitudes and practices were demonstrated, such as exposure to modernization, degree of enlightenment, and gender differences.

In 1989, there were 47.7 million secondary school students in China (4.29% of the national population of 1.112 billion), of whom 58.4% were male. Fully 97.8% of children reaching school age were sent to primary schools, and 74.6% of primary school graduates proceeded to secondary schools. There are six grades in each secondary school: Junior Middle 1, 2, and 3, and Senior Middle 1, 2, and 3, and the age range is normally 12 to 18. In the sample studied, the mean age was 15.53 (SD = 1.78). The features described in the profiles represent the means, modes, medians, or usual ranges, or the proportions in the sample. There is a wealth of detail in the book for further reference.

Profile 1: An Adolescent Female

The typical female adolescent respondent is a 15.5-year-old student in an urban or suburban secondary school. She comes from a stable family of workers or cadres, and has one sibling. She reached puberty at age 13, with menarche in the summer, and development of secondary sexual characteristics. (This is a later age compared with secondary school students in Hong Kong or Japan, but earlier than that described in China 25 years ago). At age 14.5, she began to have sexual interests, and desired to associate with boys, mostly for socialization or mutual assistance, or because of a “crush” on a boy for his good looks, but she has been too shy or “busy” to take action. (For comparison, a Japanese peer would have begun to have such interests and desires at age 12 to 13). She acquired most of her sexual knowledge from books, magazines, and movies, and would feel excited by casual physical touches and by conversation on sexual topics.

Among the secondary school girls in the survey, 7.4% wished for some bodily contact with a male, and 12.1% reported having been aroused to desire sexual intercourse. (Again, these percentages are much lower than those of Japanese peers). More than a third of secondary school girls reported having male friends since age 14, without infatuation and often in group settings. By 15.5 years of age, 11.1% were dating boys and 6% were “in love.” The legal age for a female to marry in China is 20, and most girls think marrying early is not good or “would affect study.”

Only 4.7% of adolescent girls reported a history of masturbation, usually since age 13.5; about 50% said they continued the practice. (In Japan, 9% of secondary schoolgirls have masturbated, and most persist in the habit). While 44.3% of female adolescents stated masturbation is “bad,” almost 40% said they did not understand the question.

Less than 2% of adolescent girls have engaged in each of kissing, hugging, or sexual touching, and only 1% reported having sexual intercourse (slightly higher in southern China). These rates are far below those found among Japanese schoolgirls (up to 25.5% and 8.7%, respectively).

In well-developed urban areas, adolescent sex education has been available in classrooms, but has focused on physiology and hygiene, with little information on coitus, pregnancy, childbirth, contraception, homosexuality, paraphilias, and sexually transmitted diseases. Secondary schoolgirls would like more guidance on issues of romantic love, sexual impulses, and socialization. They discuss sexual issues with their mothers, sisters, and female peers, but not with teachers or fathers.

Profile 2: An Adolescent Male

The typical male adolescent respondent is a 15.5-year-old secondary school boy who comes from a stable family of workers or cadres and has one sibling. He has had seminal emissions since age 14.5, and most have been spontaneous nocturnal emissions. He has started developing secondary sexual characteristics. (These maturational milestones are later than those of a similar youth in Japan, but earlier than those in China 25 years ago.) At age 14.5, he began to show sexual interests, and wished to associate with girls, mostly because of attraction to their appearance or “tender disposition,” but he was too shy or “busy” to act upon his feelings. (A Japanese boy would have commenced to have such interests and desires at age 12 to 13). He obtained most of his sexual knowledge from books, magazines, and movies, and has seen pictures of female nudity and experienced some casual sexual touching.

About one third of adolescent males reported desire for bodily contact with females, and 42.9% said they had been aroused enough to crave sexual intercourse. (Again, these percentages are much lower than those of Japanese peers).

Although almost half of male adolescents said that they had had female platonic friends since age 14, often in group activities, only 12.7% were currently dating a girl, and 7.6% reported being “in love.” The legal age for a male in China to marry is 22, and most boys agree that marrying early is not good or “would affect study.”

Only 12.5% of male adolescents reported a history of masturbation, usually starting at age 13.5; half reported they had continued the practice. (In Japan, 30% of junior high school students have masturbated, and fully 81.2% of those in senior high school, with most students continuing the habit). More than half of adolescent males consider masturbation “bad,” but 21.2% said they did not understand the question.

Less than 5% of secondary school males have engaged in each of kissing, hugging, or sexual touching, and 0.9% have had sexual intercourse (slightly more in Southern China). (These rates are remarkably low compared to those in Japan, where up to 23.1% of high school boys have experienced sexual kissing and 11.5% coitus).

Adolescent boys tend to discuss their needs and problems with male peers, rather than with teachers, parents, or siblings.

C. College Students

In 1989, there were about 82,000 post-secondary students in China. A study of this group is of immense importance as they are destined to become the future leaders of the country. Intellectually well endowed and highly educated, they are still young, malleable, open minded, and sensitive to new ideas and trends. In the process of maturation as scholars, they confront the various phenomena associated with modernization and accelerating change. They interact with a “campus culture,” which may be a cultural melting pot and a frontier of novel concepts and ideologies. Restricted by demands for sexual abstinence and expectations of monogamy, they try their best to cope with their libido and desire. Their perceptions, perspectives, beliefs, and behavior will have profound effects on the future of nation-building, participation in the world community, and global stability.

This section presents two composite profiles condensed from 136 tables of statistics collected during the survey of 24 post-secondary colleges (including universities, teachers’ colleges, academies of traditional medicine, training centers for cadres and security personnel, and an oceanography institute) in nine metropolitan areas. The institutions were selected according to practicality and diversity. Questionnaires with 63 items were distributed in classrooms and the purpose of the investigation explained. Confidentiality was assured. In addition to the group administration, some individual interviews were conducted. A total of 3,360 valid replies were analyzed. The mean age was 20.28 years (SD = 3.13) with 56.8% male.

Profile 3: A Female University Student

The typical female college student in the survey is a 20-year-old student in the faculty of arts. Her father was college-educated and holds a professional, technical, or managerial job. She had menarche at age 13.5, followed by the development of secondary sexual characteristics. She was unprepared for menarche and sought advice from her mother or peers. She received little sex education and acquired most of her sexual knowledge from books, news media, novels, peers, her mother, and her sisters. She found her teachers and parents “ignorant, busy, uncaring, conservative, and rigid.” She would feel excited by depictions of sexual matters, and has been exposed to nudity through pictures in the media.

She thinks romantic love should be allowed but “properly guided,” that the main purpose of copulation is to have a family, and that the female can be an active partner during sexual intercourse. She believes that premarital sex may be acceptable if the partners are mutually in love and willing, but extramarital sex should be censured, even if consensual. She considers homosexuality to be a perversion or illness, and would offer comfort to a homosexual friend and advise him or her to seek psychiatric treatment. She feels that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of and pitied but not severely punished.

Fully 70% of college women were not content with their bodies, with concerns about being overweight, hirsute, or other features; 25% were not satisfied with their secondary sexual characteristics, for example, thinking that their breasts are undersized. While 15.6% did not like their own gender, 42.8% stated they would prefer to be a male if they had a choice.

Among the college women surveyed, 16.5% had a history of masturbation, starting from age 13 to 14, and 8.2% still masturbated at a frequency of about once a week. Most respondents thought masturbation is “harmless” and “normal.”

While 63.4% of female college students in the sample desired a heterosexual relationship, only 6.3% of them had had a sexual partner. Sexual contacts (including kissing, embracing, genital touching, and coitus) were infrequent and covert and commonly began after age 17. Contraception involved the use of “safe periods,” pills, or condoms.

While 5.8% reported an inclination towards exhibitionism and 2.8% were predisposed to transvestitism, interest in other paraphilias was uncommon. The majority (87.3%) of college women reported that on seeing a nude female in a public bathroom, they would probably feel indifferent, but 3.9% said they might “come to like it.”

Homosexual contacts were infrequent: 8.4% reported having been kissed or caressed, 3.2% had experienced homosexual masturbation, and less than 3% reported genital-to-genital contacts; 0.7% reported they would engage in homosexual contact if the opportunity arose.

Profile 4: A Male University Student

The typical male college student in the survey is a 20-year-old student in the faculty of engineering, science, or medicine. His parents had post-secondary education, and his father is a professional, technical, or managerial worker. He had his first seminal emission at age 14.5, followed soon by the appearance of pubic and then facial hair. (Compared with his secondary school counterparts, his sexual development started at a slightly later age). He received little sex education and was quite unprepared when he had his first seminal emission. He did not ask anyone for an explanation.

He acquired most of his sexual knowledge from books on hygiene and health, news media, novels and pornographic art, and from his male peers. He found his parents and teachers insensitive and outdated in knowledge and attitude. He holds liberal views about romantic love and is permissive about reading sexual material. He thinks that masturbation is harmless and normal. He believes that sexual intercourse would enhance love and give physical pleasure, as well as serving the purpose of building a family. He endorses the idea of a female being an active partner during sexual intercourse.

He thinks premarital sex would be acceptable if the partners are both willing and mutually in love, especially if they are prepared to marry each other, and extramarital sex, if consensual, may be permitted under certain circumstances. He would be quite aroused by references to sexual matters, and has seen pictures of nudes in the media, but is unlikely to have seen women in the nude.

One fourth of college males were not satisfied with some of their secondary sexual characteristics, such as sparsity of pubic hair or perception of the penis as undersized. A larger proportion (70%) were not content with other aspects of their body, such as shortness of stature, presence of pimples or freckles, and sparsity or grayness of scalp or facial hair. Gender dysphoria was uncommon, and only 8.3% of male college students surveyed wished to be female.

Almost two thirds of college males (59%) had a history of masturbation, starting at age 14 to 16, and 39.5% continued to masturbate at the rate of about once a week. Sexual contacts, including kissing, embracing, genital touching, and coitus, were reported to be infrequent and mostly covert. These activities usually began after age 17 and the male tended to take an active role. Only 12.5% of college males reported that they had had sexual partner(s), usually only one. Contraception involved “safe periods,” condoms, and coitus interruptus.

While most male college students considered homosexuality a perversion or illness to be sympathized with and offered treatment, 11.9% conceived of homosexuality as normal behavior for a small group of people. Homosexual contacts were infrequent, with 7.0% reporting kissing or caressing, 8.6% homosexual masturbation, and less than 3% genital-to-genital or anal touching; 1.5% would consider seeking someone out to engage in homosexual activity.

Paraphilias were rare among male college students, with 5.6% feeling prone to exhibitionism, but hardly any reporting other paraphilic tendencies. On seeing a nude male in a public bathroom, most would feel indifferent, but 5.4% said they might come to “like it.”

When asked how they would respond if they found out that their fiancée had lost her virginity to another male, 20% of male college students said that they would leave her, but 60% would find it tolerable.

D. Married Couples

This section presents composite portraits of an urban couple based on 6,210 married persons surveyed in 15 cities (nine coastal and six inland urban centers), and a rural couple typical of 1,392 married residents surveyed in three villages. A mixture of random and non-random sampling methods was used, steering a fine line between what was practical (e.g., considering the difficulties of gathering data from illiterate or unsophisticated persons), and what would be theoretically desirable (e.g., relative representativeness). A total of 396 tables of actuarial data were compiled, covering a wide range of sexual, marital, and family variables. There was a preponderance of female interviewers and interviewees. Many volunteer field workers came from women’s groups, such as labor unions, family planning units, and obstetrical teams, and they were able to build good rapport with women respondents, who often appeared eager to share their intimate knowledge of family life with those whom they could trust. Overall, 68.1% of urban and 78.2% of rural interviewees were female.

Profile 5: An Urban Couple

The spouses in the typical urban married couple in the survey were about 36 to 37 years of age and of above-average education compared with the general national population. They reported their health status as average or above average. The husband was a professional, technical, office, or managerial worker, and had received slightly more education than his wife, being twice as likely to have attended a post-secondary institute. The wife was a professional, technical, factory, or office worker. They have been married for about 11 years. They married of their own will, after an introduction by a third person and a period of courtship.

They consider mutual “love” and “understanding” more important in marriage than material comfort, political views, or evaluation by society. They believe that the purpose of marital sex is primarily to satisfy emotional and physical needs, rather than to fulfill an obligation or a “tradition” or to achieve reproduction, and there should be no prudery about it. They have sexual intercourse four to five times per month on average. The couple would like to have children because the latter “would add interest to life” and it is an aspect of “social responsibility.” They would like to have a boy and a girl.

Of urban couples surveyed, 60% considered their marriage satisfactory, with greater satisfaction reported by the male partner, those with more education, those in professional, technical, or managerial positions, and those in the earlier years of marriage. Of those surveyed, 55.5% indicated good or fair (25.3%) levels of sexual satisfaction. Husbands reported greater enjoyment of coitus and gave more importance to coital frequency, styles of intercourse, and climaxes. The duration of foreplay tended to be brief, most often less than ten minutes, and gave less pleasure to the woman. In case of sexual disharmony, 44% felt there should be open discussion, 13.4% would seek medical help, and 24% would just “leave it” alone. Most couples endorsed women taking initiative in sex, such an attitude being especially common among males, the better educated, and in the southern cities. As urban married women gain more freedom, independence, and self-esteem, they feel less compelled to have sex against their will, and would ask to be excused without feeling guilty.

Most couples experienced their first sexual intercourse on their wedding night, but prenuptial sex was admitted by 24.9% of urban husbands and 15.8% of urban wives. It should be noted that premarital coitus was most often (80%) consummated with a “future spouse,” and such behavior was endorsed by a majority (90%) of the urban couples polled. Sex before matrimony with someone who is not a “future spouse” tended to occur among urban youths in southern China, soldiers stationed in cities, and the less educated. (The number of abortions of premarital pregnancies has been on the rise, reaching 16% of those age 20 and over and single in a city in Jiangsu, and 90% of first abortions in a city in Zhejiang, both cities in the vicinity of Shanghai.)

Higher frequency of intercourse was associated with younger age, the earlier years in marriage, highest or lowest levels of education, being a manual or service worker, more privacy of the bedroom, temperate climate, and greater sense of obligation to perform. Sexual intercourse occurs most often just before sleep among younger and middle-aged couples, and at “no fixed time” among the young and the elderly. In terms of sexual practices, 56.5% of couples change positions during sex, and 65.2% are nude sometimes or often during sex; nudity during sex is more frequent among the young, the better educated, and in the southern cities.

Questions about orgasms were not asked, as the investigators had found it quite difficult to elicit such information, but enjoyment of “sexual pleasure” was found to depend on the techniques, experience, and relationship; sexual pleasure had a more gradual onset in women, both physiologically and psychologically. Most couples reported they experienced sexual pleasure frequently (especially males) or sometimes (especially females), with highest rates in southern China. In a sampling of 1,279 men and women in 41 cities, Suiming Pan found men reach orgasm 7.2 times out of every 10 attempts; this contrasts with 4.1 times for women. In Dalin Liu’s survey, one third of the urban women and one fourth of the rural women claimed to experience a feeling of pleasure (kuaigan) “very often,” while 58.2 and 76.8%, respectively, experienced it “sometimes.”

A history of masturbation was obtained from 17.1% of respondents—much more often from husbands than from wives, and from couples in southern cities—but nearly all of the respondents claimed it happened only occasionally. While 41.7% regarded masturbation as a “bad habit” and 13.1% considered it normal, fully 30% gave no clear answer. Only 0.5% admitted homosexual experience, but considerable denial or ignorance was suspected.

Among urban husbands, 10.2% admitted to a history of extramarital sex. Extramarital sex was more common among service or manual workers, or businessmen, those less than 25 years of age or more than 56, and those espousing a liberal or hedonistic attitude towards life. Urban wives were unlikely to have risked extramarital sex, but it was more likely to occur in middle age. These rates are far below those published in the Kinsey reports (1948, 1953). Nevertheless, the impact of extramarital affairs may be considerable. During divorce proceedings in five cities in China in 1985, the occurrence of extramarital affairs was confessed in two thirds of the cases. In Shenzhen, a town bordering Hong Kong, 91.8% of divorce cases in 1987 involved a “third person.” While 66.2% of married urban respondents said that they accept the national policy of having only one child per family, 28.5% think such a restriction unreasonable. If they had only a daughter, 35.5% would want to have one more child, but not if this would incur punishment from the government. Birth control measures used by urban couples included: diaphragms (42.8%), tubal ligation (9.4%), other mechanical means (18.3%), pills (5.9%), vasectomy (2.3%), other methods (e.g., “safe periods,” coitus interruptus, unknown) (15.5%), and none (5.8%).

Sexual knowledge was generally quite limited and resource material not readily available, especially to women. About two thirds (62.4%) of urban couples had read one of the four popular basic manuals on sexual knowledge available at the time of the survey, such as the one written for the newly wed, which mostly consider anatomy and physiology. Additional sexual knowledge was obtained from books, movies, and radio (35.6%), through personal experience (22.7%), and from same-sex peers or those in counseling positions. Most couples (70.4%) are interested in reading or viewing media with sexual themes, but 48.9% have found opportunities lacking. Women would like to know more about child education and physical hygiene, while men are interested in sexual techniques and interpersonal skills. Although 61.8% of urban couples would explain the birth process to a child, 25.4% would evade the question, and the rest would express displeasure or indifference, or give a false answer.

Profile 6: A Rural Couple

The typical rural married couple surveyed were about 35 years old, of average education compared with the general national population, and reported their health status as average or above average. They were engaged in farming, herding, fishing, or forestry, and were unlikely to have received post-secondary education. They have been married for about 11 years; he at age 23 and she at 22. They married of their own will (wholly or partly), although matchmaking was prevalent until one or two generations ago, and still occurred in a few locales.

They consider “love” and “understanding” more important in their union than the opinions of society. They believe that the main aims of marital sex are to fulfill physical and emotional needs, to go along with tradition, and to accomplish reproduction, and that they need not be prudish about it. They have sexual intercourse five to six times per month on average. They would like to have children, mostly for the sake of old-age security, but also to propagate their lineage.

Of rural couples surveyed, 65% regard their marriage as satisfactory. Greater satisfaction was reported by the female partner, those better educated, and those under 25 or over 45 years of age. In case of sexual disharmony, 44% would engage in open discussion, 23.2% would seek medical help, and 21% would just “leave it” alone.

Most married rural couples experienced sexual intercourse for the first time on the wedding night, but premarital sex was admitted by 7.3% of rural husbands and 17.3% of rural wives. Premarital coitus was usually performed with a future spouse, and such behavior was endorsed by the vast majority of rural couples surveyed. Sex before marriage with someone who was not a future spouse occurred more commonly among older males and females when the feudal system allowed sexual permissiveness in certain forms of social transactions, and also among those who are younger, more educated, and liberal minded.

Higher frequency of intercourse was associated with more demand by the husband and greater compliance by the wife, having been married for a longer duration, and temperate climate. Sexual coitus occurred most often just before sleep, but also often “at no fixed time,” as rural couples tended to have a less structured schedule of daily life compared with their urban counterparts.

About half (45%) of rural couples reported changing position during sex, and 57.2% said they were nude sometimes or often during sex; sexual nudity was more common among the young, the less educated, and in southern climates. In Shanxi province, some farmers traditionally sleep naked.

A history of masturbation was obtained from 10.1% of rural husbands or wives, more often from those in the South; nearly all described it as episodic. Most (73.4%) considered masturbation a “bad habit,” but 9.6% deemed it “natural.” Only 2.3% admitted homosexual experiences, suggesting considerable ignorance about the term.

Among rural married couples, the level of sexual satisfaction reported was good (66.6%) or fair (27.6%), with wives more easily satisfied than husbands. The duration of foreplay tended to be brief, usually five minutes or less, but neither partner had high expectations of gratification from it. Most couples endorsed women taking initiative in sex (this attitude was more common among males, the better educated, and in south China), but they would still prefer the male partner to be more active.

Among rural husbands, 9.3% admitted to a history of extramarital sex; higher rates were found among service or manual workers or businessmen, those under 25 or over 56 years of age, and those who gave evidence of a “pleasure-seeking predisposition” on several attitude measures. Rural wives were unlikely to have experienced extramarital sex.

Most rural couples would like to have a boy and a girl, but 48.5% would accept having only one child. After having a daughter, 60.3% want an additional child, and 6% still want one at the risk of sustaining some official penalty. In a 1989 survey, 68.1% of rural women wanted to have two children, 25.7% wanted one child, and 3.1% did not want children. Slightly lower percentages were found among rural men. Contraceptive methods utilized include: diaphragm (50.8%), tubal ligation (21.8%), pills (7.5%), vasectomy (1.2%), others (12.3%), and none (6.4%). On the other hand, infertility because of sexual dysfunctions was common (e.g., more than 25% of about 40,000 family planning counseling cases seen in 1984 to 1989), but most were said to be somewhat amenable to medical or herbal therapy.

Sexual knowledge was generally quite deficient, and resources not easily available, although 77.1% of rural couples had read one of the four popular basic manuals on sexual knowledge available at the time of the survey. Otherwise, the pattern was similar to that of urban couples. While 47.8% of rural couples would explain the birth process to a child, 33.8% would evade the question, and the rest would ignore or upbraid the child, or give a false answer.


An overview of the accounts of urban and rural married couples given in this section shows the emergence of two patterns: (1) respondents who are traditional and conservative in ideology, cautious and guarded towards novel ideas, moralistic and suppressive of self-expression, and less imbued with modern education tend to reside inland and in rural territories, are service or manual workers, and are more commonly female; and (2) respondents who are modernistic and individualistic in orientation, liberal and open in attitude, rational and objective in deliberation, and have been exposed to more contemporary and/or Western ideology tend to reside in urban areas, near seacoasts or in southern China, are professionals or technical workers, and are more often male.

Of course, there are many exceptions to these broad generalizations. Those who are not well educated may also be gullible and suggestible, and experience sexual permissiveness as a relic of feudal systems, such as variations of a master-slave relationship, indigenous forms of marital or quasi-marital arrangements or cohabitation, such as concubinage and other forms of polygamy (McGough 1981). Other situational, subcultural, idiosyncratic, or deviant variations in sexual behavior are noted throughout the book. The investigators also present detailed analyses of factors affecting sexual satisfaction and sexual pleasure, as well as data on marital cohesion, domestic conflicts, marital breakdown, and sex in old age.

We see in this section a spectrum of variations in sexual behavior corresponding to the different stages of adaptation and change, resistance, and retrenchment in response to modern and Western ideologies. There has been a general liberalization of attitudes, which is not yet matched by comparable changes in practice. Keenly aware of the dangers of an abrupt eruption of sexual instinctual drive, and deeply ingrained in a tradition of moderation and communal responsibility, the writers of the book repeatedly urge caution, restraint, and “proper socialization.” While stressing the importance of being knowledgeable and educated, and of individual entitlement and gratification, heavy emphasis is also placed on family harmony, social stability, and the inculcation of moral values by advice and counseling, didactic education, and “propaganda.” An analysis of sexual mores and superego and their possible practical impacts can be found in the books by Ng (1990) and by Wen and colleagues (1990) and in the paper by Ng and Lau (1990).

E. Sex Offenders

In the 1980s, rates of crime in China rose in leaps and bounds, with alarming increases in sexual offenses in the young and relatively less increase in violent crimes. This section presents composites of a female prostitute and a male sex offender with modal characteristics abstracted from 137 tables of statistical information gathered in a survey of inmates of prisons and reformatories, supervised by security and reform officials, with guarantees of strict confidentiality. These institutions were located in nine areas, with most of the respondents from Shanghai (49%), Chengdu (22.8%), and Soochow (11%). A total of 2,136 subjects took part, with 67.5% males; 385 were female prostitutes.

Unfortunately, the various kinds of sex offenses were lumped together (except for female prostitution), and the data analyzed as a whole. Subjects included categories of “criminals,” people with “infractions of the law,” and those accused of “misconducts (wrongdoings, misdemeanors).” The judicial system gives latitude to officials to grade antisocial behavior and to dispose of violators according to pragmatic and situational considerations. For details and the extent of variations, the reader must refer to the book under review and its bibliography.

Profile 7: A Female Prostitute

The typical incarcerated female prostitute in the survey was 20 years old and came from a rural family, financially “average” or “above average.” She was discontented with her lot and inclined to seek more money, pleasure, or adventure. She left school early and may have retained some part-time manual work. She may have been betrothed or married, with an “average” or discordant relationship, but a sex life that has been mostly satisfactory. Although emphasizing feelings as an important element in human relationship, she was cynical about romantic love, and may have become bitter and vindictive after she had been cheated on or abused. She was ambivalent towards traditional feminine roles, chastity, and sexual restraint, but still viewed them as ideals and wished that she could conform.

She first ran afoul of the law after age 15. She was often seen as a victim of circumstances as well as an offender, and evoked sympathy from public officials, who would subject her to criticism, warning, “education,” and “administrative discipline,” before instituting legal penal measures, such as labor reform and “thought reform.” While incarcerated, she would indulge in daydreaming or in artistic diversions to sublimate her libido.

The number of prostitutes, pimps, and their patrons known to the law has been increasing rapidly in China, especially in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Prostitutes make up most of the nation’s female sex offenders. The survey data and clinical observation show that prostitutes tend to be young and immature, vain and “insatiable,” given to pleasure-seeking rather than to toil and tedium, vulnerable to temptation, and deficient in self-restraint. Also noteworthy are the contributing social factors of inequality of gender status, lack of emotional nurturing and support for dependency needs in parental and marital homes, and the prevalence of opportunities for deviant outlets. The survey also uncovered the “low quality” or “poor civilization” of the parents and other family members, in the forms of less education, ignorance, narrow worldviews, weakness of bonding, and lack of moral guidelines. These social forces need to be considered in any plans for prevention. After release from jail, 20 to 30% of female sex offenders released in Shanghai relapse. Relapse rates depend on the intensity of rehabilitation.

Profile 8: A Male Sex Offender

The typical incarcerated male sex offender in the survey was about 28 years old and single. He had some secondary school education and was a manual worker or tradesman. He had his first seminal emission at age 16.5, still has nocturnal emissions once or twice a month, and masturbates about six times a month. He first witnessed sexual coitus at age 17, most likely at a peer’s home or in a movie or videotape. He admits having “average” or “strong” sexual desire, and exposure to sexual scenes tends to arouse him and predispose him to errant sexual behavior.

He came from a home where his parents, especially his mother, had little education but an “average” or “comfortable” income, yet he still tended to feel deprived. He seldom talked to his parents and felt that family life was dull and meaningless. The family was generally permissive, but would express anger when a sexual offense or misconduct was committed. In a small percentage of cases, there was another family member with a history of criminal or sexually promiscuous behavior.

He emphasized the importance of sex and love, but relished instant pleasure. He would choose a partner based on appearance, feelings, and temperament, and would want a mate for sexual purposes even at an early age and outside the boundaries of wedlock. He likes movies, music, socializing, gossiping, womanizing, gambling, detective stories, and martial arts. He would be easily aroused by sexual material but may not act on it. Such material has become increasingly public and readily accessible. He probably has a few friends with a history of sexual offense or misconduct. He acquired his sexual knowledge mostly from his peers or the media, rather than from parents, siblings, or teachers, and has often found his questions unanswered.

Most offenders were convicted of their first sexual offense before age 29. The most common offenses were “hooliganism” (a vague umbrella term comprising various kinds of uncivil, indecorous, unmannerly, or licentious behavior), “promiscuity,” rape, and sex with a minor. Other male sex offenses included bigamy, extramarital relations, abetting prostitution, male prostitution, incest, and enforced sex with the aged or the disabled. There has been a trend to commit crimes less by violent means, and more by deception and enticement. The survey data and clinical observation show that the male sex offenders are generally immature, chauvinistic, and emotionally needy. They are said to be of “low quality,” and their families and social backgrounds are described the same way. Married male sex offenders reported fairly good marital and sexual relationships with their spouses, with frequent sexual intercourse (about ten times per month).

Upon conviction, most offenders expressed regret and cooperated with the sentence. While in prison, they try to suppress their sexual drives, but 6.3% admit to masturbation and 0.7% to homosexual activity. While some psychological or medical therapy may be provided for this sexual frustration, there has been no general policy to cope with the problem.

F. Comments on the Research Methods

Technically, the nature and scope of this survey made the task very difficult. Sexuality is a matter of privacy and confidentiality and a topic often misunderstood and stigmatized. The peasantry was difficult to reach, in terms of both logistics and communication. There was little financial support, especially after the Tiananmen events. However, there was a groundswell of moral support from both inside and outside China, and many “comrades” from the tightly organized, stratified bureaucratic infrastructure in the nation, especially from women’s groups, contributed their time, energy, and ingenuity, frequently working “to the point of exhaustion.” Professor Liu and the core leaders were able to marshal the support of diverse groups at various levels in governmental, academic, educational, legal, labor, industrial, literary, media, and publishing sectors. The results have been partially presented at conferences inside and outside China, but since the book was written in Chinese, a wider dissemination of the findings awaits translation into other languages. An English translation of this full report was published in 1997 by Continuum (New York), the publisher of this International Encyclopedia of Sexuality.

The investigators were well aware of the limitations of the study. They experienced numerous stumbling blocks and frustrations, and encountered criticism and derision. It was not possible to obtain a completely representative sample, but a study of selected mainstream or significant groups in accessible locales is still very meaningful. Efforts were made to collect data from diverse parts of China, and a mixture of random and non-random sampling was used. The large sample sizes may allow statistical adjustments for some of the biases in further analysis.

The questionnaires were as comprehensive as circumstances permitted. In the interest of not being too intrusive, many questions were addressed only to attitudes and beliefs, as respondents would feel too hesitant to report actual behavior or practice in some areas.

Limitation of time and resources precluded the compilation of an index. Materials on some special topics are scattered throughout the book. For example, data on homosexuality have to be found laboriously from more than ten places, and information on premarital sex must be traced from some eight sources among the pages. Bibliographical notes are appended to each section, but even the names of European authors are written in Chinese.

G. Discussion and Conclusion

This groundbreaking study is of immense value from a heuristic and theoretical point of view. No study of human sexuality can be complete without including a major human culture of the world and its most populous country. This study should provoke further questions at biological, psychological, sociocultural, and historical levels, and stimulate the emergence of new hypotheses and concepts, both in Chinese and other cultures. The methodology developed can serve as a template for future testing and improvement.

The practical import of this study cannot be overemphasized. It should equip the nation with more knowledge to meet the challenges of sexuality, both at the individual and at the societal levels. Wary of the perils of a sexual “revolution” with sudden release of pent-up drives, the authors repeatedly stress the importance of an interpersonal perspective and “sociological imperative.” Despite the authors’ claim to be non-authoritarian, many opinions and conclusions are judgmental and moralistic and delivered in a didactic, paternalistic tone not usually encountered in scientific writing.

As much as it is a towering accomplishment, this study should be placed in perspective by considering directions for future research. Professor Liu came up with a short list of tasks: further analysis of the data collected; more publicity and application of findings; and further study of special groups, such as homosexuals, ethnic minorities, the aged, the disabled, and servicemen. This inventory, however, is very limited and should be amplified to include the following: (1) improvement of the questionnaires and methodology; (2) extension of sampling, to include more underrepresented groups, including the overseas Chinese, and to allow further cross-cultural comparisons; (3) replication of the study and follow-up in longitudinal studies; (4) detailed case studies of individuals, subcultures, communities, families, institutions, opinion leaders, practitioners, practices, policies, and polities in this field; (5) further interpretation in cultural and historical terms and contribution to theory building; and (6) study of the impact of sociocultural changes and biological breakthroughs.

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13. Ethnic Minority Resources


As mentioned in the introductory section on demographics, China has a population of well over a billion people. The vast majority of Chinese people, 91.9%, are Hans (ethnic Chinese, or Han Chinese). The remaining 8.1%, over 91 million people, include 55 significant other ethnic groups. Minority nationalities with population of over one million are the Bai, Bouyei, Dai (Thai), Dong, Hani, Hui, Kazak, Korean, Li, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Tibetan, Tujia, Uighur, Yao, Yi, and Zhuang.

In the past decade, there has been growing interest in documenting the cultures of ethnic minority women in Yunnan province in southwest China. The provincial capital is Kunming. The Yunnan Publicity Centre for Foreign Countries has undertaken a “Women’s Culture Series” on the different ethnic groups found in Yunnan province. The soft-cover 100-page booklets in this series contain both color photographs and text describing the life and customs of women. This series constitutes a small but valuable library. Among the volumes are: Flowers, Love Songs and Girls: The Bulangs; Women Bathed in Holy Water: The Dais; Women Not to Be Bound in Waistbands: The Deangs; Face-Tattooed Women in Nature: The Dulongs; Holy Journey for Soul: The Huis; The Restless Female Souls: The Jinuos; Love Through Reed-Pipewind and Mouth String: The Lahus; Plateau Women in Transition: The Mongolians; Where the Goddesses Live: The Naxis, and; Nymphs of Folk Songs: The Zhuangs.

This series is published by the Yunnan Publishing House, 100 Shulin Street, Kunming 65001 China, and distributed by the China International Book Trading Corporation, 35 Chegongzhuang Xilu, Beijing 100044 China (P.O. Box 399, Beijing, China).

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Because the People’s Republic of China is one of the most populous nations, decisions made by its people and by its government about sexuality directly affect its population growth and therefore have global importance. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, China has undergone immense, and sometimes profoundly convulsive changes. A half-century ago, China was devastated by years of civil and external war, its people widely illiterate, and its poverty profound. No matter what one feels about the Mao dynasty—if that word is metaphorically permissible—the achievements of the Chinese people in the past 50 years have been awe-inspiring. China has become a major industrial power and its population is widely literate.

From the 1949 revolution onward, China’s government has increasingly become deeply involved in the reproductive decision making of its citizens. Those who study sexuality and understand its implications for world population growth must surely hope that China’s own scholars, and others who know its rich history, many languages, and varied cultures, will continue and expand their studies of sexuality in China. Because China is both a crucible and a harbinger of the future, these studies will be invaluable for documenting how decisions made by the Chinese people and government will inevitably affect the future of everyone on the earth.

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Acknowledgment for Part 2: A Report of the Nationwide “Sex Civilization” Survey on 20,000 Subjects in China

M. P. gratefully acknowledges the secretarial help of Christine H. K. Lau and of Lucie A. Wilk.

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