Home > Society and Culture > Love and Sex in the Middle Kingdom

Love and Sex in the Middle Kingdom

The societal pressures in Asia are tough for the kids.  Like most things, they don’t really hit home until someone you know is directly affected by them. While the newspapers have been all over the fact that Chinese boys outnumber the girls by a staggering 32 million, for me, the realization only came when I met up with one of my old students to give her some coaching on her IELTS exam.  We’d sat in a trendy café in Wu Dao Kou for around 2 bladder-straining hours, brainstorming topics for the conversation test.  Josie had revealed that the only reason that she’d been allowed out by her parents was because she’d convinced them that she was going to a private tutor for a while to study.   

The place was quiet and pokey, and the air conditioning wasn’t working properly.  There was a familiar smell of Chinese cigarettes in the air (after the Olympic smoking ban, smelling cigarette smoke inside a café was something of rarity).  We took a table in a corner, and Josie stroked the cat that was lying unhelpfully on a six person table.  The air conditioning unit was blowing out clouds of frosty air over my left shoulder, and I still barely felt a thing.  Somehow, as these things often go on a roasting summer afternoon in a cold coffeehouse in Beijing, we got talking about differences between Chinese and western ideas of what girlfriend and boyfriend meant to Chinese people and foreigners.

“My boyfriend asks me to marry him everyday.”

I was a little confused.  I had gotten used to the idea of people marrying young in China, but for Mimo, young marriage didn’t seem right, she had too many plans and ambitions to fulfill before she even began thinking about marriage.

“How how is he?”


A year younger than she was.  She leaned in conspiratorially.

“You know when you send me messages, and I don’t reply?”

I nodded, I had these baffling non-replies before.  Usually that means that a girl isn’t interested in meeting up, but with Josie, I had a barrage of text messages, then days of silence, then another barrage of messages.

“Well, that’s when I’m with my boyfriend.  He doesn’t let me talk to other men.  He thinks I should stay at home all day.”

What was emerging from Josie, the girl who wore short skirts and knee length boots for a class at my school, was an idea of the pressure that is piled onto the nation’s youth, demands of good school grades, marriage and, eventually grandchildren are at odds with the county’s rapid modernization and the massive influx of liberal western ideals.  Such ideals are at direct odds with the traditionalism that China is steeped in – and the traditionalism that the government espouses with unbridled gusto to the rest of the world.  I realized that the school was really the only place that she got time to spend with people who were interested in what her opinions were, and what she wanted to do with her life, rather than live in a household where she was largely told what to do.

With the attempts to purge the Internet of pornography, virginal purity is venerated and actively promoted on the mainland..  A chastity belt has recently been patented, which, the inventor hopes will bring couples closer together, and put the hookers out of work.  Parent’s want their children to be virgins till their wedding night, but there’s a dawning realization that the wedding night may never come.  In the Southern Weekly, Shen Fan, a 25-year-old philosophy student at Nanjing University preached about the many and varied benefits of a chaste Chinese girl.  She told reporter Shen Liang, “losing virginity before marriage is losing competitiveness, which may lead to losing an opportunity of a good marriage”.  These days in China, young unmarried girls (and boys) need to work every angle to find an agreeable spouse.  Aging parents are taking photos and their offspring’s vital statistics to parks in the hope capturing an eligible bachelor that will capture their daughters hearts.  The marriage marts have spread throughout China, and can be found in any park in any major city in the country.

The advertisement are depressingly desperate: “Boy – 28 yrs, has own apartment in Fuxing district, no mortgage, Communist Party member” reads one battered paper, another is for a daughter: “Girl, 35 yrs, 1.6 meters tall, PhD, University teacher”.  Some of the adverts show a preference for people born in a certain year (one initially baffling paper reads “Rat preferred”), while another shows that a 28 year old IT professional avoids gambling.  Some parents are getting old and don’t care anymore, one white haired woman says that “I don’t mind if the girl is Chinese or foreign. She must have a good heart and be in a good job,” with the reporters who interview her, she leaves her mobile number in case they run into someone who might be suitable.

Of course, the desperation isn’t limited to out-and-out lying, parents will show their sons a fake photo in the hope of at least getting them a date, and the children are becoming more and more wary of meeting up with anyone their folks unearth at the local park.

It’s on thing to hook up with someone in the marriage market, and another matter completely when it comes to the idea of till death do us part.  The sad fact of modern china is that Chinese couples simply do not have the social awareness needed to maintain a long term adult relationship.  There’s some rather simple psychology at work here – ‘little emperors” are doted on by their mothers, but have a distant father figure.  As the boys grow into men, something of an identity crisis develops because no one, least of all their fathers, has been on hand to show them how to act like a man, resulting in hyper-masculinity, essentially the men violently overcompensate for…well, nearly everything.  This coupled with the unhealthy psychology of being an only child results in a serious lack of social skills that people need in order to deal with the modern world.

And the reason as to why more foreign women don’t have Chinese boyfriends?  That all comes down to losing face.  The foreigners who come to work in China, must, by law, hold a degree certificate, which is more than most of the men looking for brides has in China.  When the women start their jobs, they will, invariably, be earning much more than their male, Chinese counterparts.  Not wanting to be embarrassed by the cleverer, richer foreign women, the men look for someone more deferent, respectful…in essence, more Chinese.  Also, there’s the small matter of the husband’s mother probably wanting someone to look after them 24 hours a day – an idea which most western career women will understandably turn their noses up at.  The men of Japan and China are facing something of an identity crisis.

The problem is that the women are usually more open-mined and accepting of new western ideas, the man, finding that his wife is more independent than he expected her to be, and his traditional samurai/hunter gatherer role.  In all my time in China, it’s the men who have been the most stubborn, most proud, and most traditional, the women have been completely the opposite.  In Japan, this phenomenon has given rise to the Narita Divorce – a Japanese couple heads off for their honeymoon in a European country, and it’s the woman who adapts to Western ways better than her husband, who finds himself relegated to lowly bag-carrier, rather than katana brandishing protector of his defenseless young bride.  Because the marriage license is only signed after the honeymoon, upon their return to Narita Airport in Japan, the once happy couple go their separate ways.

Money is an important issue for Chinese women.  A recent news story in the UK Daily Telegraph supports the theory that Chinese women see foreigners as walking ATMs – as the financial “crisis” rages, Chinese women are seeing foreigners as a less attractive bet – at least where money is concerned.  A survey conducted by Hongniang.com, an online dating site revealed that only 16.8% of the 6600 women polled wanted to date a foreigner – in September, the number had been almost over twice that – 42.5% said that they were looking for a foreigner to date.

The misanthropic attitudes that many western men having when it comes to bedding Chinese girls isn’t helping matters.  The infamous Chinabounder, who wrote at length of his various amoral sexual conquests on his blog led to a witch hunt initialed by a professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.  On the other side of the coin, ChinaSmack.com translated an essay written by a girl at Jiaotong University –  is apparently a lead cheerleader for the football team – who claims that there are no suitable Chinese men for her – she can either be a mistress or the wife of a rich, uncouth coal digger from Shanxi.

In Japan, which has the world’s fastest aging population ( by 2015, one in four Japanese citizens will be 65 or older), the hardcore porn industry caters for the dissatisfied Japanese man, leaving the jobless women without children and stuck in a sexless marriage.  The Japanese statistics are appalling, 34% of all couples responding to a survey say it’s been over a year since they had last sex with their partner, and more and more women are turning to sex volunteers to get laid.

Japan is on the verge of a demographic disaster with the birth rate hitting record low of 1.29.  In 2000, 70% of all Japanese men were unmarried, and the ones that were think of their wives more as substitute mothers than lovers.  There are repercussions on nearly all aspects of Japanese life, exam hell is less of an ordeal because of the reduced competition (which drives school fees higher because there are no students), divorces blamed on sexual inactivity have skyrocketed, amusement parks are closing across the country, and once-prosperous baby-clothes manufacturers are shutting their doors.

More and more socially inept children being raised by the TV and Nintendo are suffering from extreme social withdrawal known colloquially as hikokimori.  One extreme case tells of one Japanese teenager who shut himself away in his room for 13 years, unable to cope with the pressure cooker of exams and society’s demands of achievement.  The inability to vent sexual and social frustrations can turn bloody, with young men going on knife wielding stabbing sprees in the middle of Tokyo, or otherwise, throwing themselves in front of train on the loop line – “accidents” often delay local services during the day.

Japan is one of the most sexually tolerant countries in Asia – where else would you see middle aged businessmen kissing their goodbyes to their husbands on the late train home?  Yet, in a country where love hotels are on virtually every street, where bikini idols adorn the thick manga magazines, and where pornographic DVD shops have six packed floors (so I’m told…) the young girls of Japan are reduced to dressing themselves up in bandages feigning serious injuries.  Known as the kegadoru, young, single, attention seeking girls now sport clinical white bandages and eye patches.  For some – for most – it’s the only way to get boys to talk to them.

  1. Layla
    April 5, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Most of Chinese women now are usually more open-mined and accepting of new western ideas in order to gain a great deal of money and perhaps get married and live abroad, too. They would be happy to live off the money which from their foreign boyfriends’ hard work.

    More most of Chinese men have been stubborn, proud, traditional and bossy since Qin Shihuangdi was born in Qin dynasty who was the the first emperor and a complete tyrant. For traditional chinese men, the only way they can make love legitimatly is to get married with a woman maybe he doesn’t love, just fulfil the physiological demands so in China where the adolescent period marriages could also seem reasonable and right in the view of Chinese, especially for the older generations. So what does a marriage mean that without love, but with sex? A traditional Chinese man has been eager to marry a virgin because of the wife is wanted to be a nanny, a washwoman, a cook, a tailor, a lover or a sex volunteer who is able to take care of the details of the social and daily life of the husband and his parents. So the more the husband imagines, the more stubbom he will be.

    According to the two points up there, the whole marriage seems to be in great measure a oppressive discourse about it, as the Chinese women and men now have been from opposite to more opposite as though they are two kind of parallel lines and do never belong to the same time. The social repercussion and phenomenon in fact are ridiculous of fairing marriage in parks or somewhere else. That is due to the old parents with the unhealthy psychology have been giving their children too much with so many privileges so that it can be in the common interest of getting married to parents. What is the essence of getting married in China? What is a husband or a wife for in healthy chinese family?
    The article of Love and Sex in the Middle Kingdom that has involves traditional enducational system, parent-child relationship, temporal and relevant ideas of Chinese people and marriages, incomplete cognitive experience and understanding of Chinese people, the rate of divorces up and unmarried things in Japan that has directly led to Japanese population being declined so the whole industry of the society has shown a wave of flat etc.

    Thanks for the great article and your viewpoints.

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