Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oh, those wacky Chinese.

In 2007, sociologist James Farrer attended the
International Conference on Chinese Sexual Culture
, where he learned that the keeping of paid mistresses has become common practice for the nation's growing numbers of male, economic elite. This has caused profound distress among the bean-counters in the strict, Communist nation where monogamy has had such a long-standing tradition that even the slightest hint of desire or interest between unmarried adults can result in a lifetime of community blackballing.

This status quo was sublimely illustrated in film director Zhang Yimou's romantic tragedy Ju Dou, where the male protagonist is forced to raise his son as his brother rather than see his family's cloth-dying business fall into ruin over village gossip.

But, evidently not content to rely on the power of centuries' worth of social reprisals alone (or perhaps they've become sufficiently unreliable), the People's Republic recently announced its intent to develop a national database to track down and catch marital cheaters. One wonders if it's only because this matter is centered on a growing elite social class of businessmen and officials (National Bureau of Statistics chief Qiu Xiaohua was recently "caught"), that such a controlling, Orwellian step is being taken. China's Ministry of Civil Affairs plans to have such records fully available and online-accessible by 2015. What related news stories that already make it within the Chinese press attract a vast and captivated readership.

Certainly, rigid sexual restrictions have long been a means toward social control throughout human history. This has been no different in China. In the late thirteenth century, a code of "demerit points" was developed, the Shih chieh kung kuo lu, featuring an itemized, detailed list of the severity to specific 'moral crimes'. "Spur of the moment passion" with a married woman had a penalty of 200 points, but only 100 if she were the wife of a servant or a prostitute. "Having lewd thoughts about a woman on the street" warranted 10 points, having "lewd dreams" warranted 1, and even though the Chinese have produced some of the finest erotic art in the world, possession of such material would result in a penalty of 10 points per image for the medieval Chinese subject.

And modern Chinese sex-related laws are no less mysteriously categorized. "Buggery" (anal sex) with women under age 21 is currently punished by life imprisonment, even though the age of sexual consent is 16 and that any kind of sex with a woman under that age of consent only warrants a prison term of five years. Go figure.

In view of such extensive (and arguably voyeuristic) measures, perhaps it makes sense that prudish officials in the world's most populous nation would go to the postmodern extreme of developing a computerized record. Exactly how such a record would yield to the government's ability to "catch" cheaters hasn't been clearly explained in recent news reports, but one might presume that the online availability of such information could serve to inform female sexual prospects to men who might not be entirely truthful about their marital status when being pursued by them.

In a way, could that then be a step toward women's independent sexual empowerment in China?

Probably not. While a whopping 70% of the world's sex toy manufacturing happens in China, and that it has a booming sex trade despite heavy suppression, China nevertheless has a deeply ingrained sexual conservatism.

For example, a 2009 business venture to build a sex-positive theme park to be called Love Land in Chonqing, itself being a bold move for even most Western democratic nations, was shut down by the government before it opened. There won't be any public theme-park nude statues, or modern books exploring topics related to anal sex for that matter, where they sing the March of the Volunteers.

But then, while I'm not necessarily out to demonize Communism per se, this is a nation whose government's efforts to control and regiment life on all levels is so tireless that it is a crime for dead Buddhist monks to reincarnate without government permission. So perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised.

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