The History Of Sex In China -- Episodes From The Last 30 Years

(Beijing Times)

On the morning of June 18, 1979, a strongly worded reader's letter arrived at the desk of <Popular Films> chief editor Lin Shan: "I saw the photo on the back cover of issue 5, 1979 of the magazine that you edited, and I felt very angry!  I was unable to calm myself down for a long time.  I never imagined that something like ths could take place in the socialist country created by Chairman Mao and after the baptism of the Cultural Revolution.  You people are so degenerate that there is no difference between your magazine and the capitalist magazines.  This is really regrettable!  I had to ask: What are you doing???"

This letter was signed by Xiang Weiying, who was with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Military Corps.  The reason why he was so angry that he used three question marks to challenge the back cover of the issue 5 of the just revived <Popular Films> was the kissing scene from the movie <The Slipper and The Rose>.

Tang Jiaren was deputy chief-editor at <Popular Films> at the time.  This was the first photo of kissing in a publicly available publication since the reforms began.  The editorial staff had to be very determined in order to select this photo, but they never imagined that such a strongly worded reader's letter would come so quickly.  Lin Shan and Tang Jiaren took this letter to the secretary of the Film Association to ask for instructions.  They decided to publish the letter in full in the next issue of the magazine and asked readers to discuss the "kissing photo."

In less than two months' time, more than 11,2000 letters came in to the editorial department of <Popular Films>, of which one-third was opposed.  This was the first national public discussion of "kissing" since the reforms began, and became the first case cited by contemporary sexologists interested in "sexual liberation."

Famous sociologist professor Pan Suiming called the pre-1978 China a "sexless society."  Following the reforms, a "sexual revolution" ended that "sexless society."  "In Chinese society at the time, any issue related to sex anywhere would have drawn the attention of the entire society.  The photo of a kiss in a movie was just the opening page," he said.

In the winter of the same year, a large nude female wall painting once again pricked the nerves of the Chinese people.

On October 1, 1979, the newly completed Beijing Capital International Airport began operation.  Over the next two months, more than 300,000 persons went to see it.  Amongst the attractions was a giant wall painting titled <Water Festival -- The Rite of Life>.  China Central Academy of Fine Arts painter Yuan Yunsheng boldly put in three nude females with long hair in the paiting.

Yuan Yunsheng recalled to the reporter: "I was painting people bathing, and they cannot be clothed.  In order to pass inspection, I added extra lines on the draft so that the women looked like they were clothed.  When the wall painting was almost done, I erased the lines and the women became nude.  By the time that they found out, it was too late."

After obtaining the approval of the relevant leaders, the painting was revealed to the public.  Curious Beijing residents spread the word by mouth and rushed over to see the painting.  Unfortunately, good things did not last.  Three months later, the Capital International Airport management put three thin veils in front of the three nude women.  However, the spectators can still see through the veils.  In fact, they can even lift up the veils to see.

Pan Suiming recalled that the public seemed to be passionate about nudes.  Paintings, movies and exhibitions with nude females were the rave. 

On December 22, 1988, the "Nude Human Body Oil Painting Art Exhibit" opened at the China Art Museum.  136 works from 28 painters of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts were exhibited, most of them being oil paintings of nude females.

The general planner for this exhibit was then young teacher Ge Pengren of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts.  He recalled that there were twisting queues as long as one kilometer every day in front of the tickets windows by the side of the China Art Museum.  On the last day, several thousand spectators took their newly purchased <Collection of Nude Human Body Oil Paintings> book and postcards and asked the artists to sign.

This exhibit went on for 18 days and drew 220,000 spectators.  A foreign visitor attended the exhibit, and he wondered about the passion of the masses.  He wrote to China Daily: "In the history of art in other countries, one cannot mind similar examples.  The reason is simple.  The emphasis here is not 'art."  It is on 'nudity'."  But the reality at the time was that a society that had just emerged out of a "sexual vacuum" needed "nudity" far more than "art."

Once the sexual repression is liberated, society was like a hungry tiger with respect to sexual knowledge and culture.  But the "sexual food" that satisfied these needs was of uneven quality.  At a time when all sorts of sex-related businesses were booming, the government started a campaign against "obscene pornographic" publications.

In May 1982, a foreign novel titled <The Rose Tattoo> vanished overnight from the shelves of bookstores all over China, because there were "large amounts of obscene depictions" that contravene the publication regulations.  <The Rose Tattoo> was the first book to be banned since the reforms began.  Apart from the book being banned, the publisher Yanbian People's Publishing was also penalised 600,000 yuan.

In October 1986, then Hunan People's Publishing chief edit Zhu Zheng was visiting an old friend at the State Publishing Bureau while on business.  During the chat, Zhu told his friend that he intends to publish <Lady Chatterley's Lover>.  The friend immediately told him not to, because Lijiang Publishing could not get approval for the project.

When Zhu Zheng got back to Hunan, he wanted to cease publication but he was met with unanimous opposition.  By that time, there were already 300,000 pre-publication orders for the book.  In order to relieve the economic pressures, Zhu Zheng decided to restrict the distribution to within the professional field.  He had a precedent in that People's Literature Publishing issued <The Poetry of The Plum in the Golden Vase> in the same way.

In mid-January 1987, the Hunan edition of <Lady Chatterley's Lover> was formally published.  Trucks from the booksellers from all over China went directly to the printing factory and carted away loads and loads.  It was a sensation.  But in less than one month, <Lady Chatterley's Lover> was banned due to the large amounts of depiction of sexual acts.  At the time, the Hunan Provincial Publishing Bureau director and deputy director as well as Zhu Zheng were all severely sanctioned for violating publishing regulations.

In January 2004, <Lady Chatterley's Lover> was released again as part of the "Bridge" series of People's Literature Publishing.  The first print run was for 50,000 copies.  The book sold well.  But society was quite calm about it by now.