China’s Sexual Revolution – Liberating or Destructive?

A chinese worker assembling what is becoming a very popular purchase in China.

Although it is a somewhat underground subject, even here in Britain, the sexual nature and openness of Chinese people has vastly changed through the generations, and has thrown up many positives, and sadly, caused many problems.

Sexual intercourse was traditionally considered dangerous for men, since they lost semen, which was identified as a man’s “yáng-essence” and was thought to be a non-renewable resource necessary for life. Nowadays, young people in China are indulging in their first sexual experience far earlier than their peers did.  One survey even claimed the average Chinese person could have up to 19.3 sexual partners. Research published by Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences showed that people born in the 1980’s have sex for the first time at an average age of 21 while in comparison, men and women born in the 1970’s had their first sex at an average age of 23, while the average age for people born in the 1960’s or 1950’s was 25 for men and 23 for women. If this trend continues, the people born in the 1990’s are likely to be engaging around the age of 18, and who knows, if this revolution continues this figure may continue to fall.

The following are two seperate data charts, showing a contrast in opinion on the age teenagers lose their virginity. (The first was published early than the second)

Sr. Number Country Average Age to Lose Virginity
1 United States 16.4
2 Brazil 16.5
3 France 16.8
4 Germany 17.6
5 Australia 17.8
6 Austria 17.9
7 Nigeria 19.7
8 Japan 19.7
9 Thailand 20.5
10 Hong Kong 20.5
11 Taiwan 21.4
12 China 21.9
13 India 22
14 Singapore 22.8
15 Malaysia 23

These contrasts in generations have a negative impact on the sexual revolutionaries of todays China. Rather than feeling liberated, they feel more trapped than ever before. An article written by Pete Marchetto for states;

Parents are increasingly bowing to the inevitable. Five years ago the common parental instruction was: “You’re not to have a boyfriend until you’ve finished your studies.” Now, aware they will only be lied to, many parents have changed the rule. “Yes, you can date him, but if you do you must marry him.”

This view does not fit with the society the current generation live in, with girls now focusing on building careers and try to avoid the parental pressure towards early marriage and the obligatory grandchild for as long as they possibly can. This pressure can become unbearable, and saddest of all, many student suicides these days are triggered by relationship problems. Unable to turn to their parents, with friends who know no more than they, with no counselling available and no health education to guide them, too many give way to desperation when things go wrong.

To prevent such a thing becoming regularity, the education system has to reform to protect China’s newest generation as it adapts to a change in lifestyle. Many people believe a big factor in this lack of education is the fact that the previous generations were so suppressed by the Cultural Revolution that they are now too embarassed to talk, and therefore teach, about sex. Regarding awareness, the research by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences highlighted that about 63.8% of people born in the 1950’s and 1960’s have never used condoms. But that proportion drops sharply with younger generations. The percentage is 39.8% for people born in the 1970’s and 25.6% those born in the 1980’s. This is still a high figure, and sexual education is becoming a huge issue for the Chinese Government. Cases of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and more seriously, AIDS and HIV are on the increase, heavily due to this failure in the education system and also the government itself.

HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in China is estimated at 5%. High rates of unprotected anal sex between men are leading to concerns that prevalence among this high-risk group is rising.Among the new HIV infections in 2009, 32.5% were as a result of sex between men, a significant increase from 12.2% in 2007.

Casting back generation to generation, it is believed even some emperors engaged in homosexual relationships, as it was seen to be more harmonious. Present day China is seeing a rise in the number of same-sex couples, although that is not to say they are more accepting. The government’s stance is simple and ruthless; the three no’s. “No approval. No disapproval. No promotion.”  The people’s opinion is becoming a little more accepting, and the people who find themselves in same-sex relationships are becoming braver. The first ever gay-pride event, Shanghai Pride, was held in 2009, and rather than a parade, it was a series of events. It is now a popular event, and it’s now held every year. Sadly, a vast majority of gay men in China who are married are still under social pressure to hide their sexual orientation.  Going back through the generation, although it was not regular, it is believed even some emperors have engaged in homosexual relationships, as it was seen to be more harmonious than hetero-sexual relationships.

Intervention efforts are difficult; homosexuality was not removed from the official list of mental disorders until 2001, which highlights another generation difference in views. The government have been slow to solve the issue of STD’s. For example, China’s first condom advertisement was banned just two days after its release in 1999 because government officials had said it was illegally promoting sex products. This ban was only recently lifted on World AIDS Day in 2002, and condoms were re-categorised as a medical tool rather than a sexual commodity.

Nevertheless, China’s first major television campaign to promote condom use was not launched until 2007. The campaign targeted the young and mobile, and comprised of short public service announcements on public transport, using slogans such as “Life is too good, please protect yourself Maybe in some debt to this campaign, by 2009 it was reported that condom use in China had ‘ballooned’, and by early 2010 there had been an increase in condom sales. During the Beijing olympics, China released a series of advertisements, some of which can be seen below;

This article was inspired by a 2008 documentary on Sex in China. Although heavily biased, as many American documentaries are, it does highlight the rise in sexuality, and blames the Cultural Revolution for suppressing Chinas sexuality for so long. The videos, especially part 2, are a little full on, but do include some good interviews and makes very interesting points.

Although hard to draw clear conclusions, it is obvious that the difference in generations is vast. Previous generations were scared to hold hands and branded ‘sexually illiterate’, now China has more sex shops than most other countrie in the world. With China still developing, and generation gaps thought to be occurring around every four years, the future holds no barriers for Chinese people, and the rise of sexuality may long continue. The Chinese government has to be ready for this, and increase its efforts to protect its people through sex education and promotion of safe sex, so that this revolution is a safe revolution.

Home Made Produce or Value for money imports?

When buying products, especially online, a large percentage of the British public are concerned about the ethics and morality of the product if it is manufactured in a foreign country.

Foreign imports are a regular sight, be it in a popular brand store like Topshop, or whether it is online. But does the public actually consider where the product was made? Considering Topshop, the company does not state on website the origin of the product, but says is displays it on ‘most’ items of clothing aside some for which it is not ‘relevant’. Asos is another brand, which does sell items imported from China, but does so under strict guidelines that include;

  • Compliance with local laws
  • Employment is freely chosen
  • Freedom of Association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
  • Working conditions are safe and hygienic
  • Child labour shall not be used
  • Living wages are paid
  • Working hours are not excessive
  • No discrimination is practised
  • Regular employment is provided
  • No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed
  • Environmental protection
  • Communication and supervision

But does this all matter? In a students case, the answer of course is no. Value for money rises above all other criteria, as agreed with by an anonymous interviewee who said, “I work and work and work, but all money goes to numerous sources, such as bills and rent. That leaves little enough money for fashion without having to fork out over the odds for British home made products.” This is a resounding factor in the relevance of where our products come from. The following question was proposed on my personnel blog;

The results, although only a small scale, show a large swing towards the opinion that the public would like to see where products originate from because they feel anxious about certain destinations.  The rest of the results are fairly spread. Two students further commented on the matter;

  • · Mike Skillings says:

Don’t care where they are made. As long as the product is made well and employees treated fairly it shouldn’t matter which country they are being produced in

I completely agree with Mike – the quality of the product and the employees’ conditions are a lot more important. Maybe websites should focus on emphasising these instead?

The question just asks more questions rather than provide a clear view. Questions like, if products are still made in the same way – and look the same, taste the same and smell the same as a result – does it matter? Would a mere change in ownership mean you’d stop buying a product you love? Would you want to undertake the jobs the likes of the Chinese workers are doing – repetitive labour, underpaid, cramped conditions? (There a few who set a higher example than this.)

One certain issue that is becoming very pressing is the economic situation. For every £999 Britain spends in imports from China, China spends £1 in imports from Britain. This is one of the many reasons China is becoming such a world power, as her level of self production becoming increasingly high. As a developing country, they have cheap labour as a major resource. Developing countries typically export a large quantity of relatively low value mass-produced goods. As a developed nation, the UK has a skilled and a rather more expensive labour force as its major resource. We export less in volume, but we export higher value, and generally higher technology goods, such as satellites or even folding bikes!

To help boost Britain’s economy, a campaign has been set up by Stoves to increase the sale of home made goods, and is backed by UK manufacturers and MPs. The ‘Made In Britain’ Logo has been designed, and to qualify, companies must say ‘the majority’ of their production or manufacturing takes place in the UK with companies certifying their own eligibility. So far over 100 manufacturers have applied for the logo, including Samuel Heath (Bathrooms), Roman Showers, The Pure H2O company, Ultima Furniture, Chalon (Kitchens), Big Bale Transtacker, Taylor Bins, Anglia Kitchens and Bathrooms LTD, Perrin and Rowe (Taps), Bartuf (Retail display manufacturers) and Primisil Silicones LTD. The logo can be seen below.

According to the research carried out by Stoves’, over one third of British consumers say they would buy British more often if it were easier to identify British products. It’s a noble sentiment, but would it still hold once consumers saw the price tag of a 100% British manufactured product? Some foods and drinks already carry Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) labels that let consumers know that foods are made according to tradition and in the designated area. Surprisingly, the UK only has 16 registered PDOs, compared with France’s 82 and Italy’s 143.

Only time will tell whether the Made In Britain campaign has any affect. It is battling against a public stuck in a struggling economy, and a mentality to get the best value for money possible. Although issues still surround the foreign factories that produce our imports, many are beginning to improve their working conditions, such as the EUPA factory, and this will ease the publics mind. On the other hand there are many who will stand to the end to help the small time, home made companies battle on and convince the British public that buying their goods is more beneficial than imports. With China’s increasing rise in power, everything we own may soon come from China. And, as a student, that may not be all bad.

Chinese Product Design

In the ways of innovation, China is a growing power with many products beginning to be developed in China, and the ones that are not, are most likely manufactured there. China’s big issue is trying to step up from its current position where everything is ‘made in China’ to one where everything is also designed in China. This opinion has only changed over the last 20 years, and places Chinese Product Design firmly in its infant years. The improvements have come about with an increase in skilled Chinese students, meaning China does not need to outsource talent, and with its cheaper production costs, it may well benefit companies to completely up stick and move to China to design and produce its product range.

Some of China’s achievements are visible: for example, a doubling of the global percentage of patents granted to Chinese inventors since 2005, and the growing role of Chinese companies in the wind and solar-power industries. China aims to push its creative thinkers further by encouraging them to replace their four ancient great inventions (mentioned below) with brand new world changing inventions;

“Electing four great modern inventions will encourage the new generations to press forward on the road of discovery,” said Wang Yusheng, former director of the China Science and Technology Museum.

Innovation in China, although heavily outweighed by manufacturing, dates back thousands of years in history. Pre 1900’s the compass, gunpowder, paper making and printing are regarded as ancient China’s four great inventions. Regarding gunpowder, China innovated several other war tools, such as the flamethrower, hand cannon and the cast iron bomb. From gunpowder came one of Chinas most explosive inventions, fireworks, which is now one of China’s largest exports.

The Beijing fireworks display.

Chinoiserie is actually quite difficult to find in modern Product Design, especially with a view to discuss it. Products that are designed to look Chinese without actually being Chinese do not really appear in many sectors, with technology, automotive industries and many other modern day sectors lacking instances of it. Products such as furniture and crockery, namely coffee tables and tea sets, are part of a vast market of products with a resemblance to the Chinese style, and may be one that proves worthy of time and investment for other industries to dwell into. A great example can be found in this posh clock shop from London… the workmanship demonstrated in these pieces really is beautiful. Chinoiserie Comitti Clocks.

The capacity for innovation is growing in China, and in many industries it is taking the markets by storm. In 2010, China became the largest producer of wind technologies, leaping ahead of rivals the USA, Germany and Spain. This rise has been led by the minds of her industry leading companies, Goldwind, Dongfang, and Sinovel. The extent of China’s renewables development is highlighted by the fact that in 2009 she had already surpassed her 2010 target of 10GW by 15.1GW. By 2020, the Chinese governments hopes to have designed and manufactured enough high tech wind turbines to push that figure up to 100GW. The initial future target set by the Chinese government was 10 GW by 2010 but the total installed capacity for wind power generation in China has already reached 25.1 GW by the end of 2009 China aims to have 100 GW of wind power capacity by 2020.

In December 2011, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced it is aiming for the country’s installed solar power generating capacity to reach 15 GW by 2015. This is a 50% increase from its previous plan. China’s share of the global turbine market more than doubled to 32% since 2008 and its manufacturers comprise seven of the world’s top 15 suppliers.

30-megawatt solar power station in China’s Qaidam Basin, aiming to be the worlds largest.

Regarding Product Designers in China, the number of successful and recognised persons is certainly on the up, and the work of one in particular, Liu Zhili, has caught my eye. An example of his very poetic work can be seen here, called the Shrub Table.

To conclude, China has a past full of inventions, some which have shaped the world, and others, which have become an integral part of our everyday lives. Although times changed since with manufacturing becoming her key role, China is now not only a hub for production, but a world full of creative thinkers, and it is now innovating at a frightening pace. It is up to the rest of the world to keep up, or buy Chinese.

China’s Representation in British Media/Politics

China’s long running affair with the British media has been very mixed, full of stories of grand events and vibrant culture. However, it suffers a very negative perception, and one that is in a way hypocritical.

The reason this perception is so, is that China is just doing what the other super powers (Britain, USA and Russia) have previously done. China is expanding at a huge rate, and its ever-growing economy is leaving Britain and others feeling very intimidated. This constant negativity regarding their growth, consumption and with it, environmental damage is ruining the brand of China. Her rapid development has left politicians and leaders worldwide, very anxious, and when watching news reports on events such as the G20 summits, they hound China into the corner and accuse her of harming the world. We have gone through the same process and this makes it very hypocritical to attempt to hinder China’s progress. The country is on the rise, and it is time the media accepted this.

China’s Human rights record is a monumental issue currently, and the British press are slaughtering China. Although the vast majority outside of China agree, as does our group, that there is much work to be done to solve this issue and truly allow China to progress, stories of British and American troops denying Iraqi and Afghan prisoners their human rights again cry hypocrisy, or as they say, the pot calling the kettle black. China is darkened by its troubles with freedom of speech and rights, but as a developing country, it still has time to correct this, and it should not be used as a standing point to degrade China. Only time will tell if it can correct its wrongs and finally be presented in the media in its cultural glory.

However, the media, especially televised news, can shine light on China, and a stand out example of this is Chinese New Year. The media go into frenzy, showing the festivals in their glory, and highlighting the morals of being with family, and the messages of hope that these New Year celebrations rest on. The cultural in China is vast and vibrant, and is a great tool to emphasise to the world what it can offer. (

The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008, although surrounded in criticism regarding their human rights issues, and its pressing environmental issues, allowed China to sell itself to the whole world – and it succeeded. An opening ceremony, which broadcast too over 5.5 million UK viewers, showed the colours, and dances and music, tradition and culture that it lived and breathed in. Costing £3000 a second, China made a huge statement to world, and the media’s endless coverage still has a lasting impact on the selling of China.

The recent appearance of two Pandas, Tian Tian and Ying Guang, at Edinburgh zoo has also created mass media attention. This has also created a huge tourist boost, and can only do well in China’s attempts to sell itself to the world. Is has also improved the relations between Britain and China, and has been taken favourably by the majority of the media, with the story making front page of newspapers for a considerable period.

Tian Tian - whose name means Sweetie, enjoying a well earned rest.

Mr Liu Xiaoming, ambassador of China to the UK, said: “This historical agreement is a gift to the people of the UK from China. It will represent an important symbol of our friendship and will bring our two people closer together”

On the other hand, many have unfairly criticised this as a move to turn attention away from China’s human rights record.

In summary, China is a country that does have its problems, and these are frequently depicted to the British public by the media. However, although they must be considered we all must bear in mind that China is still and up and coming super power, and still has time to develop and correct its issues.  The media has the power to sell China to us, and when it broadcasts huge events like the Olympic games, or the arrival of the pandas, it allows us to see the good side of China, one full of culture and tradition beyond imagination. China is already changing its ways, and, as long as it continues, it will continue to sell itself to the world.