An illustrated Chinese elementary school textbook (珍爱生命-儿童性教育读本) has sparked debate on Sina Weibo because of its open way of approaching sexual education.
The book, published by Beijing Normal University, shows pictures of reproductive organs and of two people having sex. It also teaches children about sexual abuse, homosexuality (both of gays and lesbians), and gender equality.
The book initially came to public attention when a mother took a picture of her child’s book, where a woman says to a man: “Can you show me your penis?” The woman complained about the “graphic illustrations” on Chinese social media.
It soon led to netizens criticizing this new “explicit” way of teaching children about sex. But many people also objected to this criticism, arguing that this was an advanced move for China’s sexual education, that has been often criticized for lagging behind.
Besides dealing with homosexuality (a controversial topic in China), it also warns children for sexual harassment – not just of girls but also boys -, promotes single life as a personal choice, and tells children is it perfectly normal for men to take care of the household.
According to China’s News Service, the Beijing Normal University Publishing Group stated that the materials involved underwent strict scrutiny (“经严格审核”) before being published.
“The majority of people are heterosexual, but there are also some people who feel attracted to the same sex. This is a completely normal phenomenon.”
On Sina Weibo, a 20-year-old student of journalism named ‘Didi’ (@_滴滴打笛) strongly supported the book in a blog published on March 3. She condemned those criticizing the teaching material, saying: “Everyone knows sexual education in China is lagging behind, but when it finally takes a big step forward, people can only focus on ‘pornography’ and trifling matters.”
‘Didi’ explains how the book covers sexual education for children of various ages at elementary school level. For the younger students, it provides information about the external and internal structure of the male and female reproductive organs through its illustrations. By also covering other organs and body parts, the book helps to “normalize” discussion of the reproductive organs, Didi argues.
For children in higher grades, the book talks about menstruation, sexual intercourse, and other topics.
The concept of homosexuality is introduced at the highest levels; teaching children that homosexuality is a natural thing. An illustration shows two students asking their teacher about their two female neighbors who live together as a couple (image below).
“The majority of people are heterosexual, but there are also some people who feel attracted to the same sex. This is a completely normal phenomenon. We can’t discriminate against them,” the teacher says.
Although the contents of the books differ per grade, they all deal with how children can protect themselves against sexual abuse. The illustrations are not only focusing on abuse by adult men of girls, but also of adult men of boys, or adult women of girls, etc.
The books also focus on gender equality, explaining that men and women have equality on the job market and that all professions, it being a soldier or factory worker, can be pursued by both boys and girls.
Didi says: “I was moved to tears seeing this (..). For children, these textbooks are like a holy book, and when the teacher tells them that women can become police officers, that men can be nurses, it is such an encouragement for them. And when you explain children that homosexuality is normal and that they shouldn’t discriminate against it, it really is a step forward against discrimination.”
“How can you teach children sexual education without talking about sex?”
According to Didi, the book is now used as teaching material at (at least) 13 different educational institutions in Beijing.
Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily dedicated a Weibo post to the controversy over the book on March 4, reiteraring the statement of the publishing house that tells people that the clear illustrations help children to better understand sex. They also write that children are pure and unbiased, and that these drawings should not just be perceived with an “adult perspective” (“不能用成人的观点来看”).
Nevertheless, there are still many netizens who are upset and angered over the book, calling it “tasteless” and “vulgar.”
Some say the book is “pornographic”, and parents express worries that this book will negatively affect their children’s idea of what is ‘normal.’
But the majority of netizens are in favor of this new kind of sexual education and say that the book is “very good,” and that those who criticize it are “lacking integrity” themselves. “There’s just nothing wrong with this book,” many say.
“How can you teach children sexual education without talking about sex?”, others wonder: “If we don’t properly explain sex education to our children, it will only lead them in the wrong direction.”
“What a fantastic book,” one person writes: “It is important to teach children this, and to promote equality between men and women. Anyone who thinks of porn when seeing this is just obsessed with sex.”
The school books are also sold through Amazon, with the publication dates of various books ranging from 2013 to 2016. According to Baidu, a first edition of the book was published in April of 2011. The 48-page book, targeted at children in the age group of 7-10, includes the chapters “Understanding your own body”, “Understanding the body of the opposite sex”, “Don’t expose yourself in public places”, “Reproduction”, “Take good care of yourself”, “Stay away from dangerous places.” Besides the chapters related to sexual education, it also has chapters that teach children about personal hygiene, washing their hands, and brushing their teeth.
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