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China Books & Literature

Groundbreaking: “Explicit” Sexual Education Textbook Causes Stir in China

“How can you teach children sexual education without talking about sex?”

Manya Koetse

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A new Chinese elementary school textbook that teaches children about intercourse, homosexuality, menstruation and gender equality, has caused a stir on social media in China. Although some criticize the book for its “graphic illustrations”, others are overjoyed with this bold step forward for sexual education in China.

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 new text books, published by Beijing Normal University, teaches children that homosexuality is normal.

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.

The controversial text books are part of a series called ‘cherish life’, with different books for different grades (珍爱生命-儿童性教育读本).

Besides dealing with homosexuality (a controversial topic in China), it also warns children about sexual harassment – not just affecting 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 the 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).

Teacher tells students: “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 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, 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.

The books teach kids they can be whatever they want regardless of their gender.

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 to 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.’

“Some people live alone. They think it suits them to be by themselves. They are equally happy. We value their choice.”

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.

– By Manya Koetse
Many thanks to Diandian Guo.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Matthias Lehmann

    March 20, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Thanks for the interesting article. Here are a few translated comments (shortened) from German netizens after tagesschau.de reported about the book.

    “Talking with children about sex… makes me ask… what for? Is that species-appropriate? … It doesn’t make any sense at all to confront younger children with a topic that doesn’t correspond with their physical development.”

    “Only parents should be allowed to talk [about sex] with primary school-age children. … I’m against brochures and similar standardized texts.”

    “Children should learn that there aren’t any taboos and that you can talk about all matters, even if they are uncomfortable at first. … Knowledge protects [children] from abuse and health risks during sex.”

    “As adults, we don’t have the right to equate our sexuality with that of children. But to derive from that that children’s sexuality should remain a taboo is a societal systemic error.”

    “Sexual intercourse should maybe be dealt with in or around the 5th grade. Homosexuality etc. maybe even a bit later since that’s just a marginal issue, blown up by the media.”

    “I see China’s advance [in that matter] as a positive approach.

    “When you can use a brochure in schools that deals with homosexuality without negative connotations without hundreds of people launching a protest against children allegedly being ‘made gay’, then China is clearly ahead of us in that regard.”

    Source: http://meta.tagesschau.de/id/121515/kinderbuch-in-china-schluss-mit-den-sex-tabus

  2. Avatar

    Oliv

    October 3, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Hello Matthias
    Agree with you Only parents should be allowed to talk

    As adults, we don’t have the right to equate our sexuality with that of children. But to derive from that that children’s sexuality should remain a taboo is a societal systemic error
    This Didi’ book it is China paradox, I guess… sexual education for children is a problem, but COME ONE not at elementary school .
    Ok for learn internal structure of male and female reproductive but ..just this basicly…

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China Books & Literature

The Many Books Lost in the China Floods: Catastrophic Flooding Hits Zhuozhou’s Publishing Industry

After Typhoon Doksuri, some major warehouses in Zhuozhou have seen their depots transform into a sea of floating books.

Manya Koetse

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Dozens of prominent Chinese publishing companies and book warehouses based in Hebei’s Zhuozhou, a major hub for the publishing industry, have witnessed their book depots destroyed as water levels surged as high as the second floor. Distribution will be at a standstill for at least 15 days.

Zhuozhou (涿州) is a county-level city in Baoding, Hebei Province, known as a major hub for the Chinese publishing industry. It is one of the areas that has been badly affected by the heavy rainfall and flash floodings China has seen this week, after Typhoon Doksuri moved from the Philippines to Taiwan toward Beijing and surrounding regions in mainland China.

In Zhuozhou, dozens of publishing warehouses were affected by floods and water damage due to the storm, resulting in losses amounting to hundreds of millions of yuan. Zhuozhou’s print media industry is closely linked with the center of China’s publishing industry in Beijing, just 25 miles away.

Some warehouses, such as that of Beijing China Media Times, are as large as 8000 square meters, housing over three million books. According to Sina News, one area that housed around 200 publishing companies was almost entirely flooded.

A Weibo post by the Hong Kong Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group (HKTKWW, @大公文匯網) showed the status quo at some warehouses, which had changed into a sea of books.

Posted on Weibo by HKTKWW, @大公文匯網, the situation at the Beijing China Media Times book warehouse in Zhuozhou.

Posted on Weibo by HKTKWW, @大公文匯網, the situation at the Beijing China Media Times book warehouse in Zhuozhou.

Publisher Books China (中图网), known as an industry “outlet store” for selling discounted and out-of-print books, also saw its central Zhuozhou warehouse completely flooded.

Around 100 of their staff members remained trapped at the office on Tuesday night without any food, drinks, or blankets, while water levels continued to rise. An additional cause for concern was the strong odor emanating from a nearby adhesive tape factory. Some employees suspected that toxic gases might have leaked, leading to several of them feeling unwell and vomiting after exposure.

According to China News (@中国新闻网), all employees were safely evacuated on Wednesday.

Photo posted on Weibo by China News (@中国新闻网), showing how the Books China (中图网) major warehouse was severely impacted by the recent floods, with water levels rising up to the second floor.

In an interview with Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend (南方周末), Beijing China Media Times CEO Ran Zijian (冉子健) revealed that his company had not received any advance warning about the heavy rains and the possibility of flooding, despite the area being prone to floods due to its low-lying terrains. All of the company’s 3.6 million books are now submerged underwater.

Photos provided to Southern Weekend, Weibo.

The water levels rose so rapidly on Tuesday that there was hardly any time to rescue the books, making the evacuation of staff members the first priority. Bookseller Zou Bin (邹斌) told Southern Weekend that he saw the water levels rising so fast in his 5,000 square meter warehouse that he basically witnessed “25 million yuan [$3.5 million] disappear in an hour, powerless to do anything about it.”

According to several Chinese news outlets, the distribution and dispatching of books will be impossible for numerous publishing houses based in Zhuozhou for at least the next 15 days. As the local book industry continues to assess the damages, it remains uncertain how severely the companies have been affected at this stage. For some, it feels like they are starting from scratch all over again.

But most netizens emphasize that it’s more important that employees are safe, as people’s lives are more important than paper books. “Who cares about dispatching books at this time?” some commenters wonder, while others express grief about all the books lost, saying, “It’s just such a pity.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China Books & Literature

Why Is Kindle Leaving China?

Many netizens are not happy over Kindle exiting the Chinese market: “We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

Manya Koetse

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Amazon announced on Thursday that it has stopped supplying retailers in China with its Kindle e-readers and that it will discontinue its Kindle e-bookstore in the Chinese market on June 30, 2023.

Amazon announced its Kindle exit in a statement on its official WeChat account, saying it was because of a shift in the strategic focus of its company’s operations.

For Chinese customers who have purchased e-books through Kindle, they will be able to continue downloading them until June 30 of 2024. Customers who would rather return the Kindle devices they bought in 2022 can get a refund.

On Weibo, the hashtags “Kindle Will Be Discontinued in China Next Year” (#Kindle中国明年停止电子书运营#) and “Why Wasn’t Kindle Able to Make It in China?” (#为什么Kindle在中国活不下去#) were hot topics on Thursday and Friday.

Some commenters said they were upset about Kindle being discontinued in China: “Why why why!! I really like Kindle and their e-bookstore, I check for interesting and new books on sale on a weekly basis. Which e-reader and e-bookstore are suitable substitutes?”

“Zhangyue, Hisense, Huawei, Onyx Boox, Tencent, Readmoo,.. there are actually a lot of brands,” one person responded, but some others said they still preferred Kindle.

“What do I do with my Kindle now? Just use it to cover my noodles?”

In 2021, Amazon’s Kindle was among the most popular e-book brands in China. Besides Amazon’s Kindle, China’s most popular e-reader brands include Onyx Boox, iFlytech, Zhangyue, Xiaomi, Hanvon, Tencent, Boyue, Obook, and Sony (see list).

Some commenters wrote that they understand that companies such as Amazon have to make some tough choices after facing pandemic-related setbacks in China, while there were also many netizens who blamed Kindle’s China exit on Chinese consumers illegally downloading pirated books instead of buying them at the Kindle store.

Others said that Kindle e-bookstore prices were often about the same as paper book prices, making the latter more appealing to people who like to read, especially if they also like to make notes in their books. In other words, they say the Kindle e-bookstore is simply too expensive for the Chinese market, where consumers can find many other options, both paper and digital ones.

“It’s not so complicated,” one Weibo user wrote: “It’s all because of market competition reasons. Kindle is facing the impact of Tencent’s influence on the e-reading market.”

Some people are really disappointed that the books they have bought through Kindle will become unavailable to them, and some wondered if this was legal with regards to consumer rights.

One popular economic blogger wrote: “Kindle has now withdrawn [from China]. Many years ago, when different kinds of online storage spaces starting closing down, I learned one thing: never fully trust internet storage services. Your study material, the things you wrote, your video records, you need to back them up. We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

By Manya Koetse

Image via Weibo

Featured images by Weibo blogger @钟文泽.

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