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Sex and the City – Women’s Sex in China (Liveblog)

Gender and sexuality specialist Dr. Pei about her book ‘Sex and the City’, a book for which she interviewed dozens of Chinese women about their sexuality. Pei explains her research, including masturbation and cyber sex.

Manya Koetse

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Event: Lecture by Dr. Yuxin Pei on Masturbation/Sex in China
Date: May 21, 2015
Place: Leiden University, the Netherlands

Gender and sexuality specialist Yuxin Pei (裴谕新) talks about her book ‘Sex and the City: A Study of Shanghai Young Women born in the 1970s’, a book for which she interviewed dozens of women about their sexuality. Pei explains her research, including masturbation and cyber sex.

 

“In China, we don’t have sexual rights”

 

Today Yuxin Pei will talk about how to articulate women’s sex in China. “We don’t talk about sexual rights in China,” Dr. Pei says: “We don’t have them.” Pei explains how sex in China is considered part of a healthy lifestyle, together with sleeping and eating. When talking about sex, people therefore often refer to it as “sexual health” or “sexual needs”. Sex, especially for men, is seen as a natural part of life. Many women, however, say they do not need sex. Their excuse is that they are still a virgin, or that they are single, and that sex is therefore not a part of their lives. In Chinese traditional thought, still hugely influencing modern-day society, there are many misconceptions about women and sex. Women are not supposed to have sex when they are pregnant, for example, or when they are raising young kids and are tired. For couples who have been married for a long time, sex becomes taboo.

 

“One drop of semen equals ten drops of blood”

 

Masturbation is one of Pei’s research subject – a topic many Chinese people do not know much about. Pei therefore set up a “Masturbation Research Group” on Sina Weibo to get a discussion going on how people think about masturbation. “People asked me if it was an April Fools joke,” Pei says: “But it was very serious.” Pei wanted to research how people in China talk about masturbation. The video that was made for this, where people were asked if they had ever masturbated, received over 10 million views on Youku. Pei’s Weibo group now has over 30.000 followers, and due to the great interest in the subject, Pei organizes a monthly workshop on masturbation, where people from the age of 18 to 68 talk about sex.

Dr. Pei discovered many deeply ingrained misconceptions on masturbation. “Only men can do it”, “too much masturbation will give you small penis”, “one drop of semen equals ten drops of blood”, “I might not have normal sex again after masturbating”, or “women who masturbate are no good” – just a few examples of existing ideas on masturbation.

“Talking about masturbation opens the door to so many other topics,” Pei says: “Research on masturbation led us to conceptions about femininity, masculinity, gender, body image and even self-development.”

 

“What’s normal for men, is ‘dirty’ for women”

 

Masturbation was not Pei’s original focus of study. Pei Yuxin did her PhD at the University of Hong Kong over ten years ago, using Shanghai as her research field. “I talked to dozens of women from the 1970s about their sex lives,” she says: “and masturbation already came up during the second interview I did.” Pei was fascinated with the topic, as it brought up so many other issues concerning women and sex: while many sexual acts, including masturbation, are considered ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ for men, they are considered ‘dirty’ for women. Oral sex is another example, Pei says, as women will give it to men, but will not accept it.

“Women really liked to talk about their experiences to me”, Pei says. She discovered that many women had experienced ‘cyber sex’ [having sex through camera online], as they felt ‘clean’ doing it – since they did not consider it “real sex”.

 

“Sexuality is empowering”

 

Pei Yuxin sees sex as female empowerment. Power and sex are intertwined in multiple ways, according to Pei.

In one chapter of her book she pays attention to the topic of women having affairs with foreign men, especially Western ones. “It’s not about the green card,” Pei says: “It’s cultural capital.” Many women told Dr. Pei that having a Western boyfriend is like having a private English teacher. It is a status symbol and improves their ability to compete on the Shanghai job market.

“Some women speak of their boyfriends as if they are picking restaurants,” Pei says: “Right now, it is said that a good boyfriend should have a car, a house and a dog.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a group of female writers called “the Beauty Writers” (美女作家) became popular in China, one of them being Wei Hui, who wrote “Shanghai Baby”. These writers, who were young and beautiful, openly wrote about sex and relationships. Writing about their sexuality made them influential – the first powerful generation that put sexuality in Chinese literature. “What they did with their books then, is done online now,” Pei says: “Like famous blogger Muzi Mei (木子美), who published her sexual diary online.” The internet has made it possible for people to discuss sexual experiences and sexuality from behind their computer screens.

There is a long way to go for sexual rights in China: “There’s no act on marital rape or sexual harassment yet,” Pei says. The empowerment of women is one of the motors driving Pei’s research. Creating awareness on sexual issues and understanding the relation between sexuality and self-development will further the sexual liberation of Chinese women.

(This liveblog is now closed.)

Blogged by: Manya Koetse 

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    benny ferdy malonda

    June 30, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Hi, Dr Pei,
    Firstly greet from me. I wonna know whether you are a mediacal anthropologist and medical doctor.
    Actually i am interested in your paper above, thtat related to health and mediacal science, however because
    you write about habit and culture related to health, that is an mediacal anthropology theory. But, of course
    you write an interesting paper as research result

    Best regards, benny

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China Celebs

Chinese Social Media Users Stand up Against Body Shaming

Manya Koetse

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Recent photos of famous actress Gong Li that showed her curvier figure have gone viral on Sina Weibo, receiving over 850 million clicks. With Gong Li’s weight gain becoming all the talk on Weibo, the public’s focus on her appearance has sparked an online wave of body positivity posts, with web users rejecting the all-too-common phenomenon of body shaming on Chinese social media.

First, there was the ‘A4 Waist‘ hype, then there was the ‘iPhone6 Legs‘ trend, the ‘belly button backhand,’ and the online challenge of putting coins in your collarbone to show off how thin you are (锁骨放硬币). Over the past five years, China has seen multiple social media trends that propagated a thin figure as the ruling beauty standard.

But now a different kind of trend is hitting Weibo’s hotlists: one that rejects body shaming and promotes the acceptance of a greater diversity in body sizes and shapes in China.

On August 26, Weibo user @_HYIII_ from Shanghai posted several pictures, writing:

Reject body shaming! Why should we all have the same figure? Tall or short, thin or fat, all have their own characteristics. Embrace yourself, and show off your own unique beauty!

The post was soon shared over 900 times, receiving more than 32,000 likes, with the “body shame” phrase soon reaching the top keyword trending list of Sina Weibo.

 

Gong Li Weight Gain

 

The body positivity post by ‘_HYIII_’ is going viral on the same day that the apparent weight gain of Chinese actress Gong Li (巩俐) is attracting major attention on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin.

The 54-year-old actress, who is known for starring in famous movies such as Farewell My Concubine, To Live, and Memoirs of a Geisha, was spotted taking a walk with her husband in France on August 24. The photos went viral, with media outlets such as Sina Entertainment noting how Gong Li had become “much rounder” and had put on some “happy fat” (幸福肥).

By now, the hashtag page “Gong Li’s Figure” (#巩俐身材#) has received more than 850 million (!) views on Weibo, with thousands of people commenting on the appearance of the actress. In the comment sections, there were many who lashed out against the focus on Gong Li’s weight gain.

“She just has a regular female body shape. Stop using ‘white / skinny / young’ as the main beauty standard to assess other people,” one commenter said, with another person writing: “Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?!”

 

“Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?”

 

Some people suggested that the COVID19 pandemic might have to do with Gong Li’s weight gain, with others writing: “If she is healthy is what matters, skinny or fat is not the way to assess her beauty.”

What stands out from the discussions flooding social media at this time, is that a majority of web users seem to be fed up with the fact that a skinny body is the common standard of women’s beauty in China today – and that accomplished and talented women such as Gong Li are still judged by the size of their waist.

 

Say No to Body Shaming

 

In light of the controversy surrounding Gong Li’s recent photos and the following discussions, posts on ‘body shaming’ (身材羞辱) are now flooding Weibo, with many Weibo users calling on people to “reject body shaming” (拒绝#body shame#) and to stop imposing strict beauty standards upon Chinese women.

The pressure to be thin, whether it comes from the media or from others within one’s social circle, is very real and can seriously affect one’s self-esteem. Various studies have found an association between body dissatisfaction and social pressure to be thin and body shaming in Chinese adolescents and young adults (Yan et al 2018).

The main message in this recent Weibo grassroots campaign against body shaming, is that there are many ways in which women can be beautiful and that their beauty should not be merely defined by limited views on the ideal weight, height, or skin color.

Over the past decades, women’s beauty ideals have undergone drastic changes in China, where there has been a traditional preference for “round faces” and “plump bodies.” In today’s society, thin bodies, sharp faces, and a pointy chin are usually regarded as the standard of female ideal beauty (Jung 2018, 68). China’s most popular photo apps, such as Meitu or Pitu, often also include features to make one’s face pointier or one’s legs more skinny.

This is not the first time Weibo sees a growing trend of women opposing strict beauty standards. Although the word ‘body shaming’ has not often been included in previous trends, there have been major trends of women opposing popular skinny challenges and even one social media campaign in which young women showed their hairy armpits to trigger discussions on China’s female aesthetics.

Especially in times of a pandemic, many netizens now stress the importance of health: “Skinny or fat, it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh, as long as you’re healthy – that’s what counts.”

Also read:

 

By Manya Koetse

 

References

Jung, Jaehee. 2018. “Young Women’s Perceptions of Traditional and Contemporary Female Beauty Ideals in China.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 47 (1): 56-72.

Yan, Hanyi ; Wu, Yingru ; Oniffrey, Theresa ; Brinkley, Jason ; Zhang, Rui ; Zhang, Xinge ; Wang, Yueqiao ; Chen, Guoxun ; Li, Rui ; Moore, Justin. 2018. “Body Weight Misperception and Its Association with Unhealthy Eating Behaviors among Adolescents in China.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15 (5): 936.

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China Food & Drinks

Tianjin Restaurant Introduces “Meal Boxes for Women”

The special lunch boxes for women were introduced after female customers had too much leftover rice.

Manya Koetse

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China’s anti food waste campaign, that was launched earlier this month, is still in full swing and noticeable on China’s social media where new iniatives to curb the problem of food loss are discussed every single day.

Today, the hashtag “Tianjin Restaurant Launches Special Female Meal Boxes” (#天津一饭店推出女版盒饭#) went trending with some 130 million views on Weibo, with many discussions on the phenomenon of gender-specific portions. The restaurant claims its special ‘female lunch boxes’ are just “more suitable for women.”

According to Tonight News Paper (今晚报), the only difference their reporter found between the “meals for women” and the regular meals, is the amount of rice served. Instead of 275 grams of rice, the ‘female edition’ of the restaurant’s meals contain 225 grams of rice.

The restaurant, located on Shuangfeng Road, decided to introduce special female lunch boxes after discovering that the female diners of the offices they serve usually leave behind much more rice than their male customers.

The restaurant now claims they expect to save approximately 10,000 kilograms of rice on an annual basis by serving their meals based on gender.

On Chinese social media, the initiative was heavily criticized. Weibo netizens wondered why the restaurant would not just offer “bigger” and “smaller” lunch boxes instead of introducing special meals based on gender.

“There are also women who like to eat more, what’s so difficult about changing your meals to ‘big’ and ‘small’ size?”, a typical comment said: “Some women eat a lot, some men don’t.”

Many people called the special meals for women sex discrimination and also wanted to know if there was a difference in price between the ‘female’ and ‘male’ lunch boxes.

There are also female commenters on Weibo who claim they can eat much more than their male colleagues. “Just give me the male version,” one female user wrote: “I’ll eat that meal instead.”

This is the second time this month that initiatives launched in relation to China’s anti food waste campaign receive online backlash.

A restaurant in Changsha triggered a storm of criticism earlier this month after placing two scales at its entrance and asking customers to to enter their measurements into an app that would then suggest menu items based on their weight. The restaurant later apologized for encouraging diners to weigh themselves.

By Manya Koetse

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