Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai / Edition 1

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Overview

From teen dating to public displays of affection, from the "fishing girls" and "big moneys" that wander discos in search of romance to the changing shape of sex in the Chinese city, this is a book like no other. James Farrer immerses himself in the vibrant nightlife of Shanghai, draws on individual and group interviews with Chinese youth, as well as recent changes in popular media, and considers how sexual culture has changed in China since its shift to a more market-based economy.

More and more men and women in China these days are having sex before marriage, creating a new youth sex culture based on romance, leisure, and free choice. The Chinese themselves describe these changes as an "opening up" in response to foreign influences and increased Westernization. Farrer explores these changes by tracing the basic elements in talk about sex and sexuality in Shanghai. He then shows how Chinese youth act out the sometimes-contradictory meanings of sex in the new market society. For Farrer, sexuality is a lens through which we can see how China imagines and understands itself in the wake of increased globalization. Through personal storytelling, neighborhood gossip, and games of seduction, young men and women in Shanghai balance pragmatism with romance, lust with love, and seriousness with play, collectively constructing and individually coping with a new culture based on market principles. With its provocative glimpse into the sex lives of young Chinese, then, Opening Up offers something even greater: a thoughtful consideration of China as it continues to develop into an economic superpower.

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Editorial Reviews

Archives of Sexual Behavior
Farrer’s book, with its first-hand data and careful analysis focused on sexual cultures among unmarried urban youth, unofficial public culture, and interactions in daily life and leisure, contributes to an emerging literature on sex and love in contemporary China. . . . It is an invaluable resource on sexual culture in contemporary China for students and general readers as well as for specialists in sexual and gender studies.”

— Xin Huang,

Journal of the History of Sexuality
This is a fine and nuanced study of sexuality in one Chinese city that offers much food for thought for studies of sexuality in general. Not the least of the book’s virtues is Farrer’s writing, which is infused with eloquent sensitivity to and compassion for the ways in which his subjects strive to cope with the sexual challenges of a dizzying rush to modernity.”

— Arie Darlie

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
A ground-breaking ethnography. [Farrer’s} detailed descriptions of the talk and the behaviour of young Shanghainese make this a valuable contribution to our understanding of contemporary China.”

— Robert L. Moore

China Journal
Anyone interested in Chinese society will wish to engage in a dialogue with this book. It makes a truly valuable contribution by returning our attention to the relationship between moral codes, performance and behaviour. In so doing, Farrer has produced a conceptual framework that enables us to begin to talk about the changes and continuities that are part of urban China’s social landscape. For anyone intrigued by contemporary China this is a must-read.”

— William Jankowiak

Sexualities
I enjoyed very much reading this extraordinary book with such rich and deep ethnographic data, yet Farrer’s stories are not comforting stories, but ‘images of fragmented worlds of consumption, romantic nostalgia, professional success, and small pleasures.’”

— Travis Kong

Asian Affairs
This refreshing ethnographic study explores the new youth sex culture being created in contemporary Shanghai as it shifts to a market-based economy. Farrer immerses himself in the city’s vibrant nightlife, conducts individual and group interviews, and examines popular media to provide a provocative glimpse of the sex lives of young Chinese. For Farrer, sex is a lens through which we can understand how China imagines and understands itself in the wake of globalization. Students of Chinese anthropology, media and culture will find this a fascinating study. . . . The reader gains a refreshing sense of the textures of everyday life in one part of free-wheeling China and a good understanding of the social impact of China’s remarkable ongoing transformation.”

— Alan Searl

Pacific Affairs

“Farrer’s volume marks a new page in studying Chinese sexuality, courtship, marriage, family and gender relations. . . . Using a wide range of informants, interviews and magazine stories, he closely relates the recently developed sexual freedom to the rapid development of the market economy. . . . A necessary addition to Chinese studies in general and the research of Chinese sexual culture, gender, marriage and the family in particular.”

Journal of Asian Studies
As an analysis of the sexual culture of Shanghai youth in the second
— Beverley Hooper
Archives of Sexual Behavior - Xin Huang

“Farrer’s book, with its first-hand data and careful analysis focused on sexual cultures among unmarried urban youth, unofficial public culture, and interactions in daily life and leisure, contributes to an emerging literature on sex and love in contemporary China. . . . It is an invaluable resource on sexual culture in contemporary China for students and general readers as well as for specialists in sexual and gender studies.”

Journal of the History of Sexuality - Arie Darlie

“This is a fine and nuanced study of sexuality in one Chinese city that offers much food for thought for studies of sexuality in general. Not the least of the book’s virtues is Farrer’s writing, which is infused with eloquent sensitivity to and compassion for the ways in which his subjects strive to cope with the sexual challenges of a dizzying rush to modernity.”

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute - Robert L. Moore

“A ground-breaking ethnography. [Farrer’s} detailed descriptions of the talk and the behaviour of young Shanghainese make this a valuable contribution to our understanding of contemporary China.”

China Journal - William Jankowiak

“Anyone interested in Chinese society will wish to engage in a dialogue with this book. It makes a truly valuable contribution by returning our attention to the relationship between moral codes, performance and behaviour. In so doing, Farrer has produced a conceptual framework that enables us to begin to talk about the changes and continuities that are part of urban China’s social landscape. For anyone intrigued by contemporary China this is a must-read.”

Sexualities - Travis Kong

“I enjoyed very much reading this extraordinary book with such rich and deep ethnographic data, yet Farrer’s stories are not comforting stories, but ‘images of fragmented worlds of consumption, romantic nostalgia, professional success, and small pleasures.’”

Journal of Asian Studies - Beverley Hooper

“As an analysis of the sexual culture of Shanghai youth in the second

Asian Affairs - Alan Searl

“This refreshing ethnographic study explores the new youth sex culture being created in contemporary Shanghai as it shifts to a market-based economy. Farrer immerses himself in the city’s vibrant nightlife, conducts individual and group interviews, and examines popular media to provide a provocative glimpse of the sex lives of young Chinese. For Farrer, sex is a lens through which we can understand how China imagines and understands itself in the wake of globalization. Students of Chinese anthropology, media and culture will find this a fascinating study. . . . The reader gains a refreshing sense of the textures of everyday life in one part of free-wheeling China and a good understanding of the social impact of China’s remarkable ongoing transformation.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226238715
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 412
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

James Farrer is an assistant professor of sociology at Sophia University, Tokyo.

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Read an Excerpt

Opening up
Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai
By JAMES FARRER
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Copyright © 2002 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-23871-5



Chapter One
OPENING UP And Other Stories Stories of Sexual Change The AIDS Exhibit

On a dreary December day in the first week of my fieldwork in Shanghai in 1994, I wandered into the commercial center of an outlying residential neighborhood and noticed the AIDS Exhibit. A ten-by-two-foot plastic banner above a narrow alleyway between a public toilet and a furniture store advertised "AIDS Exhibit with information about human sexuality." Below the banner a large canvas poster pictured deformed fetuses and descriptions of two-headed babies, babies with wings, and babies with tails. "AIDS can lead to deformed fetuses," another banner read. I paid two yuan to see the exhibit and walked along the alleyway. The exhibit began with about twenty posters pinned on the alleyway wall. The posters featured textbook drawings of the human reproductive system, photos of genitals ravaged by venereal diseases, and photos of various genetic deformities of the genitalia.

The "sexuality" depicted in the AIDS Exhibit was a phantasmagoric vision of a dangerous invading foreign sex. One poster, titled "The Hotbed of Venereal Disease," featured a half dozen large illustrations-photos of two foreign women kissing, cross-dressing men marching in a U.S. gay rights parade, an early-twentieth-century drawing of women dressed as men, an eighteenth-century European print depicting a man being spanked, a magazine illustration of a man fondling a child-images whose connection to disease seemed to me more metaphorical than biological. Throughout the exhibit most illustrations of sexual depravity and sexual dangers portrayed white Westerners, including a nude couple in bed, a suspicious-looking longhaired man (a hippie or gay) entering Chinese customs, and a Western businessman (a customer of a prostitute). Inside the shed the illustrations continued, with one poster speculating about possible origins of the AIDS virus, including the possibility that it might come from outer space.

The main attraction, however, was a long U-shaped table displaying about twenty pickled deformed human fetuses in large bottles, some nearly fully formed. They were labeled with rambling texts, vague warnings about bad eugenic practices, and some useful advice not to take too much medicine during pregnancy. Mixed in with utter falsities and practical bits of advice were strict moral admonitions copied from old government publications, mottos of "vigorously enforcing marital monogamy" and "punishing all sorts of sexual deviance," a rhetoric typical of government propaganda a decade or two earlier.

As I was leaving, the voluble manager of the furniture store next door asked me to sit down. He was sitting with the people putting on the exhibit, enabling me to ask them some questions. Half the time the furniture salesman answered for them, since they were shy about talking to a foreigner, like many other poorly educated rural and small-town people I met in Shanghai. The exhibitors said they were from near Changzhou (a town between Shanghai and Nanjing) and that this was a privately owned exhibit. It was "allowed" by the government, but it was a profit-making enterprise. After paying the rent, they could clear about seven to eight thousand yuan a month. "Business is pretty good" were the only words they said with any conviction or interest. I asked if Shanghai people were really interested in the exhibition. The furniture salesman waved dismissively. "If they have never seen it, they will stop and go in once. No one would come in twice." The exhibitors didn't disagree. The exhibit would be there for about six weeks. I heard some people cooking behind the shed housing the exhibit and discovered that was where the five or six people associated with the show were living, sleeping at night on the floor of the shed among the lugubrious, bottled fetuses.

The spectacle is a peculiar entrepreneurial vision of Michel Foucault's "sexual science," a medical rhetoric of deviant types, illnesses, and unhealthy practices, with a peculiar Chinese emphasis on procreation and eugenics. Yet tracing this Chinese sexology is not my point, and others have already done this. Rather, now as then, I see in the traveling AIDS Exhibit more of an unintentional Chinese joke on Foucault, an artless caricature of Foucault's sexual science and its ideal of a "calculated management of life," from which it literally cuts and pastes, an effect not of an esoteric Chinese taxonomy, but of the careless hands of small-town entrepreneurs out to make a buck. The AIDS Exhibit raises the question of whether an emerging discipline of "sexual science" should be considered the main subplot of the story of Shanghai's changing sexual culture. In my view what holds the AIDS Exhibit together is less its scientific rhetoric than its rhetoric of social change, a graphic portrayal of the "heterotopia" of a globalizing sexual culture invading China, a story of sexual opening (xingkaifang) that is the dominant narrative of sexual change in China. AIDS is the metonymic agent of this invasion; money, the real viral carrier, infecting, reproducing, rapidly mutating into all of these proliferating perversions. The prostitute, the foreigner, and the businessman are the human carriers of both. China "opens up" and is infected by money, AIDS, foreigners, and sexual perversion. A stern vigilance against this foreign sex and money is the only way to protect Chinese homes and wombs. This story of sexual opening is immensely popular in China, a story of social change that justifies the vigilance of state authorities and warns against foreign influence.

Many questions arise from the AIDS Exhibit, but in this chapter I will focus on the stories Shanghai people tell to make sense of their sexual modernity. First, what are the consistent local story elements in the stories of personal and social sexual change in Shanghai? What sexual stories are told in the junky dystopia of the AIDS Exhibit or the pleasurable consumer utopia of Shanghai's boulevards? What is the cultural and social grammar through which these visions are constructed? In this chapter and the next two chapters, I present the basic elements of Shanghai's peculiar sexual culture, including the plots, scenes, and characters that are the building blocks of sexual stories, the dramatistic substance of a grammar of local sexual culture.

In studying these stories of social change, I believe we should shift from a predominant focus on the political and scientific discourse "deployed" by state agents to one on the unofficial communicative practices of ordinary people. Moreover, in describing this everyday rhetoric of sexual culture, we are probably better served by such everyday conceptions of rhetorical practice as storytelling, gossip, play, dance, and cruising, or as de Certeau more colorfully suggests, the "clever tricks" and "hunter's cunning" of everyday cultural practice. On the other hand, the state and its agents also have their "clever tricks" and their own official sexual stories. Individual stories of loving, choosing, seducing, and strolling respond to and are shaped by these loud official voices. The result is a politics of storytelling in which private stories respond to public stories, and individuals create their stories partly out of the materials borrowed from a state-dominated public culture. I will therefore begin with the most popular story Chinese tell about their own changing sexual culture, a story repeated in the AIDS Exhibit and one that echoes throughout Chinese official culture, the story of a sexual "opening up."

Opening Up (Kaifang) Back then the word "sex" was not talked about like now. Now it is more open, and more uncovered. (Yi, married female bookkeeper aged 38)

I think it is wrong that those people in their twenties live together without getting married. Parents don't really criticize them, not really, not like a decade ago when people would have hated them for doing that. The society has opened up-a lot of people come back from [working in] Japan. So it is not a strange thing. (Yao, married female quality-control officer aged 38)

[On the question of extramarital affairs] It is acceptable to me as long as it doesn't influence the family. The society has opened up now. (Hong, married male driver aged 35)

In the reform and opening period, then sex has also opened up. There is everything, karaoke, beauty parlors, discos. The Communist Party closes one eye and opens one eye, though it's not like in other countries where it is completely legal. (Old Wu, married but separated male low-level factory manager aged 50)

Most Shanghaiese agree that sexual norms have changed greatly since political and economic reforms began in the late 1970s. As these casual statements from group and individual interviews illustrate, people often employ the metaphor of "opening" to describe these changes in sexual culture, whether they approve of them or not. What do Shanghai people mean when they say that "sex" or "society" has "opened up"? Does it imply something different from the U.S. metaphor of "sexual revolution"? I am not arguing about the truth of these stories of "opening up." To paraphrase Michel Foucault's questioning of a Western narrative of "sexual liberation," we should ask not whether sex has become more "open" in China, but why the Chinese insist that there has been a "sexual opening" (xingkaifang).

"Opening" is used in China to refer to more than just sex; it also connotes the official politics of economic, social, and cultural liberalization that have governed China since the late 1970s: reform and opening (gaigekaifang). Not only is sexuality opening up, but so are the economy and virtually every other aspect of society. "Opening" thus functions as a kind of folk metanarrative, tying together diverse changes in society and culture. As Beth Bailey writes of the U.S. metaphor of "sexual revolution" in the 1970s: "The metaphor of revolution lent coherence to impulses that were in fact often in tension with one another.... In subsuming a diverse set of changes under the term revolution, Americans conflated changes that had very different origins, intentions and outcomes." While not as evocative as the metaphor of revolution, the metaphor of opening similarly subsumes a set of contradictory tendencies and trends and lends them the coherence of a general story of social change. "Opening up" is a very ambivalent narrative of progress. "Society is opening up," and previously unacceptable behaviors are accepted now. Behaviors that are not accepted now will undoubtedly be accepted in the future. The "open" West is a key figure in this narrative, an "othered modernity" of sexual license, a notion reinforced by years of socialist propaganda that portrayed the West as sexually decadent, now ironically reconfigured as an ambiguous hallmark of progress. In the view of many Shanghaiese, China is indeed becoming as "open" as the West, although too "wide" an opening may not be desirable, a worry one focus group participant expressed in a discussion of chastity.

In the past feudal society, and even my parents' generation, chastity was more important than life. If you lost your chastity, you go kill yourself! Our generation is much better, and later it will progress more. But it should not be too open. In some countries young people are together today and break up tomorrow. It is too thoughtless, and not necessarily good. (Ping, married female bookkeeper aged 38)

In her story, which typically reflects the influence of a socialist education, traditional norms are represented as "feudal morality." "Opening" inevitably will eliminate these feudal ideas, though the narrator expresses hope that such opening will fall short of the quick and easy sexual relations thought to prevail abroad.

While the idea of revolution is at the heart of Western representations of modernization, foreign invasion and foreign influence are central to Chinese representations. "Sexual liberation" or "sexual revolution" in the West implied release from repression, while "sexual opening" in China is a spatial metaphor of invasion, exposure of sex to public view and the exposure of Chinese to foreign ideas. As the patriarch Deng Xiaoping famously said, "When you open the door, a few flies are bound to enter." The most prominent of these "flies," in official propaganda, were these foreign ideas about sexuality. Just as America's sexual revolution rhetorically privileges revolutionaries (Hugh Hefner, Nancy Friday, youth) and counterrevolutionaries (Jerry Falwell, antiporn feminists, parents), China's opening is a narrative that privileges those who "open" (Deng Xiaoping, pimps, girls who "open" themselves) and those who stand guard at the "door" (the Communist Party, teachers, editors). To be a door-keeper is to keep watch over the health of the national body, not a role easily dismissed when social change is perceived as invasive and chaotic. The stories of sexual opening I heard in China are consequently more ambivalent, authoritarian, and nationalistic than those of sexual revolution in the West. Moreover, while the sexual revolution of the West was perceived by some as a utopian movement that might free sexuality from the pragmatic exchanges of market relations, the Chinese sexual opening is a narrative in which sexual commodification works as a synecdoche of the commodification of everything. To be "open" is to be for sale. Material temptation is the primary motive, followed by sexual temptation, the desire to consume the sexual commodity. In sum, whereas the Western narrative of sexual revolution is a romantic saga of liberated desire, the Chinese narrative of sexual opening is an ironic melodrama of increasing temptation, sexualization of public life, commodification of sexuality, and Westernization of local sexual culture.

Finally, Shanghai people give their own more positive twists to the narrative of sexual opening. For Shanghaiese, "opening" is an ambivalent narrative, representing both the pride and shame of the city. Shanghai before 1949 was both "Paris of the East" and "whore of Asia," alternately admired and despised for its illicit pleasures and mix of Western and Chinese culture. In contemporary Shanghai, residents frequently proclaim that Shanghai is more "open" than the rest of China, more engaged with the outside world and therefore more modern, including sexual matters some find disgraceful and others simply "normal." One unemployed man of forty used this conception of Shanghai's opening to justify his own visits to commercial sex establishments: "Things have opened up. There are 'little misses' [xiaojie] everywhere, bars, discos, KTV, nightclubs, beauty parlors. If you don't find them, they will find you. It's like foreign countries. It's like America-very normal." The ambivalent narrative of opening is not the only way in which Shanghai people consider social change, but it is a dominant way, one employed by state agents as a legitimation of censorship and social control, but also by citizens articulating their concerns about social change or offering their offhand dismissals of conventional moral standards. Such stories of social change frame events for people, incorporating the basic dramatistic elements of a local sexual culture, including scenes and characters with a local Shanghai flavor. Next I consider an alternative way in which Shanghai people imagine social change. As Kenneth Burke once wrote, sounding a bit like Zhuangzi, "A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing"; there are other sexual stories in Shanghai that allow Shanghaiese to see (and not see) different features of sexual change.

Romantic Revolution

No one narrative is hegemonic to the extent that other possible stories become unimaginable. In Shanghai, as in the rest of China, a strong countervailing story to the dangers of sexual opening is the personal story of romantic heroism, of love and passion that overcome social conventions. While these stories typically focus on the fates of individuals, they also represent personal allegories of social revolution, typically stories of "modern girls" struggling against a background of conservative or "feudal" ideas, narratives strongly influenced by Marxism and liberal romanticism. These are not girls blindly succumbing to the temptations of an invading foreign culture, but young women acting according to deep feelings. As such, they are counternarratives to a story of sexual opening. In this section I discuss contrasting conceptions of romantic heroism in the reform-era popular fiction, seen through the stories of three prominent writers, one from the early reform period and two from the late 1990s. All three of these writers became famous for works more of sociological than purely literary significance, works widely seen as representing the new sexual ideals of their generation.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Opening up by JAMES FARRER Copyright © 2002 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Sex and the Market 1
1 Opening Up: And Other Stories 22
2 Scenes: High and Low 53
3 Characters: Big and Small 83
4 True Stories: From Romance to Irony 116
5 Talking Friends: For Love and for Fun 150
6 Feelings: Good and Memorable 186
7 Virginity: Purity of Purpose 223
8 Making Love: And Talking about It 258
9 Play: Dance and Sex 291
Methodological Appendix 327
Notes 340
Bibliography 364
Index 379
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