A meeting with China’s most famous sexologist
December 12, 2009
I spent Saturday morning trying to write up the story from Harbin, but failed to finish. Saw Adam Dean, who is now accredited as the Telegraph’s photographer, for lunch near the Drum Tower. David Eimer, another Telegraph journalist, had introduced me to a Guizhou restaurant only a couple of months ago, so we headed there only to discover that it has since transformed itself into a Sichuan “dry” hot pot place where they pour a range of hot ingredients into a large bowl and mix in the Mala – or Sichuan peppers and chillis.
We then visited Li Yinhe, the sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has broken endless ground with her work on China’s sexual revolution. Or at least I think she has. Since none of her work is available in English, we had not read any of it, and consequently the interview was vaguer than it should have been.
Li’s husband, the novelist Wang Xiaobo, died over 10 years ago and she lives quietly in an apartment in a remote suburb. Pictures of her grandchildren are on her mantelpiece opposite a print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. On the floor sat a pair of happy pig statues.
Over her career, Li has repeatedly called for China to modernise its laws regarding pornography and sexual behaviour. We’re lucky to get the interview. A couple of years ago, a weary Li said she was feeling tired of talking about her studies. Although she said senior officials no longer regard her work as politically sensitive, she was still under pressure to maintain decorum. She said she was going to stop publishing sex-related papers and speaking to the press.
She answered our questions briefly and efficiently, but we never really connected properly. Understandably, she came across as either guarded or just bored of our ignorance. The interview didn’t throw up much that we didn’t know already, although she did tell us about her latest project.
She is studying families in five cities across China, from Harbin to Guangzhou, and how their family structure fits together. She said she had been expecting to discover that China was becoming more Western as it develops and that the traditional Confucian obligations between children and their parents were breaking down, to leave couples as the main nucleus of a family. But in fact, she said, the bonds between fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, remains tight and the family unit spends a lot of time together still.
Oddly, she also found few regional differences in family behaviour between north and south, although she did say that while most families in China have either a dominant husband or an equally-matched husband and wife, the situation in Harbin was different. Up north, either the husband is dominant, or the wife is dominant, but the two are rarely evenly-matched, she said. “They have strong characters,” she smiled.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.