China / Society

Naturists tread with care on the path to acceptance

By Zhang Lei (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-21 07:51

Naturists tread with care on the path to acceptance

Nudists versus erotic nudes

In the early 20th century, Western European countries had evolved into industrialized societies.

Some people began to put "Naked Beauty" into practice. They started to allow nudity on certain beaches or in some sports activities.

After World War I, people drew lessons from the barbaric and cruel war, and started to pay more attention to the pursuit of a better life and nature.

In the meantime, people felt increasing pressure from the industrial society that shackled their individuality, and they began to revere a return to the natural state of mankind.

Various kinds of public nudity began to emerge and some countries established nudism camps, where people could fully enjoy being in their natural state.

This was also a way to express their rebellion and confrontation with industrial society.

The essential difference between nudism and the erotic nude is that nudists or naturists are not deliberately showing their naked body to anyone, they do not chase commercial profits. They shed their clothes without any economic motive. - Zhang Lei 

A new debate has been triggered over a law on public nudity in China, reports Zhang Lei in Beijing.

Wang Min, a naturist from Chongqing, has a ready answer when asked why he became a nudist.

There are moments in life when you need to "think outside the box" and achieve things beyond what you feel you are normally capable of, he says.

"I love being free. The moment I take off my clothes is magical and it feels as if I have nothing to fear any more," he said.

Wang's fascination with baring his body in a natural setting began when he took a lakeside stroll five years ago.

While taking off his clothes in a secluded environment, aspects of nature became apparent to him that he hadn't noticed when clothed. He felt enveloped by nature in a way he had never been before; the tension in his body eased and he felt his skin sensing minute changes in his surroundings.

While there are others who would like to cast off their clothes and throw their cares to the wind, finding a serene and secluded place is a difficult task for many naturists.

Three years ago, when Wang took a trip to East Spring Valley, one of China's best-known outdoor nudist bathhouses in a forest park in Sichuan province, he never thought it would be such a depressing experience.

When he arrived at the park's front gate, several men speaking in the local dialect approached and asked if he was there for the nudist bathhouse and if he wanted to experience some other "services" afterwards.

Having purchased tickets for the forest park and the bathhouse, Wang entered the 70-square-meter bathing terrace surrounded by iron railings. However, to his discomfort, several tourists were watching him and laughing.

"I felt uneasy. When you know there are many people looking at you like that, it is as if you are a caged animal. Bathing in the center of the valley, I could clearly hear someone laughing because the echoes magnified the sound. And the fact that men and women bathed in different places gave me the feeling this is more like a tourist spot rather than a real place for nudists to relax," Wang said.

But the practice of separating men and women at the baths is not without reason. Wang Yang, who has been a naturist for more than 10 years and has organized several nudist excursions to the Beijing suburbs, said men inquiring about becoming a naturist often ask him first whether there are women participating in the activities.

"Their intentions are clear. I don't think they are true naturists. They are voyeurs, who want to spy on the opposite sex," Wang Yang said. He believes China's fast-growing economy has revealed a darker side to society, a business-driven social culture that sells the peculiar and the strange, and this is not what true naturism is about. He said the true purpose of naturism is to escape from the world's hustle and bustle for a while, staying as close as possible to Mother Nature, and it is not at all about sex.

Commercial nudism

Li Zhuo, a professor in the oil painting department of Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, said Chinese society is presented a distorted version of nudism. "For example, you can easily find in the media many advertisements featuring half-naked young women. Some businesses such as spa centers invite models to bathe in front of the public wearing revealing dresses. Some auto shows hire nude painting models to attract attention. Such commercial nudism means people are inclined to associate nudist culture with marketing gimmicks," he said.

According to Li, such commercialization is giving nudism a bad name and attracting an increasing number of people carrying out businesses on the margins of the law. "Nudism is and should be a private act, and it should not affect the lives of others. I don't think the government has the right to interfere, but if someone is making money out of it, then don't call it nudism," Li said.

In February, local law enforcement officers in Sanya, Hainan province, dissuaded nudists from entering the city's Donghai public beach, and a 58-year-old male nudist was sentenced to five days in custody after refusing to leave the premises.

The beach has attracted nudists since 2002. Contrary to other nudist bathhouses that have strong commercial agendas, nudists at this particular sandy beach gather spontaneously. Fang Gang, a sexologist with Beijing Forestry University, has appealed to the relevant government departments to launch judicial proceedings as soon as possible to grant legal status to such beaches.

However, Sanya police said they will arrange a 24-hour police presence to ensure no nudists ever use the beach again. The move has fueled another round of public debate about the pros and cons of a law covering public nudism. Prior to closing the beach in Sanya to nudists, the police usually turned a blind eye to them, so long as there were no complaints. Fang said the nudists at Donghai beach normally chose a relatively sparse terrace on the beach, and some of them were not real nudists but came to sunbathe to cure fungal skin diseases.

Zhang Meimei, director of the sexual health education center at Capital Normal University, believes it is too early to set up legal nudist beaches in China. She said unlike in Western countries, Chinese culture does not have a history of nudism, therefore people are likely to be physiologically or sexually aroused in a public nude environment. Western countries easily accept and appreciate nudism, because Western culture is influenced by ancient Greece, which elevated the beauty of the naked body.

Zhang said that even if China were to establish nudist beaches in the future, they should be on secluded islands, far from the mainland. If Donghai beach is transformed into a nudist beach, surrounded by swarming tourists and hotels, it will inevitably attract peeping toms and shady behavior.

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