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Let's talk about sex

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-05-08 10:38

Liu Dalin has dedicated much of his adult life to studying sexual behavior in China and promoting sex education.

Professor Liu Dalin, an 83-year-old sexologist, wants to establish sex-education centers for teenagers in China, but he wonders when or if the idea will get approval from the local authorities.

He is currently preparing for the launch of a sex-themed museum near Maoshan, a mountain skirting Changzhou city in Jiangsu province, to better inform the public about the social customs and other behavioral idiosyncrasies related to sex in the country in bygone eras.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Liu will have his latest book published in a couple of weeks. It analyzes sexual behavior according to Taoist beliefs.

Liu, a retired professor of sociology at Shanghai University and a pioneer in the field of sexology in China since the 1980s, was the first person to conduct a nationwide survey on sexual behavior in the country. He polled 20,000 people, a number that remains unsurpassed in this area, at least in China. As such, he is often dubbed the country's Alfred Kinsey in reference to the American man behind the Kinsey Report, a popular study of sexual behavior in the United States that famously broke down taboos.

In China's social studies circles, only a handful of scholars are known to conduct research on sex and gender issues. The subject remains highly sensitive among the public as well as with authorities.

Liu is also known as the founder of China's first sex museum, which opened in Shanghai in 1997. It changed location several times and was closed down due to a lack of support. Now part of his collection of antiques - from genital toys to torture tools - is on show at a museum in Hubei's Wuhan.

Later this year, a new museum will open in Maoshan, a traditional center for Taoism. Taoism, a very Chinese system of philosophical and religious thought, emphasizes compassion, harmony and moderation.

But in contrast to the restraint and abstinence advocated by Buddhism and other religions, Taoism sees sex as a means of maintaining health and cultivating the spirit.

Liu announced the museum project at a press conference in Shanghai in April.

"At my age, I don't want to put a lot of effort into a project that may not work out. I would like to have something to pass on to future generations," he said.

China Daily interviewed the scholar at his high-rise apartment building in downtown Shanghai. The sitting room was packed with antique furniture. "Lots of it is from museums I opened that were subsequently shut down," he said pensively.

Liu started his research into sexual behavior in the 1980s, when China had just started to open up to the outside world. At the time, he was the editor of a journal on social sciences at Shanghai University.

"Lots of social problems emerged, often closely related to sex," Liu said. His collection began to piece itself together as he became increasingly interested in studying the past.

For the past several centuries, figurines of copulating couples, picture books, or other objects that illustrate sexual postures were traditionally placed at the bottom of the bride's trunk, which would follow her to her new home after wedlock. Although this practice has since been discontinued, it was considered a polite way to educate the woman on what was expected of her.

Liu's collection includes artifacts that suggest women were both suppressed and persecuted under former patriarchal Chinese societies: tiny pointed shoes attest to thepractice of binding women's feet to make them look cuter, while lock-bearing underpants are presented as the chastity belt of the ancient Orient.

He also owns a knife that was used to castrate men in the Chinese imperial court, when eunuchs were trusted above others.

However, such relics of China's sexual cultural heritage were considered obscene, or at least unsuitable for public consumption, and omitted from many official museum displays in modern times, Liu said.

"So many objects were destroyed through time - by wars, revolutions and campaigns against pornography," he said.

Liu was once consulted by the municipal police over a batch of items. He was able to photograph them before they were burned in public.

Most of his pieces were purchased with his own savings. In fact, he invested so much over the years that he said he lost track of where all the money went.

"Looking back, I can't help but wonder how I managed to buy so many," he said. He bought from antique dealers, visited sex shops and red-light zones abroad. He also received donations from people who believed in his cause. His collection now totals more than 4,000 pieces.

"There are still plenty of good knickknacks out there, even though prices have risen significantly. But I don't have the financial strength to keep buying them," Liu said, adding that his collection is already quite comprehensive.

In the last 10 years he has been approached by many companies that have expressed interest in opening sex-themed museums, he said.

One attempt in Haikou of tropical Hainan province failed after a typhoon swept the roof off the building and damaged much of the collection. Several proposals from local governments were aborted when they failed to gain the support of senior-ranking officials.

So far, only one museum showcasing Liu's collection is still open. It was established about a decade ago by Huang Yongjie, an entrepreneur in Wuhan. It is now subsidized by the government, a gesture of recognition from the city.

When Liu began his sex survey 30 years ago, he was surprised to discover just how many Chinese people were ignorant and naive about the subject.

He gave the story of one well-educated couple who consulted doctors after years of marriage about their failure to conceive. As it turned out, they believed that lying side by side in bed was sufficient to produce babies.

Now the situation has changed considerably.

"Young people today are often way ahead of their parents in terms of sex knowledge. Nobody is happy with the status quo of sex education in China. Young people need to act responsibly and understand that there are consequences to having sex. It's an urgent issue."


 Let's talk about sex

Liu Dalin, a sexologist dubbed China's Alfred Kinsey, explains the relevance of an ancient pillow with a woman's portrait on it from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) at an exhibition on sex culture in China. Liu is preparing for the launch of a sex-themed museum in Jiangsu province later this year. Photos Provided to China Daily


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