Author Zhang Lijia explored for her book Lotus: A Novel China’s sex trade. The book is also an account of the sexual revolution the country is going through, she tells City Weekend. “Some women get more pleasure with clients than they experienced with their husbands.”
Lotus has conflicting ideas about sexual pleasure. How are attitudes towards sexuality changing?
China is going through a sexual revolution. Studies show that a much higher number of people are having sex before marriage than previously. In sociologist Li Yinhe’s 1989 study, 85 percent of people claimed they had no sexual experience before marriage. Among the sexually active 15 percent, some were already engaged, which means that they are already a couple by Chinese standards. According to 2012 statistics, 71.4 percent of people were sexually active before marriage.*
This means more prostitutes, more pornography, more sex before marriage, more sexual partners, and a higher divorce rate. A woman can divorce her husband if he cannot satisfy her. Women will not stand for second-best because they don’t have to any more.
Having a mistress to show status started with the Emperor, who would have many concubines. Maoist reforms changed that, even though Mao himself was doing all sorts of things with young women behind closed doors! For some time prostitution was uncommon in China. Now, men have mistresses to prove they have a lot of money and a high status. Ernais are just glorified prostitutes; that relationship is primarily economic, not about love.
I met a woman who was empowered by her increased earning power and relative liberation since becoming a sex worker. People don’t get into the trade for sexual pleasure, but some women get more pleasure with clients than they experienced with their husbands.
Are you looking for more experts on cultural change at the China Speakers Bureau? Do check out this list.