Erwin J. Haeberle
From: D. Liu, M.L. Ng, L.P. Zhou,and Erwin J. Haeberle: Sexual Behavior in Modern China: Report on the Nationwide Survey of 20,000 Men and Women, New York, Continuum, 1997, pp. 568
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In their desperation, and since nothing else was available , epidemiologists tu rned to older surveys, mainly to Kinsey's "reports" and tried to extrapolate the data not only to the present and fu tu re, but also to countries other than the United States. This way they hoped to arrive at some predictions as to the course the AIDS pandemic might take. However, it soon became clear that this simplistic approach could not result in accurate forecasts.
In the meantime, researchers i n the Unitfd States as well as i n Great Britai n, France, Finland, and some other countries have concucted new , representative or near-representative national surveys of sexual behavior . However , helpful as these efforts have been, they have not prod uced certainty. Greeted with relief by many health officials because of the "con servative" picture they painted , they have been questioned and dou bted by sexologists who know the pitfalls and shortcomi ngs of all existing research methods.
Sexologists also know something eise: Each country, indeed, each social class, ethnic grou p, and generation within the same country has a different "sexual culture," and they all need to be investigated. Most cou ntries also have a number of sexual "subcultures" in which members of otherwise very different social grou ps may interact, thereby creating specific erotic milieux and "lifestyles. " Examples are prison populations , youth gangs, homosexual communities, "swingers" clubs, sadomasochistic circles, and the various types of prostitution, from street prostitution to brothels and "call girl rings. " Such subcultures by no means exist in all countries, and they may show an enormous variability from one country to another. They do become important, however, as "target grou ps" for AIDS prevention campaigns, since they themselves are the best experts on their own sexual behavior. Therefore they can be very helpful in designing appropriate prevention campaigns and materials. They also know how to distribute such materials in the most effective manner, and they command the necessary trust.
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Professor Liu stands in the tradition of the great sexological pioneers Hirschfeld and Kinsey, making a total commitment to his science along with great personal sacrifices for the sake of his research. As these great men did, he also seeks and finds allies and collaborators from various academic disciplines, and from official agencies as well as industry and large and small organizations. This careful building of local, national, and international alliances is the best proof of the seriousness of his intentions and it also offers the best guarantee that his research will continue. Obviously, the first large Chinese sex survey whose results are published here, can only be a beginning. Like all good research, it raises more questions than it answers. In many respects, the findings are almost predictable , since they are similar to those in most other countries. For example, the fact that an overwhelming majority of college students find sex education too conservative mirrors very similar sentiments almost everywhere in our fast-changing world. The fact that a considerable number of people have sexual intercourse before marriage also reflects a nearly universal finding.
Considering the earlier physical maturation of boys and girls today and the rising age at which young men and women get married, this can hardly be a surpr ise to anyone. On the contrary, future, more specialized research will probably confirm this trend and raise the present percentages. Certain other numbers in the present report, on the other hand, seem low compared to findings in other countries. For example, to experienced sex researchers it is quite surprising that less than half of the male college students masturbate. According to our reasoned expectations, this figure should be much higher.
Perhaps, in this first survey, the respondents were still too shy and did not tell the truth, or some other factor falsified the answer. lt seems reasonable to assume that the number will be higher in future surveys. lt is also intriguing to find that well over 7 percent of college students reported homosexual experiences. A surprise is also the figure of just over 10 percent who had heterosexual intercourse. In fact, the last two findings should prove very interesting to all sex researchers who learn about them. A variety of interpretions are possible. lt seems safe to assume, however, that in future surveys both figures will turn out to be different, and that especially the percentage of those with heterosexual experiences will grow dramatically. The percentage of those with homosexual experiences may eventually also be found to be at least somewhat larger.
On the other hand, the recent nationwide surveys in the United States, Great Br itain, and France report much smaller figures with regard to homosexual behavior than had been anticipated on the basis of the earlier reports by Ki nsey and his collaborators. However, while his figures, for certain technical reasons, were probably too high, the new numbers may well be too low for entirely different reasons. The debate among sex researchers abou t the best survey techniques is by no means over.
lt would certainly be interesti ng to keep an eye on the percentage of those with both homosexual and heterosexual experiences. In any case, sex research in other countries - no matter where it is being conducted has shown time and again that there is no clear demarcation line between those with heterosexual and homosexual interests. Of course, the vast majority of men and women do not maintain homosexual behavior for long (if at all) , but some of them show some homosexual behavior after puberty for at least a few years, and in perhaps half of these cases it will probably remain significant throughout life . This has always been, and will remain true all over the world. After all, as the zoologist Ki nsey poi nted out, a. certain amount of homosexual behavior in a mi nority of the population is simply "part of our mammalian heritage." There is no biological reason why the Chi nese should be an exception.
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Another fasci nating discovery of the present survey is the fact that over sixteen percent of the married report masturbation. This certai nly has a ring of truth. Finally, the finding that over half of the couples practice sexual intercourse in various ways sounds both true and reassuring about Chinese sexual culture. On the whole, the present survey reveals a picture of "average" and in part even robust sexual health in China with a few fuzzy spots that need to be cleared up.
Needless to say, Professor Liu will have to prepare for a great deal of criticism from a number of quarters. Sex researchers are always criticized. And it is true that no sex survey can be perfect or cover everything that readers would like to know about. Professional colleagues will undoubtely point out various shortcomings in the research design or in its execution . This criticism is also unavoidable and must be borne with equanimity. Actually, as everybody is going to discover, serious professional criticism is the most valuable response any researcher can hope for. More than anything else it promotes interest in more and better research. Thus, no matter how this survey itself is eventually judged, Professor Liu will have every reason to be pleased, since he has provided the first and greatest impetus to the growth of sexology in China. lt remains the enviable position of pioneers like Professor Liu to promote their field no matter how their work is received. Even the strongest attack will have the effect of pointing to the importance of what he is saying. Agree or disagree, his main objective will be achieved: Everyone will see that a survey such as this had to be conducted and will have to be repeated.
To foreigners like myself, the Chinese often appear both fascinating and "inscrutable." lt is Professor Liu's unique contribution that he has begun to show us that, in matters of sex, his compatriots are very much like most other people, that they are - not surprisingly - part of the same human race with the same personal satisfactions and problems. Most importantly, however, by enabling the Chinese to learn something about themselves which they might not have realized, he has opened the way to a multifaceted, inner-Chinese dialogue, in which the people themselves examine their values, hopes, and aspirations for happiness.
I for one hope that this dialogue will also result in establishing sexology as a scientific enterprise in its own right in China. Few things could be more welcome to us European and American sexologists than to see the growth of the Chinese institutes of sex research, especially those with a sociological orientation. After all, sex research in China, expanded and maintained over years and decades, could significantly increase our understanding not only of China, but of "the human condition."
Hirschfeld's own research, his collection and library, indeed his whole institute, fell victim to Hitler and the Nazis in 1933. To this day, this pioneering institute has not been rebuilt in Berlin, because the city's three universities have taken no note of international developments and consequently have never understood their responsibilities and opportunities in this area. Finally, in 1994, seventy-five years after the opening of Hirschfeld's institute, the Robert Koch Institute, a German federal health research institution, took the initiative to open an Archive of Sexology in Berlin. lt could become the nucleus of an urgently needed German research center.
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Moreover, we have retained the style and structure of the original , with a rather rigid (if not pedantic) narrative in order to convey an impression of the dispassionate "seriousness" which allowed the work to be published in the first place. Even so, as i n the original, some of the paragra phs contain surprising anecdotes and asides, and some of the tables are startling. Therefore we hope that the work as a whole will be well received even by impatient Western readers. After all, few of us have the opportunity to get a good look at the "hidden" side of a cultu re of which we are only now beginning to become aware.