While sex education has become a popular subject among Chinese youths, an exhibition featuring the 5,000-year sexual cultural history of China has received a cold-shoulder in Hangzhou in south China’s Zhejiang Province. Since opening in December 2001, the exhibition has received only 5,000 visitors. This is greatly removed from the expectations of the sponsors.
China boasts rich and long-standing culture, including sexual arts and practices. However, due to prejudice against sex in history, the culture of sex has been discussed little in the past. Sometimes people even have regarded sexuality as being synonymous with obscene, base and pornographic. To help more people adopt a better understanding of sex and to promote traditional Chinese culture, Professor Liu Daolin, a retired sociologist from Shanghai University who is known as “the first person in Asian sexology,” started his work. In 1993, Professor Liu began collecting sex-related articles and doing research in this field. Not only did he build the first sex museum in China, he also held exhibitions about ancient Chinese sexual culture in many cities home and abroad. In Taiwan, the exhibition was reputed to be “The Top Exhibit in 5,000 years.” In Berlin, interest in ancient Chinese sex culture was raised to a fever pitch.
Among the 700 artifacts on display in Hangzhou, some can date back to the Neolithic Age, such as jade either in rectangular or round forms. The relics in the exhibition demonstrate to audiences the sexual worship, sexual oppression, sexual repression and sex education through the dynasties. Also, visitors can learn the ideas and activities of ancient Chinese in sex, marriage system, art and literature, religion and health care.
Do Hangzhou people really not care about sex? No. Wu Chaohong, manager of Renhe Advertising Co., Ltd. which sponsored the exhibition, explained the lukewarm reception. First, the promotion at the starting stage was not sufficient, so many Hangzhou residents didn’t even know there was such an exhibition. Secondly, Hangzhou people are reserved and shy.
"The exhibition is really excellent, it opened a new world to me," said Lou Shaoming, an engineer from a Hangzhou-based company. "I do admire Professor Liu for his courage and perseverance." However, Lou asked his picture not appear in the newspaper. "After all," he said, "it's embarrassing to let my colleagues learn I have been to the sex museum."
Professor Liu said although China has been well open to sex-related issues since the 1980s, it was like "a half-open door."
"The museum has been mainly suffering from two difficulties,” Professor Liu said. “One is economic. Another is the barrier of traditional sex ideas. And of course my lack of management strategy was also another reason that led to the predicament of the museum.”
On December 3 last year, the Beijing-based website Sina.com cooperated with Professor Liu by moving some of the pictures of his collections onto the Internet. Online, the museum achieved massive hits. More than 60,000 people filled out an on-line survey. But that amounts to only one percent of the actual online audience, according to Hou Xiaoqiang, the cultural editor of Sina.com.
A survey showed 58.77 percent of the 64,319 people support the museum and regard it as a good way of promoting traditional Chinese culture. Only 9.45 percent think the exhibition is disgusting and harmful.
Professor Liu said his ultimate goal is to establish permanent funding for his exhibition: "I just want this precious knowledge to be inherited by future generations.”
According to Wu Chaohong, most visitors are middle-aged people and there are more males than females. They all gave positive opinions toward the exhibition.
Many visitors suggest better promotion so that more people, especially young ones, will come to see the exhibit. This will be of great significance to the whole society.
Wu said that the exhibition was held in Hangzhou because they wanted to introduce a new kind of culture to the city. The exhibition would enable more Hangzhou people to understand sexual culture and knowledge and establish healthy ideas about sex.
Though the ancient Chinese sex culture exhibition didn’t stir up Hangzhou, Wu said, efforts would continue to preserve and carry forward the sex culture.
(中国新闻社 [China News Service], edited and translated by Li Jinhui for china.org.cn March 21, 2002)