Fifty-year-old Wen Jingfeng has been interviewed many times by Chinese and foreign media. However, the Beijinger still feels self-conscious posing for pictures. But, he is completely relaxed talking about his shop: Beijing Adam & Eve Health Center - the first adult shop in the Chinese mainland, which he founded in 1993.
Located on East Fuchengmen Road in Beijing's Xicheng district, the small 20 sq m shop sells contraceptives, pregnancy tests, aphrodisiacs and sex toys.
Inside the shop, the adult products are displayed in showcases. Two sales women dressed in white gowns are polite, but leave customers to choose products on their own.
In the 1990s, Wen's shop was described as "a symbol of China's opening and reforms". He was considered more of a celebrity than a businessman.
Wen Jingfeng, founder of the first adult products' store on the Chinese mainland, witnessed tremendous changes of social attitude toward sex in the past 15 years. (photo: China Daily)
Recently, he published Forbidden Fruit 1993, My sex shop and I, narrating his interesting experiences over the past decade-and-a-half.
"I will keep on doing the business, and hopefully, develop Adam & Eve into a famous and longstanding brand," says Wen.
In the 1980s, when China was going through profound economic reforms, Wen quit his job at a governmental institute to start his own business. Full of ideas, the young man opened various shops - including one for weight-loss and left-handed products - but none succeeded.
One evening in 1991, when he was watching a French film, to his surprise, a "sex shop" logo appeared in the backdrop. Wen was confused, "What can a 'sex shop' sell?"
When he figured out what the shop really was, the enterprising young man thought: "Why don't I open a 'sex shop' in China?"
When he discussed this bold idea with his friends and relatives, they thought he was crazy. "No one has opened such a shop in China. It was totally risky, both commercially and culturally," says Wen.
"It was forbidden ground."
In the early 1990s, condoms were distributed through the Family Planning Committee, a governmental agency ensuring the implementation of the national one-child policy.
Sex was a sensitive topic in the conservative society. Classic novels such as Jin Ping Mei - a 16th-century work that contains much description of sexual life between Ximen Qing and his three concubines - were strictly banned. Daring young men and women who walked in pairs on the street would solicit angry stares.
To open a "sex shop" was a very challenging idea.
However, Wen believed he had foreseen a potential business. "Sex is a normal thing, just like when you feel thirsty, you drink water. Why should we shy away from our basic needs?"
But, opening a sex shop was no easy feat. Wen couldn't even find his business a foothold - landlords all thought Wen was a "hooligan" when they learnt his purpose.
Staffing was also an issue. The first employees were medical students, who had graduated from remote places outside Beijing, so their parents wouldn't know what they were doing. The first female staff member had to fight her fianc in order to work for Wen.
But, luckily, Wen was not the only person who believed the public should have a rational attitude toward sex.
In 1992, under great pressure from his colleagues, Du Ruyu, dean of the Peking University People's Hospital, decided to lend a room to Wen near the gate of the hospital.
"The opening of the adult shop could suggest to the public that sex was a natural thing instead of a dirty taboo," recalls Du, now 72.
"The opening and reform should be a two-way process involving both the government and the people," he adds.
In 1968, when Du was a young doctor at the hospital, a couple went to him for help. The wife said if the doctor couldn't solve their problem and help them to achieve mutually fulfilling sex, they would divorce.
Du was caught by surprise - he had only previously read a Russian book on the issue. All he could do was give them psychological suggestions to alleviate their pressure.
"I knew there were many couples who had such problems, not only due to psychological reasons," says Du.
Du says that Puyi, the last emperor of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), once sought Du's help on his personal problem, but Du had little to suggest.
Under Du's efforts, the hospital founded a urology department. In the 1980s, Du sent some students to the United States for further study in the field.
"People who have sexual problems need help, but hospitals could not give them all the help they needed. I believed the business sector could be more efficient," Du says.
Wen also received help starting his business from others.
Wu Jieping, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of National People's Congress, encouraged the young man by writing the name of his store, "Beijing Adam & Eve Health Center".
"Mr Wu also talked about masturbation and homosexuality. The old man's wisdom penetrated the darkness, giving me confidence to carry on," Wen recounts in his book.
On January 8, 1993, Beijing Adam & Eve finally opened. "It was a cold winter day with heavy snow covering the street, I was so excited to see what would happen next, like a student waiting for their exam result," Wen recalls.
Wen kept the door open in the winter, looking for his first customer. But, in the next two weeks - no one except a beggar stepped in.
On the 16th day, a whistling young man wandered in. As soon as he realized what the shop was selling, he stopped whistling and his face turned red.
The young man did end up, however, buying a box of condoms at 9.6 yuan ($1.37). Excited, Wen bought steamed stuffed buns from a vendor on the street at 10 yuan to celebrate his first sale.
After a local newspaper reported the opening of Wen's shop in just three sentences, national and Western media streamed into the small store. Curious people packed the street to see the shop, which even improved business for the steamed bun vendor.
"Overnight, I became a celebrity. Some said I was a liberator and pioneer, and some accused me of being nasty. I just placed myself as a different businessman," says Wen.
After the first sex shop was introduced to the public, customers from all over the country poured in. As the business thrived, Wen noticed particular social habits of his patrons. Some shy customers wore sunglasses while shopping and ran out before getting their change. But, eventually, more people came to select products and even consulted with sales staff, Wen says.
"If I had filmed all the customers, the documentary would present dramatic changes of people's attitudes over the past 15 years," Wen says.
From 1994, hundreds of adult shops opened in Beijing, recounted Wen. "It become an usual shop for people."
The adults' products industry boomed as quickly as the country's economy. As adult shops began opening in every corner of the city, Wen felt increasing pressure since his fame alone couldn't make his shop more competitive.
In the late 1990s, he followed the wave of e-business to open an online store and set up branch shops, including one in Beijing's busiest shopping mall. He even considered enlisting Adam & Eve on the stock market.
But, at last Wen found the nature of the business: "Small, simple and quality, that's enough for a good adult shop."
Small stores named "adult health care" can be found on almost every street across the country; people can also buy adult products cheaply online, says Wen, who now runs five Adam & Eve stores in Beijing.
"Credit and quality are the driving forces for any business. The market will eliminate unqualified players in the end," says Wen.
"I will not give up running this business, until old age prevents me."
(China Daily June 17, 2008)