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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Modernisation kiss of life to amorous singles

November 13, 2007

By Zhang Lijia, Observer
As printed in the New Zealand Herald, November 10, 2007


Kissing in public, something Chinese people once saw only in foreign 
films, is now part of the landscape. Photo / Reuters

Kissing in public, something Chinese people once saw only in foreign 
films, is now part of the landscape. Photo / Reuters

"Scored yet?" That was the first question from several young 
adventurers crowded around a table at a bar in Lhasa, Tibet's 
colourful capital city.

Between sips of yak butter tea, they trade jokes and swap tales about 
their latest sexual encounters.

These Gotech-clad twenty-somethings on leave from city jobs could 
have been from anywhere in the world looking for spiritual 
enlightenment, romantic encounters, or both.

But they were all from China, where such conversations and attitudes 
would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

"Why not?" said Sandy Li, a 28-year-old fashion designer from 
Beijing, lighting a cigarette from a flickering candle and confessing 
that she took the trip with the idea of meeting someone with no 
strings attached.

"Just for a bit of harmless fun. We don't have to behave ourselves 
here - we don't know anyone. Finding a proper boyfriend is a lot 
harder than finding a man you can go to bed with."

Li's attitude is typical of many of the young urban middle class, 
whose slogan could well be carpe diem - or rather carpe noctem. Apart 
from Lhasa, another popular pick-up place is Lijiang, in Yunnan 
province.

Of course, people don't have to travel to far-flung places for casual 
sex. Your own flat would do.

Less than 20 years ago, singles had little choice but to stay with 
their parents. Now cohabitation, like sex before marriage, is 
commonplace.

Before a split six months ago, Li lived with her photographer 
boyfriend for three years but had never introduced him to her family.

"For my parents, bringing a boyfriend home means impending marriage. 
I am still young. I'd like to make a splash in my career first, and 
explore what life can offer."

"The singles are not talking about marriages, and lovers aren't 
talking about the future," goes one popular saying among colleague 
students.

And a joke describes the pattern of "one-week" relationships: "On 
Monday, you send out vibes. Tuesday, you express true desire. 
Wednesday, you hold hands. Thursday, you sleep together. Friday, a 
feeling of distance sets in. Saturday, you want out. On Sunday, you 
start searching again."

Youngsters' unwillingness to settle down is causing great anxiety to 
the older generation.

In Zhongshan Park, a stone's throw from the Forbidden City, dozens of 
parents, armed with photographs and information about their children, 
gather and search for potential partners. Some even go "eight-minute 
speed dating" on behalf of children who themselves will be chatting 
and flirting on the internet.

"Today's young people are probably more sexually charged than their 
parents' generation," said Susie Huang, author of All About Susie, 
essays about the love and sex lives of today's budding bourgeois. 
It's China's literary version of Sex and the City.

"To start with, it's now safe to be naughty," she said. "Before you 
might have landed in a labour camp for conducting an extramarital 
affair."

But is it safe? A more tolerant social environment has led many to 
experiment in uncharted waters, with mixed results. Divorce rates are 
climbing steadily in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where 
one in three marriages ends in failure. Syphilis has skyrocketed, 
with a 25-fold increase since the early 1990s. And extra-marital 
affairs are now common.

Maybe Muzi Mei, a former sex blogger, is an extreme example of 
today's restless and hedonistic crowds. Her site used to attract 10 
million visitors a day before it was shut down by the Government in 
2003.

Officials objected to her explicit online diary. She was forced to 
resign from her Guangzhou-based magazine as a sex columnist and now 
works for a website, but still continues her man-hopping ways.

"My sex life is very interesting. Some may find it educational as 
well as entertaining," said the 29-year-old journalist in a Beijing 
restaurant. "I sleep with lots of men because I don't want to be 
imprisoned in one relationship," she declared to the giggles of 
eavesdropping waitresses. "I am a free spirit. "

She is also a romantic. In her magazine she offered tips on creating 
the right ambience on a date, such as playing music while making love.

There are books available too, offering step-by-step guides to dating.

Kissing, something the Chinese people once saw only in foreign films, 
is now part of the landscape.

A recent cover story in the national News Weekly concluded that 
"China's love life is in a stage of revelry, featuring the emphasis 
on sex rather than love; on physical pleasure rather than spiritual 
fulfilment".

Susie Huang thinks she knows why: "It is a globalisation of some 
sort: China is becoming more westernised. And, in some ways, more 
human."

- Observer
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