When the French movie, The Slipper and The Rose, was first released 30 years ago, it caused controversy in China. The movie poster showed the two lead characters kissing. The poster was deemed “vulgar” and removed from China’s walls.
With its Confucian heritage, China has long preserved one of the world’s most conservative attitudes to all things sexual. But no longer, it would seem – not if a recent survey of young people in Guangdong province is to be believed.
The survey – published in the Yanchang Evening News – interviewed 4,000 people between the ages of 18 to 20 in the nation’s most economically advanced province. Just to the north of Hong Kong, Gunagdong is also China’s most diverse province – with immigrants from all corners of China having arrived there in the last decade to try their luck. Put in this context, you could probably argue that Guangdong is a good leading indicator of how attitudes are evolving in China as a whole.
The results of the survey reveal something of a revolution in attitudes to sex and marriage. Almost two thirds (65%) approved of cohabilitation before marriage – a concept that has hitherto been almost unheard of in China – although now common in the West.
Perhaps even more amazing – and indicative of changes in attitudes to morality – 25% thought an extra-marital affair acceptable and a further 22% were okay with one night stands. Western society may have become more accepting of sexual freedoms since the 1960s, but in China promiscuous behaviour was still taboo as recently as the eighties and nineties – particularly so in a culture where bringing ‘shame’ on one’s family was to be avoided.
A separate study conducted by the Guangdong Sexology Association in 2007 would seem to confirm some of the trends. It found that 30% of the province’s college students had had one-night stands.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the number of people having affairs in China’s big cities is on the rise, putting pressure on the institution of marriage itself. The number of divorces in China went up substantially in 2008, for instance. Over 1.6 million couples filed for divorce last year, which was up 11% from 2007. Most of the couples are citing financial problems and infidelity as reasons for divorce.
Economic development inevitably leads to social changes. But the Chinese government has always taken pride in safeguarding the country’s moral ethics. The alarming rise in divorce rate is a social problem it has yet to tackle.
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