The period of economic reforms which opened up since the 1980s has been regularly associated with a liberalization of sexual and sentimental mores. In parallel, unequal politics towards women, through social and professional discrimination against them, made a visible comeback. Male-oriented prostitution and pornography became widely publicly available, in particular through business networks of corruption at the service of decision-makers. In these circumstances, the Chinese public debate produced a strong critique concerning the Maoist era’s hypothetically gender-neutral ideals. Its most notable feature has been the pervasive rejection of a constructionist perspective on human nature. This through the general acceptance of the notion that sexual desire, particularly men’s one, is a "natural need". This notion situates it in between animality and civilization by considering it as normal and reprehensible at the same time, thus turning it into an issue of Chinese moral identity and as a ground for social distinction.
Jean-Baptiste Pettier, Dahlem Research School Postdoctoral Fellow, Affective Societies Collaborative Research Center, Freie Universität Berlin
Visiting Researcher, Department of Anthropology, UCLA