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Women and Sexuality in China: Dominant Discourses of Female Sexuality and Gender Since 1949

Women and Sexuality in China: Dominant Discourses of Female Sexuality and Gender Since 1949

Harriet Evans

ISBN: 978-0-745-61398-7

Jan 1997, Polity

280 pages

Select type: Paperback

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Since the early 1980s sex and sexuality have become prominent themes of public debate in China, after three decades during which discourses on sexuality were subject to stringent ideological controls.

This book analyses the ways in which sex and sexuality have been discussed in The People's Republic of China since 1949. It examines a wide range of materials - the official and popular press, women's magazines, sex education publications, self-help guides and medical advice pamphlets - and compares and contrasts the various discourses of sexuality and the meanings associated with 'woman' that emerge from them. It considers the role of the state in matters of sexuality, and argues that women's sexuality has been consistently targeted as a site for the regulation of general standards of sexual and social conduct.

This is a highly original contribution to the growing body of literature on women and gender in China. It will appeal to students and scholars of modern and contemporary China, and to all those engaged in current debates about sexuality and gender in international feminist scholarship.


Bibliographical Abbreviations.

1. Introduction: Discourses of Sexuality since 1949.

2. The Scientific Construction of Sexual Difference.

3. Advice to Adolescents.

4. Pre-Marital Preoccupations.

5. The Monogamous Ideal.

6. Healthy Bodies.

7. Sex and the Open Market.

8. Sexualities under Suspicion.

9. Conclusions.




"Scholarly analysis and imaginative insight combine to provide the reader with an original and up-to-date textual study of sex and sexuality in China ... in emphasizing female sexuality, this sensitive study explores the hitherto missing dimension of previous studies of women and gender in China." Elisabeth Croll, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

"Political change has taken most of the limelight in studies on China since 1949. Yet many other areas of life have been revolutionized, as Evans's perceptive study of women and sexuality in China shows. Her book is scholarly and innovative, yet highly readable. She breaks new ground in showing why gender relationships are of central importance for the revolutionary state." Delia Davin, University of Leeds

"Women and Sexuality in China is an important book. It disrupts many of our commonsense understandings of sexuality in socialist China: that the 1950s were a time of puritanical silence, for instance, or that the 1980s brought unfettered liberatory conversation on sexual matters. With skilful use of popular and scientific texts, Evans shows us that there has always been talk about sex in the People's Republic of China, and that state concerns continue to shape sexuality in the growing market economy. This is a subtle and nuanced work that greatly enhances our understanding of the connections between sex, gender, and changing visions of modernity in China." Gail Hershatter, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Harriet Evans uses an impressively wide range of sources - the official and popular press, women's magazines, sex manuals and surveys and medical advice pamphlets - to define and differentiate the various attitudes towards sex in modern China and then sets them in their cultural and political context ... She makes an important contribution to the understudied subject of sex and sexuality in China ... compelling reading." The Times Literary Supplement

"Thoroughly researched ... throughout this important study, Evans traces consistent threads, and significant shifts, in the representation of women and sexuality in the nearly fifty years of communist rule." China Information

"[A] path-breaking study ... [and] a welcome contribution to the literature. This is both an erudite and imaginative study making full use of the author's considerable language skills, interviews in and long experience of China which ... allows her sensitively to balance and carefully to document her arguments ... [It] deserves a wide audience." The Times Higher Education Supplement

"Timely and well-researched book." China Q

"Essential reading." The China Journal

"This is a remarkable book, which gives textual and anecdotal support to the intuitions of most female China watchers. The notes, references and index are all excellent aids for the serious reader and contribute to an impressive, instructive work." Journal of Gender Studies

* Highly original contribution to the growing body of literature on women and gender in China.
* Looks at a variety of materials - in order to compare the various discourses of sexuality.