Sex in Shanghai

I passed by this reference on EastSouthWestNorth yesterday but had no idea it was such a cause célèbre until I read Ryan’s posting on his great Suzhou blog.

A young English teacher out of Shanghai has been trysting with the ladies and then posting the rather intimate details on his blog under the unoriginal title "Sex in Shanghai."  I went over and checked it out (ahem) and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve seen better smut. That said, the guy is a dick who lacks the wit of Tucker Max or the insight and irony (and the double-X chromosome) that made Candace Bushnell or Jessica Cutler (in)famous. He’s not doing this to poke holes in the power brokers of New York or Washington, he’s doing this to say, “Hey, yo! Look at me! I’m not a virgin anymore, Mom!” It’s childish and despicable. It’s also, apparently, sufficient to make our young "Casanova on the Bund" the subject of a China-wide internet manhunt.

It seems that in addition to the students and young coeds with whom the Shanghai Lothario has dillied his dally, there were also not a few married ladies who, according to our wanna-be Playah, needed a little something more than Chinese men could give. This guy is a real piece of work, let me tell you: Grandma back home must be proud as punch.

But honestly if he’d stopped with just being a cad, he’d probably have been okay. But questioning the masculinity of Chinese males in general...well anyone who is familiar with the machismo and 面子 mianzi of the Chinese male can guess what happened next.

Professor Zhang Jiehai (张结海) at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences launched a full-on attack on the lascivious laowai calling on all members of the Chinese net community to smoke out his true identity and to have him booted from the Middle Kingdom for good. (English translation courtesy of ESNW. Original text and comments available on Professor Zhang's own blog.)

Unfortunately for the peeved prof, being a scumbag is not a deportable offense nor is it responsible to call for some kind of "net lynching." Unfortunately for the cad, however, the movement has some traction.

Sex in Shanghai put up a spirited defense and he does have his supporters but I have to agree with Professor Zhang that this guy is no good. Professor Zhang is wise to note that standards for English teachers have fallen. ("You have blond hair and blue eyes? Good. You speak only Polish? That's okay. You'll look the part. Go and teach. Dziekuje, I got to take a call. John Mark Carr is on line 2 and is looking for work.") But the near hysterical response I think says more about anxieties in China today as increasing numbers of foreigners come to work and live there than it does about any of the naughty postings on Sex in Shanghai.

Professor Zhang writes:

"On one hand, as a scholar and a man, I have relentlessly and directly criticized Chinese men, because I am one of them. On the other hand, I have always been reticent with respect to Chinese women, which included our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

But after reading this piece of garbage's blog today, I must ask these Chinese women, "What is the matter with you?"

I know that many of you don't understand what it is like outside of China and you don't realize that there are such pieces of garbage among foreign men. Amongst all this, there is one girl who heard that this piece of garbage mentioned that he has a blog and suspected that he has other girls; so she found this blog through some Internet searches and read how the details of her lovemaking with this foreigner has been told to the public. And she also finds out that the foreigner does not love her. Meanwhile, none of the other women know about this.

I can understand that some women do this for the money and others do this in order to be able to go overseas. But, our female compatriots, when you make friends with foreigners, please always remember this: Are you willing to be the female star in a pornographic blog?"

Judging by the comments on Professor Zhang’s blog, the story has definitely touched a nerve and it is not too far-fetched to place the scandal in the context of an increasingly assertive sense of nationalism by Chinese both in China and abroad.

Sexuality has always been an important part of the process of creating and maintaining national identity. Colonial administrators of the 19th century fretted over the intermarriage of European colonial officers and native women. One of the first and last rules of the Manchu rulers was that no Manchu women could marry Han men. They did it anyway.

In 1988 at Nanjing University, two African males escorting Chinese women to a campus Christmas party sparked a series of anti-African demonstrations there. During the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the virtue of Chinese women was held up, by males, as symbolic of the strength and purity of the Chinese civilization at a time when that civilization had been conquered by outside forces. Women have always been, to borrow a phrase, "vessels of the symbolic."

That said, women are also of course more than just mere "vessels." What disturbs me about Professor Zhang’s post is the way he himself seems to think so little of Chinese women. He sets up an almost "Bushian" dichotomy: "You either stick with the local boys or wind up videotaped naked tied to a bed on YouTube."

Chinese women are not hopeless imbeciles ready to hop into the sack with whomever offers a bit of candy. Many choose to have relationships with men who are not Chinese. This does not make them stupid or 汉奸, it makes them human. 

I believe what Professor Zhang might find discomforting is the historical echoes of hypergamy in Chinese marriage. This is a pattern we see throughout Chinese history and it’s one reason why there has always been a market for women in China. The trend was for Chinese women to marry up the social scale, thus poor village women married men from larger towns. Those from large towns often married men in cities. What is objectionable here is that some women (and apparently not a few ill-educated foreign males) tend to equate “nationality” with “social status.”

That's a trend we've seen play out in Japan and Korea in the last century, here's to hoping it dies a quick death in China.