Book Review

Tom Carter has written an excellent review of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China for City Weekend, the first print review. (The lengthy review in Business Insider and Just Recently were Web only.) Here’s the opening:

Among the many misimpressions that Westerners have of China, the idea of sex as some kind of “taboo” topic here seems to be the most common and clichéd. Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be
doing it, what most of us don’t seem to know is that throughout the years China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to Richard Burger’s new book Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, the Chinese are once again in the sweaty clutches of sexual revolution.

Best known for knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China’s longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach in surveying sex among the Chinese, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and ahem, no miniskirt unturned.

Please read the whole thing. And if you haven’t “Liked” my Facebook page please feel free to do so.

Amazon is late in shipping the book due to a supply-chain issue. If you’ve ordered the book please be patient — it should ship this coming Thursday. Kindle version is available now.


Announcing Behind the Red Door: Sex in China by…Richard Burger

For the past several months I’ve made allusions to being too busy to blog due to a “big project” I was working on. Now, after about ten months, I can tell you all about it.

Behind the Red Door: Sex in China is the title of my new book that will be published by Earnshaw Books on September 1. It’s the first book I’ve written and was undoubtedly the most arduous, enlightening, demanding, enjoyable, challenging and exhilarating experience of my life to date.

To my knowledge, there is no comparable book on the market — a book that tells the story of sex in China in a format designed for the general reader. After I agreed to write the book, I immersed myself in every piece of information I could find. I tracked down both out-of-print and contemporary textbooks, the most recent studies written for scholars by scholars, white papers, graduate theses, newspaper articles, online resources, anything that I felt could give me fresh insights into this immense subject. For months, I simply sifted through my materials, taking notes and trying to break down complex issues into a cohesive narrative that would be accessible to all.

I didn’t limit myself to written sources, of course. I did interviews by phone, Skype and email with people who had knowledge about specific areas I was trying to cover. Researchers at Earnshaw Books provided many invaluable interviews with the translations so I could humanize the story. In particular, their interviews with prostitutes, pimps, sex shop owners, sex therapists and “sex detectives” hired by suspicious spouses — all of these along with my own interviews provided me with a deep well of resources to draw on.

Topics include prostitution, sexual habits and attitudes through China’s long history and how they impact on sexuality in China today, same-sex love, the Internet’s deep impact on Chinese perceptions of sex, the mushrooming sex shop industry, and that strange phenomenon, “yellow fever.”

John Pomfret, author of Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China, said of the book, “In telling a great story of the history of sex in China, Richard Burger peels back the curtain on the private lives of the world’s most populous nation.”

Much is covered, but it’s impossible to tell the complete and absolute story of sex in China. As we’ve discussed many times on this blog, there is more than one China, rich China and poor China, the China of Shanghai/Beijing and that of the lower-tier cities and the countryside, the China of those who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and those who are entering college today. As I say in the Introduction:

Drawing together China’s past and present attitudes toward this most basic human necessity and arriving at a neat conclusion is difficult. Any discussion of sex in China can only be suggestive. Every point an observer makes can be argued and contradicted. The best we can do is pull together the various conversations on what sex and sexuality in today’s China means, and hope to offer as balanced a picture as possible.

The book goes into considerable detail and is not safe for work (the section on Daoist sex manuals is particularly graphic), but I strived to keep it informative without crossing into the vulgar.

Obviously, I would like all of you to pre-order the book, which you can do over here. The more pre-orders there are, the more resources Amazon will allocate to promote the book.

My sincere thanks to all of my friends — and especially my publisher — who helped me to write and promote this book. It’s been a wonderful experience, and difficult as it often was, I’m almost sorry the writing part is over. There is always more to learn about China, and every day I see a piece of news or read a new blog post that I think would be perfect addition to my book. Thus no book on this subject can ever be truly complete or definitive, though it can certainly be informative and a lot of fun as it tries.

More about the book as the publication date approaches. In the meantime, please “Like” the Behind the Red Door: Sex in China Facebook page and feel free to post there anytime. I’ll be putting up news related to sex in China in general, and my book in particular, on a regular basis. (The FB page is a work in progress for now, but please Like it anyway; I’ll be filling it in soon.)

It is thrilling to finally announce this. I do hope you get hold of a copy of the book; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, prejudiced though I may be.


Understanding a Chinese city: map out its sex trade

Ethnographer Tricia Wang, whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing in the past, describes herself as:

an ethnographer, sociologist, and researcher. I am passionate about demystifying the ways non-elite or edge communities (i.e. migrants, rural villagers, or informal workers) make use of digital tools in everyday life.

As part of her studies of city life, she writes an intriguing post about how she maps out a new city she visits with the help of local taxi drivers. One of her first steps in getting to know a new city, in this case Wuhan, struck me as novel:

One of the ways I map the city is to quickly figure out where people go to pay for sex and have sex. In China, the sex worker industry encompasses all economic levels. It’s a bit complex to figure out which hotels and karoke bars are for high-end clients to which ones are for every day citizens.

There are several levels where people pay for sex in most first to second tier Chinese cities:

1. super high end brothel (10,000RMB and up)
2. the mayor’s brothel (based off of conversations I estimate it to be around several thousand RMB)
3. the policeman’s brothel (based off of conversations I estimate it to be around 200-1000RMB)
4. the business person’s (200-1000RMB)
5. the citizen’s brothels (5-100RMB)
6. street walkers who charge around 20-50RMB – client pays for hotel

When the police do sweeps and arrest sex workers, only those who work in what I call the “citizen’s brothels” get arrested. Street walkers can be easily arrested anytime and they are the most vulnerable because most of the time they don’t work with the protection of an overseer.

Pity the poor streetwalkers, who work under the constant threat of being arrested at any moment. The low-end brothels are also in danger of raids, as they can’t pay the big bribes the higher-end establishments can. The latter often work in cahoots with the police, and are tipped off in advance when higher officials decide to do a major raid of local sex parlors.

Tricia’s field notes about how she mapped out the city of Wuhan with the help of a taxi driver and secretly observed a prostitute in action are intense and well worth a read. (I could blockquote them here, but better to read it on her site, with all the photos.) Great work.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China’s sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.