Update: Behind the Red Door: Sex in China

It’s only two days from the release date, and you can now read a healthy excerpt from the book’s introduction over at the Shanghaiist. If the opening sentence doesn’t grab your attention what will?

Also, frequent commenter and popular blogger Just Recently has written a full review of the book. Sample:

When I started reading Richard Burger‘s debut book, Behind the Red Door – Sex in China, I became aware that I actually knew very little about the topic. I was aware of the pressure on Chinese colleagues of my age to get married and to have children, and I also got impressions on how the terms were being negotiated between children and parents – even marrying a partner from a different province is considered a flaw by some elders. But what makes Burger’s book particularly insightful is a review of how the outer edges of sexual behavior and identity in China “deviate” from family and social norms, and the troubles in coming to terms with these differences – or in living with them without coming to terms with them.

Please go there and read the rest. It’s a very balanced and generous review, not all glowing but always perceptive. I’m hoping to see more reviews and updates in the coming days and weeks. I can only hope they are this insightful.

You can now pre-order the Kindle version for $9.99 or the book itself, which is on sale at Amazon for $13.95. I’ll try not to spam with post after post with news about my book, but will share with you as the reviews come in. Thanks.


Diaoyu Islands

I’ve been avoiding this topic because a.) it’s being covered all over the place, and b.) I see it as one of those hopeless messes that cannot be resolved, as I see many foreign policy issues around the world. But this recent Global Times editorial popped out at me for its war mongering and hostility.

Japan’s increasingly radical approach over the island disputes is pushing the Diaoyu issue toward a military confrontation. The Japanese government is dangerously fanning the flames in East Asia.

Both China and Japan should be cautious in mentioning military clashes. Creating a war scenario should be a taboo for officials. Japan has to be clear that the hatred of Japan’s invasion is still buried in the Chinese consciousness. A rising China will by no means allow military humiliation by Japan to happen again.

World War II is long over for Chinese. But Japan repeatedly reminds us of that history. Tokyo has never honestly faced that war. No sincere remorse can be felt in its attitude toward China. On the contrary, it tries to make up for defeat in the past with new sources of conflict with its neighbor.

If a new war breaks out between China and Japan, it may well take on an aspect of revenge. Let it be said, however, that China has no plan to square up with Japan. Hatred toward Japan has been a topic of restraint in Chinese media and in remarks by officials. In the Diaoyu issue, Japan has repeatedly mentioned the deployment of Self-Defense Forces.

Japan mustn’t go too far in provoking China. Japanese officials should think twice before uttering provocative words. In modern history, all the conflicts between China and Japan were caused by Japanese invasion. Japan has no right to attack China bitterly as it does today. The Chinese public has boundless antipathy toward Japan.

At least it’s honest. We all know the disputed territory is claimed by China mainly because of its appearance on Ming Dynasty maps as part of the country, and that no one cared about it until the 1970s when the area was found to have valuable natural resources like oil and gas. The seas around them also harbore valuable fish. By that time, the islands had been handed over to Japan by the US which took control of them after WWII. Japan had claimed them since 1895. (You can read a good overview of how this situation evolved over here.) China would almost certainly not care a fig about them — or at least not to the point of threatening war over them — if they weren’t rich in resources. (more…)


Radio Taiwan International Interviews The Peking Duck

In this radio interview, I discuss how this blog got started, what caused it to dramatically change course in 2003, and how I keep it going today. (Radio Taiwan International is Taiwan’s version of America’s National Public Radio.) There is also a brief mention of my book, Behind the Red Door: Sex in China. Aside from being an interesting interview, from my prejudiced perspective at least, this is a unique opportunity to hear what my speaking voice sounds like. Please have a listen. It will only be up for another month or so.

Note: There are some IT issues with this site, namely it is not Mac-friendly. Under the headline there’s a little blue play button you can use for your PC. Next to that is another icon I used with my Mac to play the clip with the VLC media player. Using VLC, the interview begins about 60 seconds into the clip, preceded by some static.

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Interview with Danwei about my book Behind the Red Door: Sex in China

This interview offers an excellent overview of my book and what I was trying to achieve (if I say so myself). Note the graphic; those talismans were the way a lot of couples used to learn about sex in olden times when there was no sex education and no Internet. They were a gift from caring parents, to be used on one’s wedding night. I talk about prostitution from China’s earliest days to now, China’s shifting attitudes toward same-sex love, the Internet’s effects on sex in China, etc. Please check the interview out! You can also check out my book, and even buy a copy, here. And if you haven’t “Liked” my page on Facebook you can do it here. Thanks.


Dofu Engineering

I’ve been Internetless most of this week, which is a smart thing to be every once in a while. But it does mean I’ve missed some very cool stories. Almost a week old is Custer’s excellent post on a film that is truly guilty of China-bashing. Mark’s China Blog has a typically excellent post on Mao’s War Against Nature. And this story in the NY Times caught my attention:

One of the longest bridges in northern China collapsed on Friday, just nine months after it opened, setting off a storm of criticism from Chinese Internet users and underscoring questions about the quality of construction in the country’s rapid expansion of its infrastructure.

A nearly 330-foot-long section of a ramp of the eight-lane Yangmingtan Bridge in the city of Harbin dropped 100 feet to the ground. Four trucks plummeted with it, resulting in three deaths and five injuries.

The 9.6-mile bridge is one of three built over the Songhua River in that area in the past four years. China’s economic stimulus program in 2009 and 2010 helped the country avoid most of the effects of the global economic downturn, but involved incurring heavy debt to pay for the rapid construction of new bridges, highways and high-speed rail lines all over the country.

Xinhua blamed the collapse on overloaded trucks, the same excuse it gave for the other six major bridges in China that have collapsed since 2011. Isn’t it safe, however, to say that something is terribly wrong here? Wouldn’t you think the bridges were designed to withstand the weight of heavy trucks?

Weiboers have referred to the catastrophe as yet another example of “dofu engineering,” and they are right. I’m all for improving infrastructure, but this is an example of a scramble to build as quickly as possible, and China is paying a very heavy price (the cost of the bridge was some $300 million).

Back to the beginning of this post: the film Charlie rightfully lambastes, at least based on its incredibly idiotic trailer, is all about China stealing jobs and making shoddy, dangerous goods. When I read about bridges crumbling, I have no choice but to think there is at least a partial element of truth when it comes to construction, from apartment buildings simply toppling over to schoolhouses collapsing in an earthquake like a house of cards. This latest disaster is emblematic of a rush for growth for growth’s sake, to use the money the government is generously allocating to build as much as possible while ignoring even basic standards of quality. If this is what China’s growth is based on, we’re all in trouble.

These projects are dazzling at first glance, but many are literally built on sand and speak to the folly of rushing to spend government money. This was the strategy, successful so far, for China to buy its way out of the global financial crisis. But eventually it will be time to pay the piper, and a lot of that money will have been wasted, and even some lives.


Off to NYC

I leave early in the morning for a six-day trip to the world’s most exciting city, where I grew up and went to school. If anyone there wants to hook up for coffee or a drink please send me an email. Blogging will be lighter than usual the next few days, but I’ll do my best to put something up every couple of days.

Standing by the Hudson River at sunset.


Tourists beware: New China Visa Rules!

I really don’t like the sound of this:

If you’re planning a trip to China and don’t have an up-to-date visa in hand, you may encounter some additional red tape.

On Aug. 1, the Chinese government started requiring that travelers seeking tourist visas, officially known as L visas, submit a letter of invitation and photocopies of the traveler’s round-trip ticket and hotel reservations.

To obtain a business, or F Visa, applicants must now have an invitation letter or “confirmation letter of invitation” issued by an authorized Chinese agency. This is in addition to an invitation letter issued by a Chinese local government, company, corporation or institution.

For tourists, the invitation letter can come from a “duly authorized tourism unit” or it can be issued by a company, corporation, institution or individual in China. If the letter comes from an individual, a photocopy of her or his identification must also be provided.

The new, more complicated rules, unfortunately, don’t completely spell out what is considered a “duly authorized tourism unit” or what constitutes a “letter of invitation.” Consulate officials did not respond to our request for additional clarification.

The new requirements have thrown many travelers for a loop, especially those who filled out the four-page visa application form in July but whose documents didn’t reach the consulate until August. The result has been confusion, communication challenges and, in some cases, a scramble to meet deadlines and travel itineraries.

You don’t need a visa to go to Singapore or Japan or Hong Kong (or most other places I’ve visited over the decades). Why does China have to make it such hell to visit their country? Visas are a cash cow, a way to milk tourists and enrich the national coffers. Okay, I can deal with that, and getting a visa for entry into the US for a Chinese person is not necessarily a walk in the park either. But why does China have to add more barriers and make a process that is already a pain in the, um, neck even more nightmarish?

Despite the hassle, I had learned how to get a visa relatively quickly and painlessly based on the approximate dates of my trip to China. Now, “Travelers arranging their own trips…must lock in their travel dates, purchase their airline tickets and make hotel reservations before they know whether their visa applications will be approved.” Good grief. What’s the point?


Speaking of sex, how is this for stupid?

This was from several days ago, not sure how I missed it. Still worth a mention.

I was amazed when I saw this because if it’s true there are some awfully dumb Chinese officials and high school teachers (!) out there. If they want to participate in an orgy, don’t they know better than to take pictures of themselves? Unsurprisingly, this went super-viral on Weibo after an unknown party uploaded the photos.

Prominent politicians in China have been accused of participating in a sex orgy, after dozens of photos appeared on a microblogging site earlier this month featuring three naked men and two naked women in a hotel room.

The pictures, which were featured on Sina Weibo appear to show the Party secretary of Lujiang county in Anhui Province, Wang Minsheng, his deputy, Jiang Dabin, and the party’s youth leader at Hefei University, Wang Yu. Over 100 photos were uploaded by an unknown user.

The high-ranking Chinese officials are shown engaging in a hotel “sex party,” according to the (UK) Telegraph.

There’s a lesson here somewhere. In certain situations, all cameras need to be checked at the door.

Update: The New Yorker chimes in.


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.


Leaving China, Westernizing, Playing Victim, etc.

Update: Let’s add this to the thread. A very, very funny parody of the “why I’m leaving China” that seems in vogue at the moment.

Update 2: Wow.

This is an open thread to which I’d like to add a few links. I am late to this, but if you haven’t read Mark Kitto’s article on why he’s leaving China, do so now. I read it behind a pay wall more than a week ago and was blown away. Mark received some fame eight years ago when the magazine business he built from scratch was simply seized by the government, leaving him with no recourse. He only touches on that, a real act of badness, but it ties in with his other complaints about life in today’s China. (more…)