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Maoist Sexual Ideology and Urban Youth Sexual Behaviour in the Cultural Revolution (19661976)
Meghan Ghent s0910044 Word count: 9,638 March 1st, 2013

This dissertation is an examination of how Chinese youth experienced their sexuality in the Cultural Revolution in coexistence with, or in opposition to, the prevailing ideology of the period. It first attempts to identify the principles of the political ideology regulating sexual expression by young people in Maoist Chinese society during the years 1949 to 1965 in the absence of a set of official rules, and to investigate whether or not and in what ways this ideology affected the sexual behaviour of Chinese young people during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. This is done by means of a discourse analysis of officially endorsed pronouncements in the Communist Youth League-affiliated magazine Zhongguo Qingnian (China Youth), as well as other popular media available at that time, to create a framework of ideological principles; and by examination of personal accounts such as memoirs, diaries, interviews and anecdotes of Chinese people who came of age during the Cultural Revolution, as well as comparison of these individual experiences to the ideological norms. From interpretative analysis of the dominant discourse of sexuality during the 1950s, a set of ideological tenets emerged governing correct and incorrect sexual expression in terms of romantic love, sexual behaviour and consumption of media. These ideological tenets possessed not only a moral dimension, but were also heavy with political significance. Analysis of these wide-ranging lived experiences of Chinese people has shown that although many of their experiences conformed to the prevailing sexual ideology, many others differed widely from these officially endorsed ideological norms of sexual expression. This contradicts the commonly held notion that sexual repression during the Cultural Revolution was complete, and shows that the breadth of individual experiences of sexuality during this time is more diverse than it is often thought to have been.

Table of Contents
Acknowledgements Notes Introduction Chapter One Towards a Maoist Sexual Ideology Romantic love: the Revolutionary and the Bourgeois Sex and Sexuality: the Scientific Approach Pornographic Material: the Poisonous Weed Chapter Two Sexual Realities in the Cultural Revolution Conformity with Popular Ideology Non-conformity with Popular Ideology Conclusion Bibliography 1 5 5 8 13 17 17 22 30

I would like to thank Christopher Rosenmeier for his patience, interest and assistance with this dissertation, as well as my flatmates and parents for their support and encouragement in difficult times, and my brother Kirran for making me feel like an expert. And of course, George the Dissertation Cheetah, for always being there.

Throughout this dissertation the Hanyu Pinyin romanisation system has been used. All Chinese characters are presented in simplified form. All quoted translations of Chinese materials, unless otherwise credited, are my own. I confirm that this dissertation is my own work, except where indicated, and that I have read and understood the course guidance on plagiarism.

Meghan Ghent 1st March, 2013

Sexual repression during Chinas Cultural Revolution (1966 1976) is often thought by both Western and Chinese scholarship to have been far-reaching and absolute. Much existing literature describes sexual life under Maoism as completely repressed.1 In the 1950s and early 1960s, sex and sexuality in public discourse were confined to the scientific contexts of health and hygiene, marital success and family planning, in the form of governmentsanctioned educational materials (Honig 2003, p. 146) as well as magazine advice columns in periodicals dedicated to youth and womens issues. By the time of the Cultural Revolution, however, the official discourse of sexuality was replaced with state silence (Honig 2003, p. 145) on the issue, compounded by the suspension from publication of journals geared toward women and youth, Zhongguo Fun (Chinese Woman) and Zhongguo Qingnian (China Youth) (Honig 2003, p. 11). In this official silence, there arose a set of politically-influenced standards for the moral policing of sexual expression in private life and popular media. This socialist sexual ideology of the Cultural Revolution grew out of the discourse of sexuality prevalent in the 1950s, and was a system of local, popular constructions of state policy, often open to interpretation by different individuals. Under this ideology, real or perceived sexual transgressors and writers who fell afoul of censors were often severely punished, whether by local party cadres, heads of work units, Red Guards, or their peers (Honig 2003, p. 147).

Zhang Dening and Yue Jianyis Report on Love and Sex among Chinas Sent-Down Youth (Beijing:

Guangming Ribao Chubanshe, 1998), for example, focuses on the sexually repressive dimensions of the Cultural Revolution experience for young people, detailing the political persecution often faced by youths in love (Zhang and Yue, quoted in Honig 2003, p. 144).

Even in the atmosphere of asceticism encouraged by this ideology, however, many Chinese urban youth were still engaging in sexual behaviour, whether desired or undesired. This exposes the fact that the rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution regulated the discourse of sexuality rather than the practices (Pan and Huang 2011, p. 221). When first-hand accounts of the Cultural Revolution, especially those written by educated youth or zhiqing () who had been sent down to the countryside, first began to appear, their narratives dealt largely with the hardship, repression and sense of victimhood they experienced. In these, the topic of rape often figured quite prominently (Honig 2003, p. 162). In the 1990s, however, another wave of Cultural Revolution memoirs was being published, which, in addition to other personal accounts, pointed to a greater fullness of youthful sexual experience than was previously thought to be compatible with Maoist ideology.2 This raises the question of how Chinese urban youth were able to experience their sexuality in spite of, or in coexistence with, this ideology. This dissertation is intended to be an investigation of the nature of the Maoistinfluenced ideology surrounding sexual expression in the years 1949 to 1965, and of whether this ideology shaped and influenced the sexual behaviour of Chinese urban youth during the Cultural Revolution. The first chapter deals with the examination of Maoist sexual ideology. Because there was no explicitly stated official line on the regulation of sexual behaviour, a concept of a Maoist sexual ideology must be built up from a study of the official discourse and the gaps within it, and from examination of the cultural and political climate with regard to depictions of sexuality in popular media of the period. This will be done via a discourse analysis largely focusing on a selection of articles from the Communist Youth League-affiliated magazine Zhongguo Qingnian which deal specifically with topics relating to sexuality. Important

Anchee Mins fictionalised autobiography Red Azalea (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), for example, details

the authors sexual experience as a zhiqing on a farm in the countryside.

information about the implied position of the Maoist state can be gathered through an interpretative and deconstructive reading of written texts propagated by an official organisation. As this method of analysis is interpretative, it does not produce quantitative truths, and the validity of its findings is still open to debate. In the absence of an official state position on sexuality, however, applying critical thought to these texts can unveil their social and political implications. Zhongguo Qingnian was chosen as its target demographic is youth which, for the purposes of this study, will be defined as unmarried persons under the age of 25. Young people living through the Cultural Revolution could therefore reasonably be expected to have been exposed to the ideological pronouncements in this magazine, or similar ones through different channels. Viewing the original articles provides an interesting snapshot of history, which can be readily analysed for clues about the state of society at that time. In addition, Zhongguo Qingnians affiliation with the Communist Youth League meant that its pronouncements would have been officially endorsed, and its format as a magazine meant that it could reach a large audience. Other primary materials, such as a Beijing Red Guard factions list of poisonous weed films considered morally harmful, and the film Footsteps of Youth (Qingchun de jiaobu ) (1957), are examined as illustrative examples. The second chapter of the dissertation will deal with the sexual realities of urban Chinese youth during the Cultural Revolution, largely by examination of personal accounts memoirs, diaries, interviews and anecdotes from Chinese people who came of age during this period. It will also attempt to examine to what extent the experiences of young people conformed or did not conform to the proscribed norms of Maoist sexual ideology as outlined in the first chapter. Analysis of personal accounts brings the advantage of a clear picture of how individual Chinese youths experienced their own sexuality in the environment of the Cultural

Revolution, and also offers an invaluable insight into their thinking, showing the ways in which their actual sexual behaviour was affected or not affected by the omnipresent ideology to which they had been exposed. As individual experience is broadly varied, personal accounts will tend to differ widely, but they can also be examined for continuities. The sexual experiences treated with in this study are all heterosexual experiences, as regulation on heterosexual behaviour was entwined with regulation on marriage and childbirth. Homosexual activity and experience during the Cultural Revolution, while documented, accounts for a much smaller share of the available literature and is beyond the scope of the present paper. In addition, the seemingly disparate nature of the sources relied upon for analysis of Maoist sexual ideology and sexual practice is due to the paucity of available literature on sexuality and sexual expression during the Cultural Revolution in particular. The dissertation attempts, therefore, to analyse relevant and accessible repositories of cultural information during that period, along with recollections of that period, in an attempt to create a unified picture.

Chapter One Towards a Maoist Sexual Ideology

After the foundation of the Peoples Republic, official publications such as Zhongguo Qingnian, a periodical magazine linked to the Communist Youth League, carried out important functions as mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party government. These provided one way in which the Party could promulgate its ideological standpoint on various issues important to young urbanites as the correct viewpoint. Below, the inferred stance of the state, through the channel of Zhongguo Qingnian, is discussed for the topics of romantic love, sexual behaviour and pornographic material.

Romantic Love: The Revolutionary and the Bourgeois The issue of romantic relationships was one which surfaced often in Zhongguo Qingnian; in the 1950 article Establishing the correct viewpoint on love (Jianli zhengque de lianai guan ), the author Cheng Jinwu offers advice to young people struggling with what was often referred to as the question or problem (wenti ) of romantic love. The article also creates a model of what was considered acceptable in the sphere of cross-sex social relations, which is framed in the language of politics and class struggle. Although romantic love belongs to the sphere of private life, it begins, it is one of the most important social problems (Cheng 1950, p. 16). The article immediately politicises this aspect of private life, indicating the interest of the socialist state in the romantic relations of its youth. It then sets about describing correct and incorrect conceptions of love using the polarised descriptors revolutionary and bourgeois.

According to Cheng, correct love in socialist society is not mere biological attraction, but a lofty social ideal that is inseparable from social factors such as thought/ideology, emotion, intelligence, cultural achievement and interest in life (Cheng 1950, p. 17). Selection of a romantic partner who, it was understood, would inevitably become a marriage partner was heavily predicated on political criteria: shared social and political goals were important factors. A love that is correct is built upon the egalitarian basis of mutual admiration and respect (Cheng 1950, p. 16), and founded on the shared struggle for the revolutionary cause. Furthermore, this can only be established when one has a revolutionary outlook on life (Cheng 1950, p. 17). The definition of what constituted correct love, therefore, was inseparable from revolutionary fervour and class struggle, and divorced from any description of passion or eroticism. This becomes even clearer as the article begins to delineate those attitudes to love which are considered capitalist, bourgeois, and therefore wrong. Criteria for partner selection, according to the author, should not be based on patriarchal tradition or monetary gain, as these are remnants of the old society, but this is not to say that love should be entirely without conditions. When choosing a partner, one should especially take into account a persons political background. Involvement with political undesirables those whose political thinking is reactionary, race enemies and class enemies (Cheng 1950, p. 17) is not to be considered. Ultimately, in all spheres of life, one should never forget class struggle. The author also admonishes those young people guilty of placing love above all, and of illusory and nave fantasising about their ideal romantic experience. The privileging of the kind of love often found in bourgeois romance novels and indulgence in excessive romantic fantasy are here condemned as foolish and frivolous. This sort of fantasy can even, the author warns, lead to a weakening of the psyche, wearing down the fighting spirit needed to face

reality (Cheng 1950, p. 16). If young people become wrapped up in romantic fantasising, the revolutionary cause suffers, and bourgeois thinking is victorious. It is even implied in the article that the sexual aspects of young peoples romantic relationships, if not brought under control, can cause chaos within society. Free love, defined here as the liberty for people to love whomever they want whenever they want and a result of anarchistic thinking, is cautioned against, on the grounds that it can adversely affect social order and public well-being, and lead to confusion on the relationship between men and women, undermining the heterosexual and monogamous paradigm of the correct revolutionary approach to love (Cheng 1950, p. 16). The author similarly cautions against relationships based on lust, as biological sexual attraction must be subordinate to other social indicators of relationship compatibility. To lower the lofty ideal of love to the level of mere sexual desire is a manifestation of the moral decay typical of capitalist society (Cheng 1950, p. 17). To be guided in romance by ones own sexual desire is, therefore, evidence of bourgeois individualism and detrimental to collective welfare (Evans 1997, p. 2). The editorial office of Zhongguo Qingnian appeared to be constantly mindful of the power of young peoples focus on romantic relationships to lead to bourgeois tendencies in thinking and behaviour. Two years after Cheng Jinwus article, following which many pieces on the question of love and romance had appeared in print, an editorial was published entitled Education on the question of love must not be given in isolation (Bu yao guli de jinxing guanyu lianai wenti de jiaoyu ), which appeared to chastise the magazines readership for the volume of its interest in this particular topic. While the Youth League made helping those youths struggling with the question of correct love its responsibility, focusing too much on this topic was diverting time and energy away from issues of greater importance. It restated the Youth Leagues main goal in providing

ideological and political education, which was to foster young peoples interest in politics, and encourage them to participate actively in actual struggle, not to discuss romantic love, running the risk of inculcating a petit-bourgeois attitude and way of thinking (Zhongguo Qingnian 1952, p. 1). The editorial warns against focusing too much on the topic of romantic love, which carries the danger of [distracting] young peoples attention, making them unconcerned with important issues, and [causing] them to focus all their interest on romantic love and related questions (Zhongguo Qingnian 1952, p. 9). Romantic relationships, according to the authors, should be subordinate to work, and to the revolutionary cause, in the life of a revolutionary youth. From these two articles, through the discourse of romantic love, the beginnings of an ideological framework for the correct expression of sexuality begin to emerge. Firstly, correct love is not a function of sexual desire or passion, but of political criteria and the shared experience of revolutionary struggle. Excessive indulgence in romantic fantasising, an attempt to imbue love with a passionate or sexual dimension, is a bourgeois and individualist pursuit, incompatible with the interests of the collective. Secondly, love that is based on sexual attraction is lacking in moral quality and emblematic of a capitalist mindset. Finally, and most importantly, a youth should always place love secondary to the revolutionary cause, or run the very real risk of distracting his or her vital attentions from the important task of making revolution.

Sex and Sexuality: The Scientific Approach In the sixteen years preceding the Cultural Revolution, for publications or other forms of popular media to hold an open discussion of sex and sexuality, the discourse had to conform to a certain standard in order to be deemed acceptable. In the 1950s discourse on sex, as seen

in Zhongguo Qingnian (as well as in other publications), a scientific approach to the topic was considered best, as it coincided with the new and important task of nation-building, and a scientific understanding of sex is considered essential to the healthy development of the nations future (Evans 1997, p. 1). In addition, this 'scientific' discourse of sex lent legitimacy to efforts by the state to control the sexual behaviour of young people by emphasising the medical dimensions of the need for this control (Evans 1997, p. 3).

A 1956 article in Zhongguo Qingnian entitled A few questions concerning sex (Guanyu xing zhishi de ji ge wenti ) responded to readers questions using information compiled from Wang Wenbin , Zhao Zhiyi and Tan Mingxuns 1956 book Sexual Knowledge (Xing de zhishi ) prior to its publishing.3 Topics such as the appropriate frequency of sexual intercourse, sex during menstruation, pregnancy or periods of illness, the purpose of the hymen and contraception are dealt with by the authors in a very clinical, 'scientific' manner, devoid of any emotional language. This reflected the wider social reality that sexuality was something to be discussed scientifically, and not in romantic, passionate or erotic terms.

The scientific discourse of sex was also instrumental in setting out what was considered 'normal' sexual behaviour and responses. Early on in the article, the authors dedicate a paragraph to allaying any fears of the readership over the 'normality' of the presence of the sexual instinct, while framing the sexual instinct primarily in terms of marriage and procreation. The desire for sexual intercourse is "a natural instinct for the continuation of the human race", and, so long as it is conducted to an appropriate degree and within the confines

The authors of this work would later be criticised during the Cultural Revolution, and the work itself would be

suspended from publication. It would not be republished until the 1980s (Evans 1997, pp. 11 13).

of marriage, "is normal, and will not cause harm to health or lead to sickness" (Zhongguo Qingnian 1956, p. 27). The implication is that sexual intercourse outside the context of marriage would carry serious consequences. While pre-marital sexual behaviour was not technically against the law, it was vehemently discouraged, and often severely punished when discovered (Evans 1997, p. 100). Therefore, sexual activity was only appropriate within marriage. The article also does not hesitate to remind the readership of what married love should be built upon. It is not sexual satisfaction or "feudal notions of chastity" that constitute marital happiness, but the loftier socialist ideal of "mutual, sincere feelings of love and mutual support for each other's undertakings" (Zhongguo Qingnian 1956, p. 28).

Within marriage there were also standards of what constituted 'normal' sexual behaviour. Frequency of sexual activity could be an indicator of whether or not a married couple's sexual relationship was normal. When answering the question "Why is it bad to have too much sex?", the authors touch on the appropriate frequency of sexual intercourse; they state that it depends on factors such as the health and relative libido of both parties, but that "for most young married couples, once or twice a week is suitable", and that the "main principle is that sexual behaviour should not cause either party to feel fatigued the next morning" (Zhongguo Qingnian 1956, p. 27). If sexual activity is too frequent, or causes one or both spouses to feel tired the next morning, it may adversely affect the work and productivity of the individuals involved.

Absent from this article, and largely from the greater discussion on sexuality in general during the 1950s, was mention of sexual pleasure (Croll 1978, p. 302), particularly women's sexual pleasure. The present Zhongguo Qingnian article explains that sexual activity, handled in the correct manner, can promote "feelings of love" (aiqing ), "stability" (gonggu ), and


"harmony" (hexie ) (Zhongguo Qingnian 1956, pp. 27-28). Sexual pleasure (xing kuaigan ), however, is never given mention here at all. It is sometimes alluded to in articles on birth control methods (Croll 1978, p. 302), but is largely absent from the discourse. The concept of a womans right to sexual pleasure seemed obscured by the advancement of having the power to choose one's own marriage partner, granted to women by the state in outlawing forced and arranged marriages. This new freedom liberated women from what was traditionally seen as the obligation and "slavery" (Simone de Beauvoir quoted in Croll 1978, p. 302) of marital sexual intercourse, giving women "the right to say no to that sort of thing" (Croll 1978, p. 302).

If the frequency of sexual activity within marriage is excessive, there are not only social consequences, according to this article, but medical consequences. A large part of the article's first subsection is devoted to describing the wide range of physiological symptoms that may result from overindulgence in sexual activity, such as "decline in sexual capability and eventually impotence", as well as "insomnia, excessive dreaming, memory loss, mental fatigue, headaches, soreness in the legs, shortness of breath, tachycardia, loss of appetite and other symptoms". This progressive weakening of the body, the article warns, "can have an adverse influence on work and study" (Zhongguo Qingnian 1956, p. 27). It can thereby render the individual both physically and mentally unfit to participate in socialist society.

Ideological standards of sexual behaviour extended beyond interpersonal relations to the act of masturbation, which was also, it seems, a cause for state concern. In a 1955 article by Huang Shuze entitled "How can I break the bad habit of masturbation?" (Zenyang cai neng duanjue shouyin de huai xiguan? ?), a young reader writes in to Zhongguo Qingnian asking for advice on how to overcome this weakness. The original

letter to the editor is brief, but the editor's reply is very lengthy, taking up more than an entire page, which suggests the editor's realisation that this was a topic to be dealt with seriously and thoroughly. Again, the scientific discourse of sexuality is evident in the amount of text dedicated to explanations of sexual desire in biological terms and to warning youths away from "the bad habit of masturbation", as it is referred to throughout, with descriptions of the physiological and psychological harm that this practice can cause. These symptoms are said to be "similar to the ill effects caused by excessive sexual intercourse within marriage". The condemnation of the editor (and by extension, it can be inferred, the magazine, the Youth League and the state) of the act of masturbation is made clear, as it is a sign of "excessive focus of the vital energies on sexual desire", which inevitably leads to "loss of interest in work and study" and in "group socialising and wholesome cultural and sporting activities", as well as to the progressive weakening of the body and of the mental faculties (Huang 1955, p. 38). The remedy for this problem suggested by the editor is to spend more time studying and engaging in such wholesome social activities. The final paragraph of the article exhorts young people to draw upon their "socialist education" and "sense of responsibility [they] should have to the country and to the cause of socialism" (Huang 1955, p. 39) for the power to overcome their bad habits. In this article, as well, the power of unrestrained sexuality to distract young people's attention from class struggle is acknowledged and cautioned against with the threat of mental and bodily deterioration. The most important aspects of the ideological expectations surrounding sexual behaviour, as inferred from these articles, are as follows: first, that sexuality is a topic that should be discussed scientifically, not in terms of romance or erotic passion. Sexual activity is only acceptable when engaged in as part of a monogamous marriage, and its main purpose is procreation. Increased love, harmony and stability within the marriage are benefits that may accrue on their own, but sexual pleasure is not the focus of the marital relationship. Within

marriage, sexual activity is not to be overindulged in, as it may reduce an individuals physical and mental fitness to contribute to society. Non-interpersonal sexual expressions such as masturbation not only distract the attention, but also weaken the mind and body; a sound socialist education and morality are the tools needed to avoid falling victim to these weaknesses.

Pornographic Material: The Poisonous Weed In the previous article from 1955 on the subject of masturbation, both the readers question and the editors response identify one major source of the problem as pornographic books (Huang 1955, p. 38). The existence of books as well as films considered pornographic was an issue that would be taken very seriously by the Red Guards after their emergence during the Cultural Revolution; they would frequently call for bookstores to immediately destroy all pornographic childrens books (Honig 2003, p. 148). A group of Beijing Red Guards would, in fact, later publish a list of Four hundred poisonous-weed films containing serious mistakes (Ducao ji you yanzhong cuowu yingpian sibai bu ), of which about 20% were criticised for being pornographic (Roberts 2010, p. 9 n.25). In practice, however, the term pornographic (huang se /seqing ) did not always refer to explicit sexual content, although this was so in the case of hand-copied novels which began circulating during the Cultural Revolution (Link 2000, p. 243, n. 128) and which will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. The term was also applied to books and films concerned with love and romance, with only implicit reference to sexuality, as well as depiction of bodies and beauties (Roberts 2010, p. 9). It also possessed a political dimension, pornography being emblematic of the decadent capitalist culture (Honig 2003, p. 148).

One film which was later placed on the Red Guard list of poisonous weeds (ducao ) was 1957s Footsteps of Youth, which was condemned by the writers of the list for its controversial content:
The film seems not to take place in the new China; rather it seems like old Shanghai or Hong Kong. Young people spend all their time entangled in chaotic romances. A young woman sleeps around with a married man, and after she gets pregnant, even has an abortion. The entire film is oozing with bourgeois ideology. It brazenly attacks socialism, promotes a bourgeois outlook on life, and is an example of a downright pornographic film. (Beijing Film Academy Red Guard Congress Art and Literary Corps)

The film deals explicitly with the topics of adultery and pregnancy out of wedlock. The extent of the films sexual content is a scene where the heroine Meilan reveals to her married lover Pengke that she is pregnant, implying that the two engaged in sexual relations at some point (Footsteps of Youth, 1957). At the end of the film, Pengke is taken to court, and Meilan is punished for her sexual missteps at a self-criticism session. Complaints about the film, however, seemed to suggest that Meilan was not punished severely enough. Footsteps of Youth is reviewed in a 1958 Zhongguo Qingnian article entitled What sort of love should youths be seeking? (Rang qingnian zhuiqiu shenmeyang de aiqing? ?) by Geng Xi , which expressed dissatisfaction over the films unwholesome content, in particular the portrayal of the bourgeois and decadent love life (Geng 1958, p. 32) of its heroine. While Meilan does enter into an illicit relationship with a married man, she does not seem to do so willingly; indeed, it is he who initiates the affair, and at the outset she repeatedly rebuffs his advances. The films plot is not a narrative of a young temptress, but of


a girl led astray by the empty charms of older, worldly men (Evans 1997, p. 193).4 By the end of the film, Meilan is shown to be in considerable distress, as she writes a letter of apology to her original boyfriend Xiaoping before falling ill from the abortion drug she has taken, and finally is criticised by her friends and peers and made to undergo self-criticism; yet the reviewers afford her no sympathy, instead claiming that her final punishment is too lenient. She is described as caring only for her individual pleasure, an ideologically unsound attitude that is incompatible with collectivism and socialist morality. In having an affair with a married man she has without hesitation abandoned her original boyfriend and destroyed someone elses home, but the reviewers also find her repentance unconvincing, suspecting that its purpose is to restore her relationship with Xiaoping. They also accuse her of acting as though she is completely innocent and was only fooled by Pengke (Geng 1958, p. 32). The criticism and blame directed at the character of Meilan by the reviewers is an indication that young people engaging in non-standard sexual behaviour, especially young women, could expect to encounter equally severe consequences and receive equally unsympathetic criticism. This is reflected in the treatment women under suspicion of sexual immorality often received at the hands of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Even though the film punishes the heroine for her transgressions, its oblique reference to sexual activity and the shortcomings of the heroines ideological consciousness were enough to cause Footsteps of Youth to be branded pornographic and a poisonous weed, harmful to the developing socialist consciousness of young people.


For a real-life example of this sort of narrative, see Shu Fan , Wo de jiaoxun (My lesson).

Zhongguo Fun 3 (1956), pp. 31 32.


Journals such as Zhongguo Qingnian were an important channel through which ideological pronouncements were absorbed by the young public. From the analysis of the preceding articles, it can be seen that the main tenets of the socialist ideology surrounding correct and incorrect expressions of sexuality were as follows: 1. Love should be based on political criteria and the shared experience of revolutionary struggle; not on fantastical, unrealistic and bourgeois romantic passion, or sexual desire, which is lacking in moral quality. 2. Sexual activity is acceptable only as a part of a monogamous marriage where its main purpose is procreation; pre-marital sexual relations, excessive sexual intercourse, and masturbation are not only unacceptable but unhealthy. 3. Books and films should depict correct and comradely love; those with bourgeois romantic depictions and explicit descriptions of sexual activity are pornographic, and pornography is an emblem of capitalism. These ideological tenets were taken into account and either followed or flouted by young people in varying degrees throughout the years of the Cultural Revolution.


Chapter Two Sexual Realities in the Cultural Revolution

Analysis of the experiences of Chinese youth during the Cultural Revolution as written and described by themselves has shown that in some cases, the ideology as propagated in available media in the 1950s was internalised by young people and affected their behaviour in obvious ways. In many other cases, however, the behaviour of young people appeared completely to contravene these accepted modes of sexual conduct. In this chapter, the realities of sexual experience for Chinese youth during the Cultural Revolution will be discussed, through the medium of their self-described recollections in memoirs, letters, diaries, etc., and compared and contrasted with the official line as described in the first chapter. The first section deals with those youths whose experiences showed conformity to accepted socialist moral standards for sexuality, while the second section describes the experiences of those who breached these popular norms.

Conformity with popular ideology During the Cultural Revolution, it was commonly said that whether or not one is close to another person depends on class (qin bu qin, jieji fen ) (Wu 1999, p. 270). Popular ideology and potential political repercussions did have an effect on the criteria young people used for the selection of a potential partner, such that political considerations were paramount, even to the exclusion of concerns such as the moral character of the person in question. For young girls, the ideal mate was first and foremost a party member, with the face of an actor and the body of an athlete. Soldiers were a most popular choice, as many girls found themselves enchanted by the green uniforms of the Peoples Liberation Army


men (Wu 1999, p. 273). Other acceptable candidates included cadres and workers. It was considered best not to go after an intellectual (Wu 1999, p. 274), and as far as possible to avoid teachers, as these people were the most likely to have bourgeois tendencies. Whether because of fear of the possible consequences, or because of genuine feelings of class enmity, those whose political thinking was suspect could not be recommended as prudent matches. The memories of young men influenced by popular ideology at the time also illustrate the kind of young woman they thought unsuitable as a romantic partner. In his book, Wu Junping describes meeting a remarkable young girl after graduating from high school. She was lively and cheerful, and very clever, and the young author developed a fondness for her. When she frankly told him that she loved him, however, it drew his dislike.
I was influenced by the popular thinking of the time, and I saw the emotions of her innocent first love as petit-bourgeois and frivolous. I wrote a letter unreasonably and foolishly rebuking her, and then contacted her parents, who were high-level cadres, saying I thought she had a corrupt bourgeois trend. I hurt her deeply. (Wu 1999, p. 272)

The characterisation of romantic love as frivolous and bourgeois is reminiscent of the thought propagated in Zhongguo Qingnian on the correct view of love in a socialist society. The desired effect was achieved, as young people such as Wu Junping had internalised the ideology the magazine and other media and sources were promoting, and were applying it to their own interactions. In some cases, this desire for avoidance of bourgeois love even progressed to fear and panic brought on by the possibility of being loved romantically by a member of a peer group. An example of this is found in the anecdote of a pair of classmates, a boy and a girl, sent down to the countryside after graduating from junior high school. The pair wrote letters to each other continually, from which the girl derived an important source of

comfort, becoming unable to sleep or eat (Wu 1999, p. 271) if she ever failed to receive a letter. After years of correspondence, the boy decided to bare his feelings, and wrote her a letter in which he prefixed the girls name with my beloved (qinai de ). The change in the form of address, it is noted, was the only difference, and the content of the letter was much the same as before. Upon seeing the words my beloved, however, the girl began to panic, glancing around in fear that someone might see. The author describes her thought process in the following way:
My beloved? What kind of talk is that? Isnt that bourgeois stuff? If someone found out about it, it would be a serious political problem. She became more and more afraid, and sent off a very serious reply: Please never call me that again. After that, she never received another letter from him. Wu 1999, p. 272

Some young women who received confessions of love from male peers initially thought the matter inconsequential, but were later made to change their thinking. One woman described, in an interview with Li Yinhe , a boy with a bad class origin with whom she would listen to records together in his bedroom. She allowed her friends to see the letters he wrote to her, not believing that they were something to be hidden. Her thinking was changed when a group leader of the Youth League came to speak to her and inquired deeply into the content of the letters, and then encouraged her to sever contact with the boy on the grounds that his thinking was severely bourgeois (Li 1998, p. 24). Her letters to him then became cold and curt. Another young woman showed a letter she had received from a boy to a female friend, whereupon the letter was then seen by all her classmates. After this, she was branded a hooligan (liumang ) and subjected to bullying and ostracism. Her classmates spat on her desk, wrote hooligan on it with chalk, and accused her of provoking boys, treatment

which continued until she switched schools (Li 1998, p. 26). This type of peer-policing was often seen during this period. The ideology propagated in the 1950s on the correct expression of sexuality was taken to heart and even taken to greater extremes by some youths during the Cultural Revolution. Two memoirs of Chinese people who became Red Guards, Rae Yangs Spider Eaters (1997) and Ken Lings Revenge of Heaven (1972), point to a kind of aggressively puritanical attitude towards sexuality. This was an attitude that Red Guards were often seen to uphold in denouncing books and films considered pornographic and persons considered sexually immoral and therefore ideologically unsound. This opposition to sexuality, though rooted in traditional notions of chastity, became a major issue for Red Guard groups, who defended it as if it were a sacred teaching of Chairman Mao (Yang 1997, p. 136). Rae Yang describes the idea of sex as something she found not only bourgeois, but very dirty and ugly. Yang also speaks about the influence of popular media on her thinking: In the books I read and movies I saw, only the bad guys were interested in sex (Yang 1997, p. 136). This is definitely the case in the film Footsteps of Youth discussed in Chapter One, in which only the films womanising villain Pengke pursues sexual gratification. The young Red Guard Yang was adamant that when revolutionaries fell in love, they loved with their hearts and had nothing to do with [sex] (Yang 1997, p. 136), which perpetuates the sentiments found in Cheng Jinwus 1950 article in Zhongguo Qingnian that the lofty concept of love should not be reduced to mere sexual attraction. According to the young Yang and her Red Guard comrades, having sex was a bad habit the same as smoking, drinking or stealing which profound class feelings toward Chairman Mao (Yang 1997, p. 144) rendered a young person immune from. Similarly, Ken Ling in his memoir describes his intolerance of schoolmates who combined making rebellion with falling in love, which led him to comb the lakeside looking for young

couples and rebuking them for their amorous actions (Ling 1972, p. 97). Later, he describes the morally high-handed attitude he took as a young man to seventeen- and eighteen-year-old female workers at the Amoy Textile Mill in Fujian who were engaging in sexual relations with male soldiers. At first his criticisms of them read like traditional criticisms of sexuallyactive women, not at all specific to the Cultural Revolution period: he accuses the young women of bringing disgrace on [their] parents, the organization and [them]selves (Ling 1972, p. 284) and exhorts them to remain pure (Ling 1972, p. 282). He even comments that one of the workers could not be a good girl and must have been used a few hundred times simply because her breasts were very big (Ling 1972, p. 284). When asked by the women workers whether he has a girlfriend, however, he begins to use language tinged with socialist morality to describe the relationship between himself and his female classmate as nothing more than comradely: between us there is only pure friendship a friendship tested in rain and storm. Its a kind of relationship all of you cant possibly understand (Ling 1972, p. 285).5 In some cases, young people had internalised official pronouncements on correct and incorrect sexual expression, but still engaged in behaviours considered incorrect, often with a certain amount of guilt. One woman interviewed by Li Yinhe did engage in masturbation, but also took popular scientific pronouncements, similar to those that appeared in Huang Shuzes Zhongguo Qingnian article, to heart. She recalled a day during the Cultural Revolution when all other members of her family were out and she was at home alone, and

Later in this chapter the narrator goes on to engage in a session of passionate kissing with this female classmate

for the first time, which exposes the falseness of his prior description of their relationship; by this time, though, he has already lost faith in the spirit of the Cultural Revolution and declared Mao Zedong to be a false saviour (Ling 1972, p. 280), so it is possible that his earlier words were merely correct public speech given in his capacity as a leader of the Amoy Commune.


she began touching herself idly and unconsciously while reading a book. This, she explained, was how she learned to masturbate. She goes on to speak about the influence that available media had had on her understanding of masturbation: I had read in books that masturbation could make you lose your memory, and also weaken your nervous system [] It can make people unsociable, and make them become selfish (Li 1998, p. 177).The anti-sex rhetoric of socialist sexual morality, combined with the scientific discourse of medical professionals on the topic of masturbation, seems to have had an effect on this behaviour in young people growing up during the Cultural Revolution. In many young men, the onset of the behaviour was delayed. A nationwide survey among Chinese people showed that between the years 1966 and 1976, the average age of first masturbatory experience among males rose from 18.1 in the 1950s to 18.9 by the time of the Cultural Revolution, and fell to 17.2 after 1989 (Pan and Huang 2011, p. 222).

Non-conformity with popular ideology Even though the ideological teachings youth would have absorbed in the 1950s stated that sex outside the context of marriage was unacceptable and grounds for political scrutiny, and while some youth heeded the socialist model of sexual ideology and viewed sex as a bourgeois and tainting force to be avoided and removed, the prevalence of pre-marital sexual behaviour among youths during this period suggests that many others flouted these socialist moral strictures, often under the pretext of revolution itself. In the early years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1968), young people in urban China were experiencing unprecedented freedom from parental supervision, whether because their parents were occupied with the revolution (Bai 2001, p. 93) as cadres or participants, or because they had been arrested or sent for labour reform. In addition, many schools were no longer holding classes (Link 2000,


p. 243). Ken Ling recalls that the Cultural Revolution was the first time many of his female classmates had set foot outside of the school on their own, and that these young women became coarse and wild, under the pretext of being liberated from feudalism. Their liberation, however, came to a halt when their bellies swelled up and they were thrown out of their homes by their parents (Ling 1972, p. 148). A woman who came of age during the Cultural Revolution tells of meeting up with an old classmate and talking about the past. The classmate then asked her how many boys she had slept with during the Cultural Revolution, implying that this behaviour was common for urban youth at the time (Zhang and Sang 1989, p. 57). At this time young Red Guards had also begun to engage in the practice of establishing ties or linkups (chuanlian ), which meant travelling by train and bus to different parts of China free of charge in order to spread the idea of the Cultural revolution (Yang 1997, p. 130) and to exchange revolutionary experiences (Ling 1972, p. 86 n). These trips were often the site of sexual experimentation among young people, such that parents developed misgivings about allowing their children to go. The young Ken Ling spoke to a woman who said that she refused to allow her daughters to join the linkups, maintaining that it was really scandalous with all the boy and girl Red Guards running about wild, giving birth to little Red Guards (Ling 1972, p. 143). Jung Chang, in her memoir Wild Swans, recalls a classmate who joined the linkups with a group of Red Guards and returned home pregnant and in disgrace, to face violence from her father and the gossip of her neighbours and comrades. Eventually, the girl hanged herself in shame (Chang 1991, p. 395). Young people from Chinese cities also found opportunities to learn about and engage with sex and sexuality during the period of reform through labour in the countryside, to which some educated youth or zhiqing went voluntarily and others were sent. In some rural locations far


from the locus of political control, where official socialist ideology found it harder to penetrate every sphere of life the zhiqing were surprised and often uneasy to find that the peasants discussed matters of sexuality with a frankness and ease that they never saw in the cities. Peasant men and women would sometimes shock zhiqing by frequently telling bawdy jokes, and zhiqing were made uncomfortable by local customs of women wearing no clothing above the waist when working, and men none at all (Honig 2003, p. 156). One account tells of a girl working as part of a production brigade in Inner Mongolia, who lagged behind after work one day and mistakenly stumbled upon a man and a woman engaging in intercourse next to a ditch. Because at that time the class struggle was very intense, she reported her sighting to the leader of the production brigade, but the old peasants saw nothing serious about the matter and simply laughed at it (Honig 2003, p. 155). Some zhiqing, lacking in any proper education on sex, displayed complete ignorance of sexual matters, which they encountered closely for the first time in the countryside. Wu Junping tells of a group of young female zhiqing who, while walking around the village, suddenly heard a loud noise, and rushed over to find a pair of donkeys rolling around, seemingly struggling. Interested, they asked some old peasants for an explanation. The peasants burst into laughter, and upon repeated questioning by the girls, explained to them that the donkeys were consummating their marriage (Wu 1999, p. 278). The production team leader, upon hearing of the incident, later advised the girls not to watch the livestock playing the hooligan (Wu 1999, p. 279). For other zhiqing, the countryside was the scene of their first sexual experience. One woman describes losing her virginity to another zhiqing in her commune, a young man she had grown fond of after taking him food when he had injured his foot.


He asked, and I let him. I was sixteen years old. I used to think it would be really something but when it happened, I found it was nothing at all. I was a girl beforehand, and when I got up I was still the same girl. I hadnt turned into a grown woman [] I waited anxiously for my period because I was afraid I might be pregnant. Zhang and Sang 1989, p. 222

Her description is very matter-of-fact, with none of the language of socialist sexual morality attendant on it. Indeed, it is possible that there were more young people like this woman who seemed to ignore completely the political implications of pre-marital sex out of youthful curiosity and confusion (Zhang and Sang 1989, p. 222). Another account reflects the prevalence of premarital sexual relations among zhiqing in the countryside: in this case, the young woman involved had sex with a fellow zhiqing and began cohabiting, because thats what lots of people did (Deng Xian quoted in Honig 2003, p. 161). Of course, not all sexual behaviour between young people was consensual. Stories of rape and sexual assault are quite common in accounts of the Cultural Revolution. Ken Ling speaks frequently of rape being used as a tactic in Red Guard factional fighting, describing a scene in which a female Red Guard was beaten and molested by ten male Red Guards from a rival faction, to the point that her breasts were bleeding from cuts (Ling 1972, p. 76). He also describes how Red Guards who came to the Beijing Film Academy for struggle meetings might get a chance to grab a handful of an attractive female student being struggled against (Ling 1972, p. 192). Rape was also a feature of life for some female zhiqing in the countryside; a female students diary from 1973 tells of an army head of the Inner Mongolia Corps who abused his privilege to have sex with over thirty female zhiqing (Shi 1996, p. 218). The consumption of literature was another area in which some youths were found not to have given much heed to official pronouncements. Despite the heavy bourgeois stigma and

pornographic label associated with depictions of romance and sex in popular novels and films, which were feared to cause excessive romantic fantasising in youths, some young people continued to read these novels and became fascinated with them. One woman who grew up during the Cultural Revolution states that she developed an insatiable appetite for romantic stories (Wang 2001, p. 43). Because from 1966 to 1967 her older siblings were all preoccupied with the revolution, and because teaching in her school had been suspended, she had more security to read romantic stories leisurely (Wang 2001, p. 44), and describes those years as a never-ending summer vacation (Wang 2001, p. 45). Another recalls feeling an unspeakable excitement when reading romantic novels containing descriptions of biological phenomena (Bai 2001, p. 93). Even when reading a revolutionary novel like Great Changes in a Mountain Village (Shan xiang ju bian ),6 she was learning about romance through its romantic subplot: class struggle may have been the novels ostensible theme, but I did not grasp that aspect of it (Bai 2001, p. 94). Ken Ling describes the interest of his classmates in the lustful novels captured during raids on libraries to eliminate reactionary books; he claims they became addicted and even wanted to practise what they read in them (Ling 1972, p. 22). The period of the Cultural Revolution also saw, perhaps paradoxically, a clandestine flourishing of pornographic literature. In the 1950s, pornography and sexual depictions in literature had been almost completely suppressed by the Maoist state; with the closure of schools and the large degree of youth freedom at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, however, explicitly sexual descriptions in literature began to resurface (Link 2000, p. 243).

Great Changes in a Mountain Village (published 1958 - 1960) by Zhou Libo is a novel about land

reform, which mainly describes the development of a village in Hunan Province from an agricultural cooperative to an advanced commune. It also contains a romantic subplot about two lovers initially separated by family background (Bai 2001, p. 94).


During the Cultural Revolution, hand-copied manuscripts (shouchaoben ) emerged. These were handwritten stories, often only a few pages long, which were copied by hand and circulated among youths, the most popular of which dealt with themes of romance and sex. If seized, both reader and transcriptionist would face political censure and possible imprisonment. However, these works were copied many times over and distributed widely, due to what Wu Junping calls an extreme hunger of the spirit (Wu 1999, p. 217) fostered during this period of asceticism, which made some young people willing to take this political risk. Members of the Red Guard generation have reported that groups of young people would even gather at night in dormitories to listen to readings of these underground works (Evans 1997, p. 221, n.4). The great popularity of these hand-copied manuscripts is very much at odds with the prevailing ideology that these books were poisonous weeds containing the seeds of bourgeois thought. In addition, some reports claimed that these stories influenced the behaviour of the youths who read them. One report claims that a young woman had sex with a boy after reading one story in particular called A Maidens Heart (Shaon zhi xin ), hoping that the experience would be as described in the story, but was disappointed (Honig 2003, p. 158). A Maidens Heart, also called The Memoir of Manna (Manna huiyilu ), seems to have begun circulating in the 1970s (Link 2000, p. 243). In it, the titular character Manna narrates a sexual affair she had at the age of sixteen with her older male cousin, before her eventual marriage to another man. The story ends with a little homily on the bliss and harmlessness of premarital sex (Link 2000, p. 243). This message seemed to resonate with the young reading public, as, despite the contravention of accepted standards for sexual behaviour in socialist society that sexual expression is only acceptable within the context of

monogamous marriage, and that anything else is evidence of capitalist moral decay A Maidens Heart was one of the most popular and widely-circulated hand-copied manuscripts during the Cultural Revolution.7 The popularity of A Maidens Heart and works like it speaks to the feelings of sexual repression youths were experiencing. For many young people, these stories were their first encounter with depictions of sexual behaviour (Evans 1997, p. 7).


For many people who came of age during the Cultural Revolution, the period is one they recall as a time of sexual repression. The political ideology which penetrated every sphere of private life imposed regulations on their partner selection; in some cases the fear of being labelled bourgeois and facing political consequences caused aversion to the slightest suggestion of romantic love; anti-sex rhetoric instilled in some youths a kind of militantly puritanical attitude towards sexuality; while others engaged in sexual behaviours considered incorrect but did so with feelings of shame and guilt. For many others, however, the Cultural Revolution was a time of their sexual awakening and engagement. Young men and women, free from parental supervision and the authority of teachers, were able to learn more about sexuality, whether by informal lessons in the countryside, from romantic novels, or through experimentation consensual or otherwise with their peers, which sometimes resulted in accidental pregnancy. The popularity of underground pornographic novels among youth at

A Maidens Heart also continued to enjoy substantial popularity even after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The work was still in clandestine circulation in both print and audio formats in the 1980s (Link 2000, p. 193), and by 1998 had been formally published. (Wu 1999, p. 400).


this time also reflects an engagement with sexuality often thought incompatible with the ascetic ideological atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution.


This study has examined repositories of cultural information in the form of articles from Zhongguo Qingnian, a list of four hundred poisonous weed films, and the film Footsteps of Youth, in order to produce a framework of the ideological tenets governing sexual expression under Maoism. It also has examined the accounts of the lived experiences of Chinese people coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, and found that these various experiences both conformed to and differed from the officially sanctioned correct standards for sexual expression. The discourse of the 1950s, as analysed through the officially endorsed pronouncements of Zhongguo Qingnian, served to provide the ideological foundation for the peer-policing and regulation of young peoples sexuality in the Cultural Revolution. The first of its main principles was that romantic love between young men and women should have as its basis the shared experience of revolutionary struggle and the shared desire for the bright future of socialist construction. It should be a comradely and not passionate or fantastical exchange of emotion. Any sexual dimension to romantic love was symptomatic of a bourgeois trend in the individuals thinking. The personal accounts of some youths growing up in the Cultural Revolution confirm that this ideological principle did in fact influence their thinking and behaviour in visible ways. Some experienced aversion and even panic upon receiving confessions of love from peers of the opposite sex, and often invoked the language of socialist morality to criticise these confessions. Other young people found themselves the subject of politically-tinged criticism and ostracism when their romantic associations drew the attention of peers and authority figures. The standards of correct love for many also precluded the possibility of romantic association with persons considered class enemies, for fear of the potential political consequences.

The second main principle of Maoist sexual ideology was that sexual activity was only acceptable within the context of monogamous marriage and for the purpose of procreation. This was often coupled with medical pronouncements by persons considered experts in the field, as part of a scientific discourse on sexuality. Warnings to youths about the dangers of pre-marital sex or excessive indulgence in sex or masturbation were often accompanied by lengthy lists of physiological and psychological symptoms that could result. During the Cultural Revolution, some youths were shown to have taken this discourse to heart, and others took it a step further, declaring themselves opposed to sexual expression in general. Still many others, unrestrained by the supervision of parents and other authority figures, engaged in pre-marital sexual experimentation regardless of the ideology that proscribed it. Notable among these youths were many Red Guards who engaged in sexual intercourse during the period of linkups, as well as zhiqing who lost their virginity in the countryside. In both cases, sexual experimentation between young people often led to accidental pregnancy and abortion. Finally, Maoist sexual ideology also attempted to regulate young peoples consumption of media by outlining those forms of media considered to be pornographic: namely, books and films containing explicit descriptions or oblique mentions of sexual activity, and depictions of decadent, bourgeois romance. These forms of media were tainted with capitalist moral decay, and Red Guards often denounced and called for the destruction of such works. Some youths, however, continued to consume literature labelled pornographic, in the form of romantic novels. In addition, hand-copied manuscripts containing explicit descriptions of sexual activity began to flourish in underground circulation during the Cultural Revolution, and their popularity attests to the feelings of repression experienced by some youths at this time. Based on the information gathered in the preceding chapters, it can be concluded that in the absence of formal rules, the sexual ideology of Maoist society was one which had to be inferred; and that the breadth of individual sexual experiences during the ten years of the

Cultural Revolution is indeed wider and more varied than previously imagined. Even with the existence of a set of ideological principles governing correct sexual expression in Maoist society, sexual repression was not absolute, and indeed for a number of youths, the Cultural Revolution was a time of nascent sexual awareness, and even of promiscuity. There occurred a substantial number of deviations from the ideological norms, which may be due to the implicit rather than the explicit nature of this ideology.


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