Sexologist Liu Dalin 12-20-2004 18:28

After retiring from his position as professor of sociology at Shanghai museum several years ago, Liu Dalin spent most of his time in his museum office writing. But since its establishment in 1994, the Sexual Culture Museum in Shanghai has had to move its location three times due to social pressures and the museum business is so slow that he has to maintain it himself with the money he earns from freelance writing for periodicals.

China鈥檚 sexual culture developed in a special way in its 5000 years of history. During the Han and Tang dynasties, the general attitude towards sex was quite open and this was obviously due to social prosperity. Then starting in the Song Dynasty, China鈥檚 feudal society began to decline and the rulers intensified their control of the people. People鈥檚 freedoms, including their sexual freedom, were restricted. This sexual restraint gradually developed to a terrifying degree.

Liu Dalin was born into a scholarly family in 1932. His grandfather had been trained in Japan and his father was a graduate of mechanical engineering from Harvard University. Having great expectations on his son, the father had set aside ten thousand US dollars for his son to study in the United States but the plan fell through due to the drastically changing political situation in 1949. 17-year-old Liu Dalin enrolled at Yanjing University instead and, one year later, with the outbreak of the Korean War, he didn鈥檛 hesitate to join the army.

In war time, marriage and love affairs for rank and file soldiers were absolutely forbidden. During the early 1950s, only regimental commanders and commanders in even higher positions were allowed to consider marriage.

Five years later, however, restrictions were loosened but, even so, neither a love affair nor marriage were allowed unless approval had been granted beforehand by army authorities.

Liu Dalin served in the army for 20 years. During those years, he joined the Party, got married and became the father of two daughters. During this period he lived separately from his wife, only meeting once a year during a ten-year period.

Liu Dalin was discharged from the army in 1969 and became a worker in an instrument factory in Shanghai.

Love affairs would definitely be a concern to the authorities. It was even a sin for two lovers to break up and seek new ones. If you were found to be involved in an adulterous relationship, that would be an extreme shame.

Liu Dalin was 50 when he took up the post of editor for Shanghai University鈥檚 magazine 鈥淪ociety鈥 but decided to take the job only after careful consideration. After the reform and opening up was initiated in the late 1970s, sex and marriage became a new area in China鈥檚 sociological studies.

Liu Dalin hadn鈥檛 expected to take up this formerly taboo subject at the age of 50 and was totally unaware what it would bring him in the latter half of his life.

In the mid 1980s, Liu Dalin gave a number of lectures on marriage and sex-related subjects and these lectures caused strong responses from society. Each lecture attracted a packed audience and, all of a sudden, Liu Dalin found himself a renowned sexologist. An increasing number of people began to seek his advice regarding misgivings and problems in their sex life. Soon, Liu Dalin realized a large-scale sex survey was needed so he could further his studies.

Sponsored by Liu Dalin, a nation-wide survey of sexual behavior in China was launched on May 12, 1989. Shanghai, as one of the country鈥檚 most open cities, was chosen as the starting point. But to Liu Dalin鈥檚 great surprise, the questionnaires were boycotted by ten universities in the city.

ZHOU MINGXIAO (Associate Professor, Tongji University):

I gave the questionnaires to various universities. As I was in charge of the city鈥檚 Women鈥檚 Federation, I asked my colleagues to distribute them among university teachers. But the minute they had the questionnaire in hand, some thought the questions were too risqu茅 to ask.


They wanted to know why such questions should be asked. The questions were very specific, such as the extent of satisfaction of the sex life between spouses, the frequency of sexual intercourse and any experiences of climax. Questions also included extra-marital sex. Seeing these questions, they all felt unsure and thus declined our request.

In 1926, Professor Zhang Jingsheng of Peking University published a notice in the newspapers to solicit personal sexual histories. Based on the responses, he wrote a book entitled 鈥淪ex Histories鈥, and this became China鈥檚 first-ever survey of sexual behavior. But the ultra-controversial book brought condemnation rather than honor to Zhang Jingsheng.

Despite various difficulties, Liu Dalin completed his nation-wide sex survey and published his book 鈥淭he Sexual Culture of Contemporary China鈥, written on the basis of his findings. The book won acclaim both at home and abroad.

An editorial in the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper said, 鈥渦nlike most mainland scholars, who conduct their research mostly from theory to theory, Liu Dalin obtained his information firsthand through statistical surveys. His book has obviously filled a blank space in Chinese sexology.鈥

At first, Liu Dalin didn鈥檛 think of setting up a large-scale sex museum. Initially he in his home in suburban Shanghai. Visitors were mostly friends and researchers in sexology.


Worship was the beginning of human sexual culture. There were three kinds of sexual worship, the worship of sexual intercourse, the worship of genitals and the worship of reproduction. This is called the Jade Ancestor, an object made of jade. We all come from from this ancestor. It was not an accessory for sex. It was something to be worshiped. People should kowtow to it. It was finely made. These are the two testicles. And here there is a human face. It鈥檚 a human, the ancestor of humans.


The more forbidden something is, the more mysterious it becomes and the more likely that it will become problematic. Sex involves an accumulation of energy. It needs an opening for release, a channel for release.


For thousands of years, Chinese sexual culture was characterized with indulgence on the one hand and inhibition on the other. There needs to be a point of balance between the two.


Take the Dream of Red Chambers, for instance. Does this have pornographic content? Yes it does such as Jia Baoyu鈥檚 initial sexual experiences and other erotic descriptions. But it is still a work of highly artistic value. But if sex is kept in a closed state, it will lead to a distorted mental state.


This is also about sex worship, an erotic picture. It is better preserved, but many others are damaged. It is a wood block print so this tells us that such pictures were in great demand. It鈥檚 not hand-painted. It was printed because of great demand. People would roll it up and hang it on the beam to fend off evil spirits.


It鈥檚 a male and a female covered in clothes. But if you take off their clothes, you鈥檒l find them naked and joined. These porcelain figurines were a token of sexual delight in ancient times.

Seeing commercial potential in a sex museum, the renowned New World Department Store on Nanjing Road struck a deal with Liu Dalin to set up the Sexual Culture Museum in 1999 on this street that has the greatest foot traffic in Shanghai.


I went there and had a look. I felt it was quite educational. After seeing the sexual culture exhibition, I realized there was a lot I didn鈥檛 know before. In a word, it was enlightening, helping people to understand more about sex.


A 61-year-old single woman said she had remained unmarried because she thought sex was filthy and dirty. She had had three boyfriends, but her friendship with them never went further and she remained unmarried. After visiting my exhibition, she found it quite helpful. She said our ancestors adopted an open and healthy attitude towards sex, but she had an erroneous concept of it. After seeing the exhibition, she said she would consider marriage. She had a physical checkup at the hospital to see if she was still fit to marry. So the exhibition was quite helpful.

Shanghai鈥檚 Pedestrian Nanjing Road is a well-known commercial street with almost a million people shopping or strolling along it every day. Despite this ideal location, the Sexual Culture Museum failed to live up to Liu Dalin鈥檚 expectations.

Because of this, Liu Dalin decided to beef up his publicity effort. He put up a signboard at the entrance to the building but he was soon ordered by city authorities to take it down. Apparently this was all due to use of the word 鈥渟ex鈥. At the suggestion of the authorities, Liu Dalin put up a new signboard which read 鈥淎ncient Chinese Culture Exhibition鈥. But a vaguely-defined cultural exhibition could hardly attract the attention of visitors. In June of this year he erected a billboard which read 鈥淓xhibition of Ancient Chinese Culture of Reproduction鈥. Three days later he was told by the street administration authorities that he should do something to make the sign less noticeable. In the end, he had to hang the billboard upside down.


Because there wasn鈥檛 a proper signboard and because it was located on the 8th floor, there were few visitors. There were only a few more than 20 at most. But sometimes, there were none. Sometimes, there was only one visitor.

After two years of such unsuccessful patronage of the museum, the New World Department Store recinded its contract with Liu Dalin and, as a result, Liu had to move his museum out of Nanjing Road.

The Sexual Culture Museum was moved to Wuding Road in 2001. Despite a proper signboard, there have been even fewer visitors.

Sex is an instinct of all animals. As socialized animals, humans undoubtedly also have this need. While causing humans to procreate and develop incessantly, sex also brings pleasure to most of them. However, in the hearts of many people, sex is something that can鈥檛 be talked about and can鈥檛 be seen and heard even though it can be practiced. This shows how paradoxically many of us understand sex.

Editor:Xiang Jing

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