Episode 1: Goggles

Each episode is accompanied by a blog post which examines various elements mentioned in the video at a deeper level and draws connections to the world we live in today. The following blog post is by Kiril Bolotnikov, student at New York University Shanghai.

Approaches to dating culture and romance have changed drastically since the reform and opening-up of China in 1978, due in part to the influence of Western culture. In this episode, Jesse touched on dating and romance specifically as it applies to inter-cultural dating.
Understanding modern China, however, necessitates a deeper understanding of romance within the culture as well as of intercultural romance.

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What is clubbing like in China?

“I like to think of Propaganda as the drunk UN. It’s like you have students from 180 different nations that meet there to make bad decisions.”

Though a minimum drinking age of 18 was introduced in China effective from the outset of 2006, it continues to be regulated loosely, if at all. Clubbing regulations are similarly loose. In the part of the United States where I grew up, the norm is for IDs to be checked if you look like you’re under 30 years old, whether buying alcohol or going clubbing. Not so in China; a classmate who was 16 our freshman year of college could walk into a bar as easily as I could.

A Chinese DJ based in Shanghai once said, “There is no club culture in China. There is nothing like this in our history.” However, it is not strictly true to say that there is “no club culture” in China; Shanghai in particular has a wide and varied range of clubs and bars of all varieties: some with pirate or puzzle themes, some that act more like big house parties, some incredibly expensive and classy ones, some that find you crawling out of a cab and into your bed at five in the morning with a smell of smoke that won’t dissipate until a long, soapy shower. However, it is fair to say that though alcohol is nothing new to China, a club scene certainly is.

Much of China has been fairly welcoming of western pop culture, but electronic music and clubbing are still imports. That is, Western-influenced Chinese youth may listen to electronic music or go clubbing, but it is still not native to the culture, and little of it is being homegrown. Certainly there is some; China has a diverse makeup of people with a proportionally diverse set of interests, and the underground music scene is pretty interesting, but homegrown electronic music has yet to make its way into the mainstream.

What is Chinese dating culture like?

You may have heard reports of Chinese students being forbidden from romance all the way through high school; From personal conversations I have had with friends, I can say this is not an exaggeration, though like rebellious young students all over the world, many find their ways around the restrictions of parents and school.

To get a better sense of the dating culture in China, I did a very informal survey of some Chinese acquaintances and found a very interesting mixture of opinions.

I asked:

Do you think marriage is or is not important? Do you think that, generally speaking, Chinese youth are willing to have a “friend with benefits” (炮友, pàoyǒu) or are they looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend? What do you think are the differences between Americans and Chinese in regard to the attitudes they hold about romantic marriages? Do you think the Chinese perspective towards sex will continue to open up? Some say China experienced a sexual revolution in the 1990s; do you think it is still happening or that it is already finished?

Here are some responses I received: (some in English, some in Chinese, some in both, but I have translated everything into English):

“Marriage is important….Chinese and Americans both yearn for romance and marriage, but nowadays people are relatively practical. Because some Chinese people’s marriages combine with their economic reality, there will arise some not very romantic marriages. Attitudes towards sex will continue to open up, and…sex education is step by step spreading amongst the people, but it is probable that in approaching education about acknowledging homosexuality’s distinction there are some deficiencies.” – F, 18

“Marriage is important and we prefer to develop a relationship. Some of us would like to have a 炮友. But we definitely don’t want other people to know, except really good friends….According to our traditional culture, even if people accept [an open attitude about] sex, they don’t act like they do; but their attitude[s are] definitely changing. So, marriage is still important because we have…pressure from our parents and the society. But some of us, who are accepting [a more] international [mindset], are looking for fun.”– M, 20

“I think marriage is very important. I would prefer a boyfriend to a friend with benefits, although this would be different for each individual….I think sex education is done very poorly in China. It is not systematically or comprehensively explained. The subject was raised in science class, but…[i]t was very quickly and very ambiguously passed over. [How do most Chinese youth learn about sex?] The Internet. We can search and that’s great, however the quality of information online is quite uneven. I would prefer we take it seriously in science and psychology class [so] that we could learn better about ourselves. I would say it’s nothing shameful but our teacher[s] and parents taught us in a very odd way.” – F, 20

“…[M]arriage is very important, so you can’t let your age be the reason that you look for one. Generally speaking, Chinese boys and girls desire for romantic marriage is not that big, especially with age….[What do you think of Chinese sex education?] Actually it seems like China doesn’t have sex education, at least not in textbooks. If parents don’t tell children, they basically rely on Internet resources or discussions with classmates to understand….resulting in many current university students having immature concepts of sex….(Is relying on the Internet enough?) It is not, much of the information on the Internet is full of errors, the most ideal situation is parents telling their children.” – F, 19

“Marriage is very important….A friend with benefits is for a physiological need, a boyfriend/girlfriend, outside of physiological need, is more important for a spiritual need. Generally speaking, Chinese youth are more willing to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. As for romantic marriages, I feel that America perhaps pays more attention to surprise and creativity. Chinese people’s attitudes towards sex will continue to open up, the sexual revolution is still in progress, for example the protection of the rights and interests of the “sexuality minority population” (LGBTQ population), or for example the problem of adolescents’ sex education.” – M, 18

As you can kind of see from this very small sample of people, there are very mixed feelings about the idea of casual romantic or sexual relationships. Going into my freshman year, I would often find out that a Chinese classmate had a long-distance boyfriend or girlfriend, and when I asked how long they had been together, would hear two years, three years, once even five years.

There are definite trends to be seen here, though. Obviously, all five indicated that marriage was important to them (though divorce rates in China are much higher than they were twenty or even ten years ago). However, none of them expressed any particular dislike for the idea of more open sexual attitudes, and there seems to be a consensus that they speak not for all Chinese youth but for themselves. My “data” should not be taken too seriously, since for the most part those interviewed were socioeconomically well-off students at an American institution, but it does portray an interesting side of current attitudes. If nothing else, I think these quotations show a clear trend of change, in some direction or another, or of China’s youth attempting to keep an open mind while also retaining a sense of propriety in regards to culture and family.

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I hope that you have found this post valuable and informative, and that you now have a deeper understanding of clubbing and dating culture within China. Like everything else in China, attitudes towards romance and sex are changing at lightning speed, which means that there is an incredible diversity of thought and opinion on the topic, which this article barely dips into. If you want to find out more, you can do research online, or you can do what so many others do and hop on a plane to China for a semester- or year-long Chinese language learning program anywhere in the country!

Please share this article with anyone who you think would find it interesting: friends, family, teachers, students! More posts are forthcoming as we dive deeper into the immensity and many complexities of China.

Asia Society and the China Learning Initiatives appreciate your interest in learning more about China. If there are any topics you want to learn more about, feel free to email us at Chinese@asiasociety.org.

 

  • The Great LOL of China video series with Jesse Appell explores modern Chinese people and society from a foreigner’s perspective and an emphasis on the humor in cross-cultural misadventures.
  • A project that aims at making the learning about China more fun and engaging.