The following post is a translation of this blog post written by China’s foremost sexologist, Li Yinhe.
An important note. In the piece, Li Yinhe uses the term 性 repeatedly. I’ve translated it as “sex”, but this doesn’t necessarily mean “sexual intercourse” so much as it means the more general nature of physical sexes, the differences between men and women, it. Of course, it can also just mean sexual intercourse, but in some places here Li Yinhe is talking about more than that.
I really admire Yang Linchuan’s activities; he’s a courageous and knowledgeable artist who has truly become a model for the modern Chinese man.
From Liu Haisu‘s nude sketches at the Shanghai school of Fine Arts starting in 1914 and up through the collected nude works of Tang Jiali a few years ago, the issue of nude models in art has been rattling around China for 96 years–now it’s a new century and we still haven’t figured it out! This issue even bothered Chairman Mao enough to write memos on it twice (1965 and 1967). In 1983 a group od art students were arrested for spreading [works with nudity] around, and in 1986 a nude model who went home to the countryside to visit relatives was driven mad by the townspeople there. Even the beautiful and pure Yang Jiali, living in the twenty-first century, is often driven to tears.
What is so terrible about the human body? Is it really that ugly, dirty, and obscene? Why can’t bodies be beautiful? The old saying goes: when looking at the same thing, the benevolent see benevolence, the wise see wisdom. We ought to add a like: the perverted see perversion. Looking at an aesthetically pleasing piece of body art taken by an expert photographer, most people see beauty. But people with darkness in their hearts can’t see the beauty, all they see is obscenity. This makes them shy, which makes them suspicious, which makes them angry. This doesn’t mean the work itself is flawed, it shows that the viewer is flawed, and even that their mentality is gloomy, vulgar, distorted, and perverted.
Chinese culture over the past thousand years, and especially over the past few hundred, is truly distorted, perverted, and stupid when it comes to anything involving sex. After 1840, ancient China’s strengths began to weaken in all areas when compared to the West, and a poor, weak, and suffering country came into the light of the world stage. In what was once a country with a glorious five thousand years of history, people were suddenly suffering, poor, and upset. Life is short; living life in a country like that was painful. In such a society, the beauty of the human body and sex were luxuries. Beauty was not something people demanded, and they didn’t pay attention to whether or not they had the happiness that beauty and sex can bring.
I was once touched greatly by an event, something that happened at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. An ordinary Chinese scholar got a pass to visit the US. His trip was set to cover only the eastern US, but as it was widely known within China that Las Vegas was widely known as a city of gambling and sex shows, he took out a sum of money entirely disproportionate to his meager salary and took the long trip just to see a performance. This just shows how the beauty of the body and of sex suppressed to such a degree in China, so much so that people would think doing something as absurd as this was worth it. From this, I could feel just how pathetic and suppressed Chinese people were, going to the other side of the earth and paying huge sums of money just to satisfy the natural desires of our sensory organs. Yang Linchuan was just an accidental model who naturally fell into the position of using his body in the place of a model’s. But his showing this much respect for his artists’ work didn’t attract praise, instead it caused a great uproar. Does China actually want art or not? Does it want to enjoy sensory pleasures? Why is it that something that’s enjoy by cultured people all over the world encounter such abnormal restraint in China? Must Chinese people always live this pitifully?
Chinese people have always believed that food and drink and the desires of men and women are fundamental. Chinese people who’ve resolved the issue of food and drink and satisfied their sexual desires will be happy. Satisfying the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and other sense organs will go a step further towards spiritual happiness. Chinese people can abandon the sickness that’s plagued us the past hundred-odd years, and use health and happiness as the basis for a new emergence into the world. The Yang Linchuan incident makes me feel pessimistic about this, but I still have a basically optimistic view about the Chinese people’s chances to be happy in the future. I think that most people in China see this stuff the same way that I do, but that’s just my optimistic outlook.
One wonders what Li Yinhe thinks of the fact that some pornographic websites are now unblocked in China. Given that Yang Linchuan posed nude only last week, perhaps this is another case of one step forward, one step back when it comes to opening up Chinese culture. My own views on pornography are public, of course, but even if you don’t agree, China’s odd occasional aversion to nude models in art is a bit more difficult to explain.
At least, most of the time. Sometimes, it’s pretty understandable.