Browsing ChinaHush today, I came across this post about Beijing’s new sex ed textbooks for students from primary school through high school called “The Steps of Growing Up”. Apparently, it’s being condemned as pornography. This article (Chinese) quotes several parents complaining about the book, two pages of which are pictured at right.
The article also contains some concerning statistics that aren’t in ChinaHush’s post. For example:
“The [Beijing Youth Sex Education International] Forum published a report that revealed many [Chinese] elementary school students don’t know how to properly protect themselves [against potential sexual abuse], and could not correctly answer which parts of the body should be private. Of the 435 fourth and fifth grade students surveyed, only 24 of them (5.39%) correctly identified all the private body parts (breasts, sex organs, buttocks). Among those surveyed, 73 (16.37%) were unable to identify any of the private areas.
The researchers believe that since 4th and 5th graders are around the age of ten and about to enter puberty but still can’t even correctly identify the private parts of their body, if they encounter sexual abuse they may not be able to correctly recognize it as abuse and protect themselves.
The survey showed ((The methodology for this is not immediately clear in the news article I’m translating, but I thought it was worth including anyway)) that if they encountered sexual abuse, 81.23% of students had a measurable ability to protect themselves; they could resist or stop the abuser and their knowledge of how to protect themselves was strong. 14.13% of students didn’t know what to do, and treated the sexual abuse as a secret, and when they met with their abuser they would obey out of fear or because they didn’t understand the danger. Additionally 3.89% of students said they felt sexual abuse was “whatever” [无所谓].
Clearly, there’s a need for better sex education. Or so you’d think. But Peking University professor Kong Qingdong doesn’t think so, and he’s on TV talking about it. ChinaHush translated part of his interview, but here’s the whole thing:
Host: So we can see from this that [some] parents have a concern about the textbooks.
Kong Qingdong: We haven’t seen the pictures or the textbooks ourselves, but I believe this father is being responsible, because when something affects their own children, people don’t just talk nonsense. In our educational circles, in the departments where we create teaching materials, there is a slowly spreading wave of foreigner-worship, thinking that whatever foreign countries do, China must also immediately do. They don’t consider [the difference between] China and foreign national situations [国情], nor do they consider whether foreign countries doing that is good or bad, whether it’s effective or not. For example, many experts say that with sex ed, the earlier the better, and that we should not conceal the truth from children, this is what our democracy must do, instill them with this knowledge early on. But they haven’t thought that now our sex ed starts way earlier than before; if everyone really understands sex well, does that reduce sex crimes? I think it doesn’t.
In ancient times, as we understand it now, they didn’t have any sex ed, and adults did not talk about sex with their kids. But this didn’t delay anything, when people grew up they learned about sex by themselves. Look, who gets married but doesn’t know how to have kids? Who gets married but doesn’t have a sex life, I’ve never heard of that happening [Guess he never read this story! -Ed.]. We don’t need education, some things you can learn on your own. For example, eating or going to the bathroom; these aren’t things that anyone taught us to do. They’re a basic life skill. And there are lots of channels of informal education […] Nowadays, we need to target all of our education, and put into practice proper sex education, I can agree with that. But sex education can’t be so avant-garde, we need to think about [what people can do] at different ages. As far as sex goes, it’s better to keep it mysterious. If we take all the mystery out of everything, life becomes boring. As I understand it, the most open sex ed in the world is in Japan, Japanese kids begin to grasp the particulars of sex at a very young age, and what’s the result?
Host: One of their “industries” is very developed.
Kong Qingdong: I’ll tell you, it’s not that their [porn] industry is very developed, the result is that 10-20% of Japanese youths are impotent, without any sexual desires, they’re not even curious about this thing [sex]. Most Japanese men, when they see a woman, they don’t have a sexual feeling, so they have to do something perverted [to get that feeling]. We often call Japan perverted, but Japan isn’t naturally perverted, everyone is the same. How could they be naturally perverted, that’s not what it is, [the problem] is that their sex ed starts too early. So when they see regular sexual activity they’re just not interested, it’s like looking at carrots or cabbage for them. So instead they have to find a handicapped old woman and have sex with her, and only then is it exciting. This disgraces the Japanese people, is it not related to Japan? So I think this father’s concerns are logical, and we don’t need to be so foreigner-worshipping.
Now, leaving aside for a moment the pile of completely unsupported assertions Kong makes here, which start out fairly illogical and end up straight-up racist, lets take a look at this ‘revolutionary’ textbook he’s suggesting is going to turn the Chinese people into a bunch of perverts.
According to this article, the text is split into three levels, one for each level of schooling (i.e., one for elementary school students, one for middle school students, and one for high school students). Here’s a breakdown of the contents by level via chapter titles quoted in the article.
Level 1 – Elementary School
- “My Body”
- “Where Did I Come From?” (Link goes to a photo of the pages in this chapter)
- “Cute Boys and Girls”
- “Can You Protect Yourself?”
Level 2 – Middle School
- “Body Changes During Puberty”
- “Beautiful Young Women”
- “Strong Young Men”
- “Learning Skills for Communicating with Dad and Mom”
Level 3 – High School
- “Accepting Myself”
- “Interacting With Classmates”
- “Preventing AIDS”
- “Being a Healthy Internet User”
Of course, those are just the chapter titles, but from the pages that have leaked online, this textbook looks about as harmless as you would expect. It’s pretty typical; there are illustrations of various body parts, short explanations of how conception works, etc. Not really anything exciting to write home about it. And from the study I translated earlier in the post, it’s clear that Chinese kids desperately need at least a little sex education to ensure that they’re capable of protecting themselves. If you ask kids about sexual abuse and any of them respond “whatever,” you know you have a serious problem.
And yet people like Kong are allowed, nay, invited on television to condemn sex education (and of course, blame foreigners, especially Japanese people, for all manner of “perversions” ((Because everyone knows that old and/or handicapped people who have sex are gross….)) ). It’s truly stupefying. And yet Kong isn’t alone; clearly there are many parents who agree with Kong, more or less.
I don’t have the energy (or, I think, the need) to point out every way in which Kong’s argument is misinformed, flawed, misleading, and racist. Twenty percent of Japanese teens are impotent? Is there even a shred of evidence that’s true? But I do want to address one point here because, in a sort of indirect way, it ties into the rumors we’ve seen flying on Weibo recently.
Increasingly, I feel that people’s behavior with regards to information can be understood at a basic level in the simplest economic terms ((Note that I am not an economist, and economists probably wouldn’t endorse this metaphor.)): supply and demand. Specifically, when there is demand for information, people will always find someone willing to supply it. In the case of the 7.23 train crash, for example, there was a huge demand for information but the government and the media initially supplied precious little. This left a sort of vacuum which was ultimately filled by rumors and hearsay; in the absence of official information many people chose to satisfy their demand with the only information that was being supplied to the public at the time: rumors.
Similarly, children are naturally curious about sex. Yes, even in Japan, I’m quite sure. And without access to any official supply of information, well, they’re going to turn to “unofficial suppliers.” As Kong points out, it is quite rare that people don’t figure out sex on their own sooner or later. The problem is that if you leave children to work it out for themselves, aside from the basic safety and health issues that raises, you can’t be sure what information they’re using and whether or not the perception of sex they ultimately form is healthy.
Note that when I say “healthy” I don’t necessarily mean heterosexual, monogamous, or kink-free. As far as I’m concerned, as long as everyone involved is an informed, consenting adult, there is no such thing as “perverted” (as opposed to regular) sex.
Now, in the absence of sex ed, most children will probably do fine. You have only to look at China today to see that. Sure, they may have had some embarrassing moments of ignorance along the way, but they may make it to the “finish line” with no damage done, as people have indeed done for thousands of years before the advent of laminated pamphlets and the banana-condom demonstration.
So why bother with sex ed at all? Becuase it allows a society some degree of control over where and how children get their information about sex, and whether or not that information is accurate. Left to their own devices, many teens turn to pornography to learn about sex. There’s nothing wrong with pornography as a concept when it’s being viewed by properly-informed adults, but I think most people would agree that plenty of porn provides a rather unrealistic depiction of sex, and that watching porn is not a good way for children to learn about sex.
Similarly, not being open about sex and safety can have devastating consequences in some cases, even if the majority of children can “learn on their own” and emerge unscathed. As evidenced in the study cited above, if children aren’t properly taught about sex, they may not be able to recognize forms of sexual abuse. In fact, in the absence of other, accurate information about sex, they may learn from their own experience that “abuse is normal,” which prevents them from getting the help they need and may lead to even graver problems down the line.
“Learning from experience” is great. But no one wants to learn about STDs from experience. No one wants to learn about the efficacy of condoms in preventing unplanned pregnancy from experience. And certainly, no one wants to learn about how not to prevent sexual abuse from experience.
So please, let’s all calm down a bit. Give kids the information they need to be safe. And while we’re making changes, let’s also try not to let crazy people like Kong Qingdong spout a bunch of racist nonsense on the TV, K?