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A Modest Proposal for China
It has long been recognized that China has one of the greatest gender disparities of any country on the globe. It is expected that the sex ratio has peaked out at 119 boys to 100 girls and will probably stay that way into the 2030s, according to the website Family Planning in China. In some rural areas, according to the site, there are only 67 girls per 100 boys.
"Kindergarten classes in places where the problem is particularly bad have twenty-some boys and maybe three or four girls. Some primary schools have enough boys to fill five classes but only enough girls for two," according to the website.
Amniocentesis and ultrasound have wrought a revolution in a country where the Confucian imperative to pass on a male heir has run into the one-child policy. Some 97 percent of the babies aborted are females. According a UNICEF study, 29 million females are "missing" in China. Reportedly, so many baby girls were missing that Chinese authorities delayed the release of 2005 census data because it showed the situation getting worse rather than better.
That has led to what has been called a "bachelor bomb" in which the shortage of women has led to forced marriages, bigamy, prostitution, rape, adultery and other problems. Between 2001 and 2003, China's police, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, freed more than 42,000 women and children as desperate bachelors, called "bare branches" because they have no way to procreate, have sought forcibly to steal their mates. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, about 250,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in China last year.
Might the answer lie in same-sex marriage for Chinese men? It appears to have done in the past.
According to a foreword written by Derek Sandhaus to The Empress Dowager and I," a scandalous autobiography of Sir Edmund Backhouse, who appears to have had numerous sexual relationships in the waning days of the Qing dynasty in then Peking both males and supposedly with the Empress Dowager herself. The autobiography is being published this week in Hong Kong. Here is Sandhaus's analysis:
"Homosexuality, specifically male homosexuality, has an intimate relationship with Chinese classical culture. References to homosexual love date back to ancient times and are featured prominently in several popular works of classic literature including Ch'in Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) and Hung Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber), arguably the most influential Chinese novel ever written.
"One reason that male same-sex relationships were allowed to flourish in Chinese society was that, unlike in the West, there existed no religious stigma against homosexuality. So long as homosexuality was expressed within the prescribed Confucian cultural limits, there was little cause for moral indignation. Moreover, for much of the Ch'ing Dynasty it seems unlikely that social delineations were made between same-sex and heterosexual love, or that their practitioners viewed themselves as representative of distinct categories. Early sexologist and gay rights advocate Magnus Hirschfeld picked up on this while visiting China in the early twentieth century, noting:
"Homosexual men are almost all of them married. But they never take concubines and later on frequently separate from the women assigned to them by their parents. Among them there were relatively few of a pronounced feminine type—most of them showed only slight feminine characteristics or seemed to be entirely virile.
Indeed, Backhouse's Cassia Flower explains that he, too, would like to have a family one day despite having no sexual interest in women. In a later passage of Décadence Mandchoue, (the original title of Backhouse's autobiography) the Empress Dowager gives her sanction to homosexual relations, but reminds her subjects, 'don't forget your conjugal duties.'
"Laws were occasionally passed that placed restrictions on homosexual expressions of affection, but these laws were generally aimed at curbing homosexual rape and limiting the excesses of imperial officials inclined to spend too much time in pleasure houses. They almost never cast the practice of homosexuality as immoral, or even abnormal, behavior. The increase in the number of decrees against officials cavorting with male prostitutes and song-boys in the final centuries of imperial rule indicated not an increase in homophobia, but the elevated importance of homosexuality in Peking's nightlife. In any case, laws targeting homosexual acts were rarely enforced.
"The preference for gay relationships and the celebration of male beauty reached its apex in the late Ming and Ch'ing dynasties, and specifically within the city of Peking. Part of the reason for this was logistical, for Peking in the days of emperors was a city dominated by men. Scholars, all of them male, who passed the national imperial exams flocked to the city from around the country, hoping for work and advancement, but often languished unemployed. If they received a government appointment, they would send for their wives, but this could sometimes be many years in the making, if ever. So large groups of young, literate men gathered and waited in Peking, bored and sexually frustrated. As a missionary study from 1921 notes:
"The population of Peking is 811,556. Of these, 515,535 (63.5 percent) are males and 296,021 (36.5 percent) are females. In some police districts, 77 percent of the population are males. These figures are almost enough to tell the story of the social life and problems of Peking, especially since a very large proportion (61.7 percent) of the men are less than 35 years old.
On the subject of homosexuality, it adds:
"Legalized houses of sodomy used principally by the decadent Manchu nobility were conducted in Peking prior to the Revolution in 1911, but since then have been abolished.
The more significant factor in this sexual awakening, however, was cultural. Attitudes towards sexuality, influenced by the neo-Confucian philosophies of Wang Yang-ming and his followers, began liberalizing among the scholarly class in the late Ming Dynasty. The heralding of same-sex relationships in literature continued to gain prevalence in the Ch'ing Dynasty. By the 1670s, writer Mei Keng was declaring openly of the famous song-boy Purple Clouds:
'The leading beauty in the land, no question,
A woman is no longer number one.'"