right Love, romance, and dating are usually discouraged when people are young. The prevailing view is that young people should be studying not dating. Sometimes these beliefs have tragic consequences. In the early 2000s there was a case involving a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide by drinking rat poison because her grandmother tried to prevent her from falling in love.

In the Mao era about the closest thing there was to a love story was tale called "Revolutionary Love" about two Communist cadres who fall in love during the struggle before the 1949 and are arrested and arrange to be secretly married on the day they are executed. As times goes on and Chinese are exposed more to Western-style ideas about love and romance, in advertising and movies, young people are dating more and engaging in more public displays of affection such as walking in shopping areas holding hands.

Bachelors are known as bare branches because a shortage of wives could mean death to their family trees. There are around 35 million more males than females in China and there are around 20 million to 30 million more bachelors than single women. In mid 2000s, 46 percent of those 35 and younger were unmarried, and the percentage has increased since then. Single day is a day that is recognized by some people and has become more recognized as the number of singles increases. It originated on Chinese university campus in the 1990s and falls on November 11, which is comprised of four “1s” (11-11). Housing reform has made it easier for couples to live together without getting married by creating a rental market which provides cheap, accessible housing.

A study of 168 cultures by William Jankowiak and Edward Fischer found romantic love in 87 percent of them. In Chinese there no word for “romance.” A popular Internet song in China in 2007 went:
“Love is like a pile of dung, flush it down and it never comes back.
Love is like a pile of dung, once it’s out it can’t be blocked even if you try.
Love is like a pile of dung, sometimes it’s the same sometimes it’s not.
Love is like a pile of dung, hold it in long enough, and it comes out just a fart.”

Websites and Sources: Marriage: “China Love” a documentary by Olivia Martin-McGuire; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinatown ConnectionChinatown Connection ; Travel China Guide ; Agate Travel : Dating Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection

It’s Hard to Say ‘I Love You’ in Chinese

Roseann Lake wrote in China File: ““We didn’t say ‘I love you,’” said Dr. Kaiping Peng, Associate Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. I’d ventured over to his China office on the campus of Beijing’s mighty Tsinghua University to talk to him about the romantic prospects of China’s rising fleets of well-educated, unmarried Chinese known as shengnü, or “leftover women,” but our conversation quickly took a historical detour. Though these days Peng wears Diesel jeans and spends his time jetting between Berkeley and Beijing, when he was a young, love-struck student during the Cultural Revolution things were different. “We said, ‘wo xihuan ni,’ (‘I like you’),” to express our deepest romantic feelings. Only in the more educated classes, where partners spoke English, were “I love you’s,” ever exchanged—and never in Chinese. “‘Wo ai ni,’ or the Chinese equivalent of ‘I love you,’ is a thing of the last thirty years,” he told me. “Before then, you just showed love through holding hands, kissing, or maybe writing or doing something nice—but you never said it.” [Source: Roseann Lake, China File, February 14, 2014 ==]

“This was hard for me to get my head around. “I love you,” is probably about the third phrase Chinese students learn in English class after “hello” and “nice to meet you.” In China, I’ve seen it on everything from notebooks to bed sheets, from wall stickers to breakfast treats. My dentist once gave me a promotional keychain that said “I love you” on it after I had a cleaning. Yet, never having been privy to a Chinese world of close romantic attachment (things never did work out with my dentist), I had naively assumed that “wo ai ni” was used much like its English equivalent. ==

““No,” Guang Lu, a thirty-one-year-old investment banker with a strong affinity for Shakespeare, tells me. “The newness of those words still makes them very difficult for us to say...For us, ‘I love you,’ is beautiful in its brevity, universality, and vagueness in another language,” he tells me, “but ‘wo ai ni,’ is still very unchartered territory.”“ ==

History of Love in China

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Roseann Lake wrote in China File: “Well before a Communist regime required that an entire nation privilege revolution over romance, China had a long and tumultuous history with romantic love. While love-based marriages have existed in most of the developed world since the late eighteenth century—the time when, according to marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, choosing one’s own partner began to replace arranged marriage as a social ideal—the convention came more slowly to China. Arranged marriage was legal and widely practiced in China well into the late twentieth century and is not unheard of even today.” [Source: Roseann Lake, China File, February 14, 2014 ==]

““Ancient Chinese literature is laden with tales of electrifying love at first sight and erotic bliss,” explains Stanford scholar of Chinese classics Haiyan Lee. But most Chinese love stories carry a similar moral: if one abides by the codes and prescriptions of the marriage process and doesn’t deviate from the structures of the familial network, the system will guarantee safe passage to happiness. But push the limits of passion a bit too far, Lee says, and one is bound to find oneself married to a rapturous but cataclysmically evil fox spirit. ==

“Confucian ideals long discouraged romance between spouses by privileging relationships between men instead. As noted by the late scholar Francis Hsu in his book Under the Ancestors’ Shadow (Columbia University Press, 1948), Chinese families under Confucianism were gender hierarchies that subjugated women. The two strongest family relationships were between father and son and elder and younger brothers. The strength and order of a family was synonymous with the strength and order of the state. Any man who deviated from the system and appeared openly affectionate with his wife was seen as someone of weak character. As Coontz writes in her 2005 book, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, it also was not unheard of for a Chinese father to rape his son’s wife—free from fear of any legal retribution—in an attempt to disengage his son’s emotional attachment to her. ==

“The late anthropologist Elisabeth Croll explained that Chinese relationship conventions changed overnight upon the Communist Party’s rise to power in 1949. Arranged marriages were outlawed (nominally, anyway), and young Chinese were encouraged, through several government campaigns, to find mates of their own. The campaigns often came with advice on how to find a spouse based on comradeship and shared revolutionary fervor. A 1964 article in The People’s Daily entitled “What Attitude Should a Husband take Towards his Wife?” warned that young people who married “on the impulse of the moment and on the basis of good looks and love at first sight, disregarding compatibility based on identical political ideas and mutual understanding” were doomed to “quarrel with each other constantly and suffer greatly.” By contrast, those who were not physically attractive but shared “revolutionary feelings” would experience a love “forever green.” ==

Chinese Sayings and Proverbs About Love

1) “One look fall-in-love” — Love at first sight. 2) “In the eyes of a lover, Xi Shi appears.” — Love is blind or Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Xi Shi was one of the Four Beauties of China. 4) “Having love, drinking water will fill you up, without love, eating food will leave you hungry.” 5) “Love the house with its crows (on the roof).” — When you love someone, you take the good with bad.

6) “Fate has us meet from a thousand miles away.” — A love that was meant to be. 7) “Hold your hand and grow old with you.” 8) “Wish get a person heart, white head not one-another apart” — Long for a heart, never be apart. 9) “Lifting the tray up to the eyebrows.” — respect between a husband and a wife. 10)“Living with love is happy, but living for love is foolish.”

11) “Love's deep, discipline's cutting” — "tough love". 12) “Radishes greens, each have that-which loves” — To each to his own. 13) “Love isn't having, but is appreciating” 14) “One day (seems like) three autumns.” — Absense makes the heart grow fonder 15) “People in love will get married.” — Love always find a way.

Study of the Brains of 18 Love-Struck Chinese Students

Roseann Lake wrote in China File: “Beginning in June 2010, with funding from a grant issued by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, a team of scientists began to look at Chinese brains. The team was comprised of Dr. Arthur Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University; Dr. Lucy Brown, a Clinical Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Dr. Xuchu Weng of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and Dr. Xiaomeng Xu, now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Idaho State University. By the time their study was over in August 2012, they would revolutionize the understanding of the Chinese brain and its relation to romance. Their work began in Beijing, where they recruited eighteen Chinese college students who reported being “deeply in love.” The students, who had been in relationships for an average of seven months, were put into a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine at the Beijing MRI Center for Brain Research and shown a sequence of pictures for thirty seconds at a time. These included pictures of neutral, familiar acquaintances as a control, followed by a smiling picture of their sweetheart. [Source: Roseann Lake, China File, February 14, 2014 ==]

“When viewing a headshot of their special someone, all of the participants showed vibrant activity in the dopamine-rewards system of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area, or VTA. Previous neurological studies have shown that this is a completely normal brain response; when a person falls in love, the VTA, as well as another nearby part of the brain—the caudate—is active. Stimulation of the VTA generally is associated with a cocaine high, the high a person might feel after winning a large sum of money, or with the “can’t think, can’t eat, can’t sleep” headiness of new love. ==

“To control for cross-cultural differences, the team compared the brain scans of their Chinese student subjects with brain scans of American university students (of non-Chinese ancestry) who also reported being “intensely in love.” When comparing the American brains—scanned in an earlier, separate study—and the Chinese brain scans, the results were virtually indistinguishable. The areas and levels of activity in the rewards system of the brain were very similar across cultures. Until, upon taking a closer look at the scans with fMRI technology—which breaks the brain down into 76,000 minuscule voxels, or cubes—the researchers noticed a pattern of additional activity in the brains of Chinese participants. ==

““We weren’t sure of how to make sense of it when we saw it,” said Dr. Aron, who oversaw the study in tandem with Dr. Xuchu Weng. In addition to activity in the VTA, Chinese participants’ brains showed activity in the orbitofrontal region of the brain, which is involved with learning from negative feedback. In an attempt to make sense of what this activity could mean, the scientists asked ten questions designed to gauge where the thinking of each participant lay on a scale between “traditional” and “modern.” Traditional respondents were defined as those who were sympathetic to the view that “obeying authority and respecting the elderly are values that children should learn.” Modern respondents were those who leaned towards the view that “if married life is too painful, divorce is perhaps a way to solve the problem.” When comparing the answers with the brain scans, the scientists detected a pattern. Participants who answered most traditionally showed the most activity around an area of the brain also associated with learning from negative feedback, the right nucleus accumbens. The scientists’ discovery of this never-before-documented brain activity in response to romantic stimulus raised several new questions. ==

“In interpreting the results of the scans, Dr. Aron is careful to point out that, when viewing pictures of their beloveds, the most traditional Chinese participants showed activity in the rewards area of the brain as strong as all other members of the group. “It’s not about a difference in the intensity of their love,” he stresses, “but in a complex pattern of brain activity which suggests that how they’re coping with the intensity of their love is different. There are feelings and thinking that are going on that are different.” While it is impossible for a brain scan to explain why certain Chinese participants experienced a dash of negativity with their love high, the neuroscientists suspect that this neural response may be the byproduct of the way romantic love is perceived in Chinese culture. They reason that the additional neural activity may represent a different cultural understanding of romantic love—one that appears to cause Chinese to approach romance with greater caution, more mindful of external factors than Americans.

Brains of Chinese Students with Long-Term Partners

rightRoseann Lake wrote in China File: “In August 2012, forty months after taking the brain scans, the neuroscientists called their eighteen Chinese participants again to see how “intensely in love” they still were. Six of the participants couldn’t be reached, but of the remaining dozen, half had broken up with their mate and half were still together. The neuroscientists then re-examined the original brain scans and tried to determine patterns that may have predicted the outcome of the relationships. [Source: Roseann Lake, China File, February 14, 2014 ==]

“By comparing the original scans of each participant with their later reported levels of relationship happiness, the scientists made more discoveries. The most groundbreaking involved the identification of two areas of the brain which, when viewed during the early stages of romantic love, can be indicative of relationship longevity, satisfaction, and commitment. “People who showed low activity in areas of the brain that have been associated with negative judgments of others were the ones who were still together,” says Dr. Lucy Brown. “Basically, the brain studies confirmed that suspending negative judgment of the other person is important for keeping a relationship together,” she explains. “Common sense tells us this is necessary, but the studies on Chinese participants really did show that it’s true, and suggest that it is key for all of us to keep relationships going, not just a minor aspect of successful relationships.” ==

“The findings of this second part of the study are significant, Brown says, because they suggest that a couple’s initial feelings of attraction may indicate the course their relationship will take. “Psychologists sometimes say that when you’re in the early stages of romantic love, it’s so crazy, there’s no way of predicting how things will work out,” she says. “Others insist that there are things established early on that influence the outcome of the relationship, and at least on a neural level, that appears to be the case.” ==

“Though the brains that Drs. Aron, Brown, and Xu examined in their neurological study in Beijing could very well belong to the children or grandchildren of Chinese who were of marriage age during times of “revolutionary” love, it’s worth noting that despite how far China has come since 1949—economically, socially, and in terms of personal freedom—the experience of romantic love in modern China appears still to be fraught with some cultural baggage, at least on a neural level. ==

“Though the researchers acknowledge that their work is preliminary, they say that Chinese participants may engage the parts of their brain that cause them to “weigh the relationship more carefully, and take negative aspects into account more readily than Western participants.” Chinese cupid, in other words, strikes just as deftly as any other, but his arrow carries a distinctive sting. Is this sting the brain’s conditioned response to years of governance that has downplayed the individual relative to the group, to the extent that he or she feels guilty pursuing something as self-indulgent as romantic love? The notion is certainly worth considering. ==

Love Education and Girl's Advert Attracts Mob in China

Schools in Shanghai offer love education classes. Introduced to the 9th grade in 20 middle schools in 1994, the classes use a textbook with chapters like “Love is Like a Song” and passages from Jane Eyre, a Pushkin poem and selections from Su Ting, who wrote “Raise the Red Lantern”. These are accompanied by study questions such as one that asks students to summarize what is required to love someone. The answer: respect, responsibility and sharing good times and bad. [Source: Los Angeles Times]

On the students who take the class, the editor of the textbook told the Los Angeles Times, “We want them to understand that love is beautiful. Love is not superficial. Love needs good understanding of its meaning. And love needs preparation...We warn them about the danger of rushing into it. We try to encourage them not to try it out at an early age.” When one student was asked by the Los Angeles Times why he didn’t study the book so seriously, he replied, “It’s not going to be on the [high school or university entrance] exam.”

“When Zhang Mengqian announced that she was looking for a boyfriend on a “wish wall” at her university in south-west China, she must have been hoping that she'd get a few eligible responses. All potential suitors had to do, her message said, was complete a couple of simple tasks turn up outside her dorm building on a certain date and time and shout her name. Imagine her surprise then, when she looked down from her window at the appointed hour to find a scene more akin to a football crowd than the tender balcony moment from Romeo and Juliet.” [Source: The Guardian, News Blog, March 12, 2010]

Perhaps the enormous response was entirely predictable. The University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province, has a male to female ratio of 25:1. Mengqian had announced her search for love as part of the university's “girls' day”. Each female student was given a blank card and asked to write their wish and place it on the wall. Of the thousands of young men who made the effort of turning up, however,surprisingly only a few were brave enough to complete the last part of her challenge and shout out Mengqian's name.”

Qixi (Chinese Valentine's Day) and Lover Padlocks

Qixi — Chinese Valentines Day — falls on the seventh day of the seventh Lunar month, which is usually sometime in August. The holiday is based on the myth about the 7th daughter of the Emperor of Heaven who falls in love with an orphaned shepherd boy and then is banished to the star Vega by her father and is allowed to meet shepherd boy, who has been banished to the star Altair, only once a year — on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month.

According to another variation of the Qixi Festival fairy tale the young shepherd falls in love with a beautiful weaver girl who is also the youngest daughter of the Empress of heaven. The shepherd and the weaver girl secretly marry. When the angry Empress finds out she draws a line between them that becomes the Milky Way. The only time they can get together is on held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Couples typically celebrate Qixi by dining out at fancy restaurants. These days many young singles attend match-making events specifically organised for under-25s. On Qixi in 2011 more than 4,250 couples registered their marriage. The figure was 10 times the daily average and was about 200 more than on Valentine's Day on February 14, according to the Beijing Daily, citing government statistics,

Western Valentine's Day, known as Lover’s Day, is celebrated by many young urban people in China. Young men take out their girlfriends or prospective girl friends on big, expensive dates. Flower sales are brisk. Many vendors double the price of roses and lilies during the Valentine's Day season. Many hotels ignore regulations and allow unmarried couples to stay in double rooms.

Collections of padlocks are often seen on fences, gates and chains at tourists sites. They are are placed there by couples wanting to express to tight bonding and permanence of their relationship. Yulin Zhuang wrote in an e-mail on the MCLC List: The practice is these “couple padlocks” is fairly widespread, but that's due more to rampant commercialism than tradition in most of the places that I've seen. No one I've spoken to is quite sure whether or not it's very traditional or not. I suspect not, given the Confucian tradition of arranged marriages where you do not even see your wife until after the wedding. However, the practice is not limited to just newlyweds — many couples will also do it.

In the same forum, Gay Flint wrote: “It's not mainly newly weds that do this, but all couples, young and old. The peaks of major mountains are loaded down with brass locks, usually clamped on the chains that keep tourists from plunging to their deaths.” Mark Bender wrote: “Metal pendant locks were (still are in places) often placed around infants necks as a form of protection from negative forces — the marriage lock thing of today may be in a similar vein — one of many means of trying to effect outcomes on the life path.”

Male and Female Relationships in China

Assumptions long regarded as truisms for all cultures in the field of gender studies are: 1) women tend to be monogamous while men inherently are promiscuous so they can “spread their seed” widely; 2) women seek successful, often older, men who have more material wealth and offer more security than younger men; and 3) men seek young, pretty, baby-faced women because they are presumably more fertile than older women.

There are many theories and studies that debunk these assumptions: 1) some suggest that it is advantageous for a female to seek many Prince Charmings rather than wait for one and to have sex with many males so that many males have an interest in her offspring; 2) Others say it is more advantageous for a male to be monogamous because it makes sense for him to be around since his mate is only fertile a few days a month, and he wants to be the one that impregnates her, plus he wants to protect his offspring after they are born.

Some believe that marriage was invented by males as a form of “male guarding.” Rosaling Barnett of Brandies University wrote in the New York Times: “Having regular sex with one woman was a lot easier than roaming from female to female, and possibly more effective in terms of reproductive success. As for women seeking older men, studies showed in societies where there is is a high degree of gender equality women seek out men who demonstrate qualities that would make them good fathers.

Contradicting the notion that men prefer young, pretty women are studies that show these days men increasingly want women who are educated and that marriages in which women are breadwinners are just as stable and happy as those in which the man is the breadwinner. Other research have shown that men prefer good-looking women but they don’t necessarily have to be young. One study found that men shown pictures of plain women in their 20s and attractive women in their 30s and 40s prefer the latter.

As for what couples want in a marriage, a worldwide study found that both men and women regard “kind and understanding” as the most desired trait in their partner. Another showed that people often seek a partner like themselves. Cornell biologist Stephen Emlem told the Los Angeles Times: “attractive people tend to value attractiveness, wealthy people value mates with money and ambitious types and family-oriented souls tend to gravitate to those like themselves."

Asian couples don't usually express affection towards each other in public.

Phoenix Man, Peacock Women and "Japanese Girls Want to Marry Chinese"

Some relationships are summed up as being between a “phoenix” man — a young man who grows up in the countryside and lands a good city job after graduating from university — and a “peacock woman” — a young woman raised in the city.” A Beijing matchmaker told the China Daily, “More rural lads are able to receive higher education and get a good job in the cities and become successful. Coming from the lower class, they have to work even harder that their urban peers. They are commonly recognized as being industrious and positive. These good personality traits sound quite appealing to city girls, who are mostly from the only child generation and may lack some of these qualities.”

One young urban woman who said dating rural guy was bad news told the China Daily, “One of my friends dated a phoenix man. They looked all right at first, but then she found her boyfriend was unhappy to see her with friends and wanted to control her social life. So they broke up...I don’t mean to generalize but there are just too many ideological contradictions between phoenix men and peacock women.”

The matchmaker said for such a relationship to work, “It is a good idea for the phoenix man and peacock woman to reach some agreements when they marry. For instance, how to deal with their earnings, visit by relatives, the housework, and caring for both parents, among them. A story in the People's Daily read: “Nowadays, there is a popular saying among Japanese girls that goes “What we want is Chinese food and men, not French lovers or American houses.” People I asked in Japan had never heard this expression. More than 1,500 Japanese girls married with Chinese men last year, an increase of 30 percent, which is the highest in history. According to the People’s Daily, “A representative from Japan's China information research institute told the reporter that the quick development of China's economy and Chinese people getting richer are the most important reasons for Japanese girls changing their appetites. Also because Japan has more women than men and Japanese men compared to Chinese men are generally less capable when it comes to being both a considerate family man and a breadwinner...Today's Japanese men feel much more inferior compared with men from China because they found what they are lacking is not little.” [Source: People's Daily, December 11, 2009]

Revolution of the Heart

In a review of the book “ Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 “ by Haiyan Lee, Charles Laughlin of the University of Virginia wrote: “Haiyan Lee's study of literary discourses about love in modern China is one of the most engaging and broad-reaching books written about modern Chinese culture in recent years. It crystallizes important works published over the past several decades on the issues of human relationships, cultural and personal identity, and revolution and romanticism under one coherent theme — the discourse of love.

Works that hold a high place in her analysis include: Ban Wang's The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China (Stanford, 1997), Jianmei Liu's Revolution Plus Love: Literary History, Women's Bodies, and Thematic Repetition in Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction (Hawai'i, 2003), and Jing Tsu's Failure, Nationalism, and Literature: The Making of Modern Chinese Identity, 1895-1937 (Stanford, 2005).

Revolution of the Heart won the Joseph Levenson Prize for a monograph about modern China in 2009, attesting to its quality and impact. Laughlin wrote: “Revolution of the Heart begins long before the dysfunctional marriage of culture and revolution around the late 1920s and early 1930s and is thus more focused on love than on "revolution" as a cultural phenomenon. Nevertheless, the book culminates in a discussion of the Chinese revolution and its aftermath in terms of love and emotional expression, which is the crux of its unique contribution to modern Chinese cultural studies. Lee retraces the genealogy of modern Chinese love discourse through three overlapping phases, which she calls the Confucian, enlightenment, and revolutionary "structures of feeling."

Lee takes pains to clarify that she is reconstructing and historicizing love as a moral discourse, which overlaps with but is not coextensive with discourses of desire...Lee accounts for this marginalization of desire and sexuality in terms of the focus of her argument (it is love, not desire), but the result is that where desire is conveyed less explicitly, it falls outside the purview of her analysis.

An example of this isolation of love from desire occurs in the section on the enlightenment structure of feeling is the analysis of Feng Yuanjun's "Gejue," in which Lee points out that the heroine Junhua's mother sequesters her because she assumes that Junhua had sex with Shizhen as they traveled together, whereas the crux of the generation gap is that the young man and woman's love is "noble and pure" — i.e., unsullied by sexual gratification. What they really desire — liberty and autonomy — is more threatening than immediate sexual gratification. But in a key passage Lee discusses, Junhua and Shizhen undress each other and sleep together, a scene this is meant to prove the nobility of their love. As Lee puts it, "As they huddle together in bed, sex is both the closest and furthest thing on their minds."

Book: “ Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 “ by Haiyan Lee (Stanford University Press, 2007)

Academic View on the Origin of Maoist Views on Love and Sex

In a review of the book “ Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 “ by Haiyan Lee, Charles Laughlin of the University of Virginia wrote: Lee’s discussion of the Confucian structure of feeling, and its connection through the role of the “ Ernü yingxiong zhuan “ (“Tales of heroic sons and daughters”) model in the development of the revolutionary structure of feeling, helps explain the denigration in many quarters toward "earthly love" as antithetical to a "healthy" (read "public-spirited") modern identity. The Ernü yingxiong zhuan and similar early modern works differ from other kinds of traditional and modern fiction in tending to elide sexual tension from the depiction of young men and women interacting with one another.

This begins to answer questions that have puzzled me for some time: When/where/how did the desexualization that characterizes modern Chinese culture from the 1930s through the Cultural Revolution get started? Are revolutionary narratives meant to subliminally consummate desires, or suppress their arousal? Are these considerations even relevant to revolutionary stories? Lee's contribution to this to view love and revolution as supplementary, rather than revolutionary zeal as sublimated love.

Lee introduces the "logic of supplement" as a preferable alternative to the structure of sublimation. Reading Hu Chenbing's play Ai de geming (Revolution of love), Lee writes: Although I agree that the process of sublimation is certainly at work, the term does not capture the persistently ambivalent standing of love in revolutionary literature. The supplementary logic enables us to discern the double-speak of "revolution + romance": on the one hand, love must be recognizable in the conventions of romantic love stories — to wit, the revolutionary lovers must still be erotic beings, rather than robotic sloganeers . . . On the other hand, love must be denied of its centrality or claim to transcendence. . . . In short, as the internal supplement to revolution, love is simultaneously affirmed and disavowed, it is coopted as an indispensable ally and repudiated as an intransigent rival.”

But Lee also demonstrates, on the one hand, that the Ernü yingxiong zhuan as a literary model probably contributed not a little to the monotony of revolutionary literature and, on the other hand, shows that many important cultural figures in the Republican period appeared to advocate the unfolding of sexuality and sexual discourse in modern China. In chapter 4, Lee goes in depth into the 1920s discourse on love and sexuality, including Zhang Jingsheng's "four rules of love" in response to a female college student leaving her betrothed in favor of a professor, special issues of Women's Magazine on love, and conservative, radical, and enlightenment voices appearing in books and series edited by Wang Pingling, Zhou Jianren, and including Pan Guangdan. In a suggestive but unusually confusing statement Lee says that "it is ironic but logical that May Fourth romanticism, at least in its non-Freudian moments, should denigrate 'earthly love' along with the pursuit of wealth . . ." This raises a number of questions: what are May Fourth romanticism's "Freudian moments"? Are they atypical or typical of May Fourth romanticism? Why is this denigration "ironic" if sexual desire is actually not primary?

Academic View on Love and Sex in the Maoist Era

Turning to the revolutionary and socialist periods, Lee presents the early "love plus revolution" convention as an awkward negotiation between the ideal of love emerging from the enlightenment structure of feeling and the need for social and historical engagement to reign supreme in the world of youthful passion. Criticism from the late 1920s and early 1930s on "love plus revolution" was largely negative and focused on its formulaic aspects rather than the cracks and fissures that emerged in literary practice, and Lee seems to follow the critical assessments in their assumption of the incompatibility of revolution and love. Moving into the socialist period, she rightfully points to the Ernü yingxiong zhuan/Xin ernü yingxiong zhuan model as the apparent "solution" to this problem; most socialist treatments of young people and their romantic involvements cleave to the unproblematized subsumption of the interests of love to those of revolution.

But Lee reads Xin ernü yingxiong zhuan almost satirically, focusing on a peasant couple's awkward utterances about each other as indicative of a lack of passion/desire, or of the author's lack of interest in the couple, and highlighting the "tenderness" and attention to romance and love the novel lacks . The inflection of satire in Lee's description of socialist realism's "effortless," "perfect" solution to the love vs. revolution problem strips them of any possibility of complexity or ambiguity. In this Lee joins the long list of commentators on socialist realism in reinforcing the self-fulfilling prophecy of its unreadability. We still await critics willing to wade through the sea of (presumed) insipid material to explore the contradictions and ambiguities that saturate it. Lee's unwillingness to read against the author's stated or perceived intentions, the blandishments of socialist realist "theory," or the perfunctory interpretations of supportive or unsympathetic commentators can only lead to the confirmation of conventional wisdom about such literature, or earlier revolutionary literature, for that matter. This is regrettable, because Lee's overarching argument about the vagaries of love in modern Chinese culture creates unprecedented potential for unfolding its at times surging presence not far beneath the surface of social realist literature.

Modern Romance in China: Figuring Who Pays the Bill

Chen Aoxue wrote in Sixth Tone; More and more young women are challenging the traditional idea that men pay on dates. Not long ago, I had lunch at a restaurant near my university with a girl I was interested in. After eating, I instinctively took out my wallet to pay the bill, but my female companion insisted that we go Dutch, making me feel slightly embarrassed. In China these days, it’s difficult to know whether paying for a woman will be well-received, and this is due to the diversification of attitudes. On the internet, many people still say that it is only proper for the man to pay for his girlfriend on a date. Men who don’t abide by this unwritten yet inviolable rule are thought of as classless and stingy.[Source: Chen Aoxue, Sixth Tone, June 29, 2017. Chen is a student in the School of Management at Fudan University. Translator: Lewis Wright; editors: Lu Hua and Matthew Walsh]

“On one of the most popular talk shows in China these days, “U Can U Bibi,” one of the guests fiercely argued that women should not pay a single yuan on dates. “My mother and father went to so much trouble to raise such a beautiful daughter,” she reasoned. “By having the chance to date me, you’ve already gotten lucky. But to then ask me for money? Are you insane? We girls are worthy of your respect. Paying for a date is one way of respecting me.” Of course, Fan’s opinions may be anathema to feminists. Much like my female companion that day, many modern Chinese women who value their autonomy no longer want men to pick up the bill.

“These differences in opinion reflect the ever more diverse ways that gender roles are perceived in Chinese society. To satisfy my own curiosity — and to avoid ruining future dates — I asked undergrads at my university who paid the check when they went on dates. My findings yielded some interesting results. Before analyzing the ways that young people split the cost on dates, we must first consider the financial circumstances of Chinese university students, who are generally heavily reliant upon their parents for financial support, and as such have less to spend on luxuries. Of the students I surveyed, the average monthly living expense for female students was slightly higher than that of their male counterparts: 1,682 yuan compared with 1,568 yuan ($248 and $231, respectively).

“Yet even though women have more money at their disposal, the survey revealed that men continue to bear the majority of expenses. We calculated that on average, women pay for about a quarter of the cost of a date. But curiously, the women expressed an expectation to pay more. One survey question read: “On a date, what percentage of expenses should be paid for by the woman?” The average value stated by male respondents was around 30 percent. Among women, however, this value rose to 40 percent. Men most commonly hoped that women would pay for a small portion (defined as 25 percent or less) of the date’s total expenses, while over half of women believed that the bill should be split evenly.

“The differing attitudes of men and women with regard to how the bill should be handled have, in some circumstances, become a source of conflict: More than 20 percent of respondents confided that they had argued with their date over money.

“Meanwhile, when respondents were asked how they felt about men paying for women within the context of a romantic relationship, there was a similar divergence in the responses given by male and female respondents. Overall, men hoped to be more generous, while in comparison, women preferred to pay for their own portion. By comparing these responses, we can see that the percentage of expenses that male and female respondents felt women should pay during dates (30 and 40 percent, respectively) exceeded the percentage of expenses that women actually paid (28 percent). Clearly, both men and women hope to share the cost of dating more equally — so why isn’t it happening?

Car Crash 'Casanova' Caught Out When 17 Girlfriends Show Up at Hospital

In 2015, the BBC reportedl: “A Chinese man was caught out when 17 of his girlfriends turned up to see him in hospital after a car accident. The man, identified as Mr Yuan from the city of Changsha, in Hunan province, had apparently been dating all the women at the same time, and even has a child with one of them, the South China Morning Post reports. While he managed to string the women along for months, or in some cases years, the game was up when doctors contacted his loved ones after the accident. [Source: BBC, 6 April, 2015]

“"I was really worried when I heard that he was in hospital," Xiao Li, who has been seeing Mr Yuan for 18 months, told the local Xiaoxiang Chen Bao paper. "But when I started seeing more and more beautiful girls show up, I couldn't cry any more." She says other women have given him financial support, with one handing over money for nine years. Another girlfriend told the paper that she had already started planning their wedding.

“The story has taken off among Chinese social media users, with thousands of comments posted about Mr Yuan's exploits. But not everyone is critical — some users admire his multitasking, and others think the women should have spotted something was amiss. As for Mr Yuan, his troubles have only just begun — police officers have now launched an investigation into allegations of fraud.

Image Sources: 1) 1930s pictures, Night Revels, University of Washington; 2) Posters, Landsberger Posters; Wiki Commons, Amazon

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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