Li Yinhe. Zhongguo nüxing de ganqing yu xing (Emotions and Sexuality of Chinese Women). Beijing: Zhongguo youyi chubanshe, 2002. 324pp. ISBN 7 – 5057 – 1785 – 5 (paperback).

 

In this collection of interviews, women openly talk about their personal love and sexual lives; they touch upon the experiences and problems they faced at different stages of their lives from adolescence to menopause. Thus, this publication allows the reader an unusual first-hand insight into a subject which is still perceived as a highly sensitive and private issue in China.

The author Li Yinhe is a renowned sociologist, who received her PhD in sociology at Pittsburgh University and is a senior research fellow and Head of the Sociology Department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan shehuixue suo). She has translated, authored and edited a number of books on different subjects related to sociology, women and gender issues, and she is one of the very few, but well-known researchers in China publishing on sex-related issues.

In 1994, Li Yinhe started to conduct semi-structured and in-depth interviews with 47 women of various ages (29 to 55 years), educational backgrounds (ranging from junior middle school to postgraduate), and professional careers (such as teachers, editors, journalists, doctors, workers, soldiers, etc). The author claims semi-structured interviews to be the most fruitful method for a sensitive research topic as hers because they allow these women to feel more comfortable and at-ease than they would do in a typical survey; furthermore the open-ended questions provide opportunities for the women to give more thorough and honest answers. Doubtful of potential of theories to capture the meaning of women’s lives, Li Yinhe explicitly refrains from using any other theoretical framework.

The book is organized by theme into thirty-four sections; each section contains topic-related, randomly-ordered quotations from several interviews, followed by either brief authorial comments or comparable results from other studies. The book covers the following topics: Section 1 to 8 describe women’s experiences during their adolescence, e.g. with physical changes including outer appearance as well as menstruation, emotional changes spanning from developing feelings towards the opposite sex to the first kiss and first love, and also with different types of sex education. From sections 9 to 19 various aspects of sexual life are discussed, such as sexual behavior before marriage, the first sexual intercourse, frequency and ways of sexual intercourse, sexual desire, pleasure and aesthetics, aversion against sex, contraception and abortion. Sections 20 to 24 deal with marriage problems such as domestic violence, sadism, extramarital affairs, and divorce. Section 25 is about female homosexuality, section 26 about menopause, sections 27 to 32 about the interrelation between emotion and sex. The book culminates with sections 33 and 34 about problems women face in respect to their rights and status.

The publication is complemented by a brief reference list of Chinese and Western publications published between 1986 and 1995 about women’s issues, sex and pornography in particular.

In her conclusion, Li Yinhe remarks that in spite of all personal differences between the interviewees and their varying experiences, she felt that all of these women attached great importance to their “self”. Regardless of the relevance of the book’s topic to Chinese society or its importance to women’s lives, Li Yinhe maintains that its greatest value lies in the fact that it honestly reports people’s lives.

 

(Carola Krüger, Berlin)