Keep your distance: China cracks down on young loveBy Michele Penna Oct 14, 2013 2:05PM UTC
If you are a Chinese high school student and she tells you to stay away, it does not mean she doesn’t like you anymore – she might be worried that you are violating the school’s regulations. According to an article in local media picked up by the BBC earlier this month, a secondary school in Hangzhou has enforced new rules forbidding pupils to get closer than 1.64 feet – about half a meter – from each other. Another school in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province has banned what it deems close interaction – holding hands, hugging, and especially kissing.
The logic behind the crackdown seems academic: teenagers are too young for this kind of behavior and they have to study. Romantic thoughts should not have space in their minds. One can’t help wondering whether the teachers should have bigger concerns than measuring the distance between students.
This seemingly draconian policy might have been expected a few years back, but it looks seriously antiquated from the perspective of a rapidly changing China where people are losing their inhibitions – or their morals, it depends how you see it. No wonder the web retorted. “Ideas get centralized, having emotions breaks the rules. Is being a cold-blooded robot the purpose of education?” wondered one Weibo user. Another was “speechless.”
Interestingly enough – and a sign of the debate over sex in the mainland – official papers sounded a negative note. The China Youth Daily, in an article quoted by the BBC, called the measures “absurd, ridiculous and illegal”. “It is normal for young people to fall in love. Teenage romance in schools should not be promoted, but it is not advisable to use extreme and oppressive methods to do that.”
The debate over immature love is part a larger discourse about sex habits and is a byproduct of China’s fast and furious modernization. Hundreds of millions of people moving from the countryside to cities, from rural to industrial jobs, from poverty to a degree of economic comfort: human beings’ most essential function could not be left untouched.
Take sex education, for example. Once a taboo topic, it is now being debated and, to some extent, implemented. A recent article on the Global Times cited a 2013 study suggesting that more than 90 percent of Chinese youth possess little knowledge of contraception and related matters. The article is meaningfully titled “Hands off sex ed,” and, even more meaningfully, begins a chapter with these words: “A losing battle to delay sexuality.”
The topic has appeared on the People’s Daily, too. The government’s mouthpiece published a number of articles on sexual education and related topics, being rather supportive of sexual education and suggesting that the quality and availability of such knowledge should be increased in order to avoid social evils, from venereal diseases to unwanted pregnancies.
Radical changes are happening in the area of same-sex relationships, too. Considered a crime until 1997 and a mental illness up to 2001, homosexuality has now become more acceptable, at least in major cities. Gay bars and people exhibiting homosexual tendencies are not a rarity in Beijing.
What happens in Beijing, however, does not necessarily represent the vast and diverse country. China is characterized by a significant divide between cities and the countryside, where older generations and more provincial ways of thinking still retain a strong influence. In small towns, for instance, virginity is considered a capital virtue and losing it can be a serious issue for girls looking to become brides. Marrying early is good – if not necessary – and adequate information about sex is often lacking.
“At high school I thought I could get pregnant by drinking from a bottle which had been used by a guy,” a friend from a small Chinese village once told me. “Girls have no idea how it works, and they do not even care that much about condoms. It is considered a guy thing to decide whether to use them and how to use them.”