The intimate sexual confessions published online by Guangzhou's Muzimei have aroused instant fascination and controversy. China Daily's MAGGIE LU talks to Muzimei and many others, trying to picture China's changing moral landscape in the era of 'opening up
"If you want an interview, make love with me first. The interview session shall equal your time in bed.?So said Internet sex writer Muzimei when a male journalist approached her for an interview.
The call to Muzimei finally got through after a string of busy signals, answered by a sweet voice like that of a young student, which seemed not to have any relation to words such as "wild sex? She agreed to give a "short and simple?interview.
Muzimei, who lives in Guangzhou, has been posting her sexual experiences on the Internet since June 19 this year, under the title "Ashes of Love?
The New York Times ran a story about her on November 30, describing her as a ?5-year-old sex columnist whose beat is her own bedroom?
When she was not working, she frequently visited bars at night to meet guys, according to her own column.
Her life was full of one-night-stand experiences. She once refused to disclose the number of men she had had sex with, although the New York Times report said she had slept with more than 70.
She didn't hide the men's names in her diary. One of them was Wang Lei, a relatively unknown rock star. She mentioned their session of love-making in the open air.
Cost of fame
She had to shut down her website because more people were logging on than the server could support.
"I don't want to make my online diary into a kind of public reading,?Muzimei said to the reporter. "It was a diary for a limited audience. My current popularity was created by the media. It's all due to their hype and tricks, nothing to do with me. They entertained themselves.?
She herself, however, was a media professional, with the real name Li Li, a columnist and editor for City Pictorial, a Guangzhou magazine.
"I was persuaded to quit my job with the magazine about a fortnight ago,?Li said.
She has since started a new job with another media organization.
"I'm very busy now and I have no time to write my on-line diary at the moment,?she said.
Her book, a collection of her diary entries, poems and short novels (excessively detailed sexual descriptions were deleted), was said to have been banned.
It was published by the Nanchang-based 21st Century Publishing House in East China's Jiangxi Province.
Li said that the contract was settled before she became well known.
"I've always longed to publish a book of my own. They read my columns and other stories and we signed the contract long ago,?she said.
Her private life seems to have been intervened. "I was invisible before this, but now everybody is looking at me.?
Although she told the New York Times that the controversy had cramped her social life, she had, she said, been celibate for two weeks. Li told this reporter that her fame didn't really scare the men around her.
"Some of them support what I have done,?Li said. "Men are not like my belongings that I should always own and keep in my drawer. My life is just different from that of ordinary people who are managing their loves and marriages more conventionally.?
Prof Gu Jun, of the Sociology Department of Shanghai University, said sex had become commercially hyped to attract attention in China.
"Chinese people are sexually restrained, not fully open, so that any tiny new move in this area can produce strong ripples,?said Gu, who hasn't read Muzimei's diary yet, although he has heard of it. "It's still a kind of 'resource?that can be tapped for commercial purposes.?
He said that, so far, Chinese Internet sites are the ones taking advantage of it. He believed this showed that people in this community are less easily controlled and have more freedom and individualism. But Gu didn't agree that this issue would have a great negative influence on society.
"It's part of the process. When people have a fully open attitude towards sex, things like the Muzimei issue will not be a big deal. She has her right to publicize her own sexual secrets, but most people will not copy what she has done,?he said.
Gu said Chinese people were not traditionally conservative in sexual matters, producing a lot of sexually explicit literature and paintings in ancient times.
Asceticism started to spread around the country after 1949, when the government called on the people to concentrate all their resources, including their physical energy, on the fight against poverty. "Personal needs were ignored until the opening-up from the late 1970s.?
Several other scholars made comments on the Muzimei issue via the Internet.
Sexologist Zhu Jiaming said there were two reasons why Muzimei exposed her private life: First, she did so for fame; second, she enjoyed this kind of life and was kept sexually excited because of an excess of male hormones in her body. Finally, her curiosity made her do things without caring about others?opinions.
A doctor surnamed Huang from Guangzhou Red Cross Hospital believes Muzimei's behaviour is a kind of revenge on the community. She wants to relieve herself of painful feelings.
Chen Min, a lawyer in Guangzhou said Muzimei had intruded on the privacy of her partners who she referred to by their real names in her diary.
Wei Xiuling, a law professor, said the websites involved had violated the law by publicizing illegal information.
Eyebrow-raising words from Muzimei
Question: What kind of life would you lead if you got married?
Muzimei: Each of us would hang around with different people.
Gu Yan, 24, female, accountant
Maybe I once had the same attitude, but that's just fantasy, I wouldn't really do like that. Marriage is a responsibility based on love. But some people around me really agree with Muzimei on that.
Question: Why do you change your sex partners so frequently?
Muzimei: It's for happiness; meanwhile I can study men. Every man has different stuff going on inside.
Zhou Yi, 27, female, PR
I'm wondering what she is really after. Mental or physical satisfaction? I'm not particularly conventional and I think everyone could have several sex partners in his or her life, based on true love, not at random. Otherwise, it's animal... She can lead a different life, but she doesn't need to let everyone know and attract attention. Now she thinks she is somebody.
Muzimei: Sex can be more pure and charming when the two people are not in love and so have no emotional conflicts.
Jiang Yabing, 26, male, clerk
I believe so. When you are in love, you can feel too much pressure from responsibilities. This idea is just a fulfillment of man's basic need. Men actually wish for that kind of sex. I think many men would agree with me.
Proper education needed to cope with sexual awakening
It was the third time during the semester Alex Yang had been forced to find somewhere else to sleep because his roommate wanted to spend the night with his girlfriend in their shared dormitory room.
Having to squeeze himself into bed with another student in the next room, Yang was a little vexed. "But still, it is understandable and maybe someday I will need his 'co-operation'," he joked.
Sex without the bond of marriage, once regarded as immoral, is becoming more and more accepted by university students in spite of still-existing rules threatening the expulsion of students who dare to try.
A survey covering 541 local university students found that 13.4 per cent of male students and 4 per cent of female thought there was nothing wrong in having sex. And when it comes to putting this belief into practice, even more are involved.
A similar survey aimed at finding out the sexual attitudes of students involving several universities in different cities of China was carried out over four years.
It found that on average, 7 per cent of all new students had had sexual experiences. By the time they were in their second year, the figure went up to 13 per cent and to 20 per cent for third year. Before they graduated, a quarter of the students had engaged in sexual activities.
Among the sexually experienced students, 22 per cent of the boys and 18 per cent of the girls said they had had six or more sexual partners over the years.
"Some would rent a house off campus and that is already quite common now," said Yang, a senior student at a university in Shanghai.
Xu Anqi, an expert on women's issues with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, recently conducted a random survey among 500 single young people across 11 districts in Shanghai. She found that only 34.7 per cent still believe it is wrong to have sex before marriage.
Even the men surveyed have dropped the once-deeply-rooted belief that a bride must still be a virgin. Only 21 per cent of the young men in Shanghai still held to that view. Some 29 per cent took a middle course while 50 per cent have given up the idea altogether.
Among those surveyed, those who said they had experienced kissing or hugging the opposite sex equalled 42 per cent, with 30 per cent moving on to sex and 7 per cent living together.
"The real figures must be higher than that as some people might be too shy to tell the truth," Xu said.
A drastic change has taken place in terms of social tolerance regarding pre-marital sex.
A survey conducted in 1997 indicated that 40 per cent of couples didn't even hug or kiss their future spouses before their marriages.
"With widespread sexual knowledge and up-to-date information about birth control, the sexual restrictions and taboos long imposed on Chinese are loosening," Xu said.
As for the purchase of condoms, vending machines are now even found on campus.
"Yet during the 1980s when I was young, very few places sold condoms," said Xu Longyun, a local woman in her 50s.
"The work unit gave condoms to those who already had one baby as a part of the family planning campaign. Drug stores set up special counters to give away condoms, but most people were too shy to get close to that counter."
Mei Shudong, who graduated from university in 1989, said it was simply prohited for students to rent apartments off campus during his student years.
But now, "the procedures for those who want to move out of a dormitory are quite easy so long as you can offer a written consent letter from a parent," said Luo Mingqiong, a graduate student.
Chinese people are marching towards sexual freedom rapidly. According to Li Yinhe, a well-known sociologist, the Chinese will match the West in terms of sexual attitudes in no more than 20 years.
"More attention should be given to teaching youth practical sexual and reproductive knowledge," Xu said.
Most schools in China still lack such education, some worrying that after the students learn about sex they will be more likely to try it.
Xu said that as society becomes more and more open in sexual matters, a lack of relevant education on the subject will result in certain social problems, such as an increase in the number of single mothers, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the forming of an unhealthy philosophy of love.