China: Sexologist shuts up

Renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe announced last week that she had been told in no uncertain terms, by people whose identity she declined to identify, to shut up.

A longtime fixture of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Li is known mostly for her liberal attitudes towards a whole range of sex-related issues which she speaks about at length on her blog and in mainstream Chinese media, and in particular for her many proposals, like same sex marriage, to China's legislature, the most recent attempt being in 2005.

With Li's self-silencing goes the voice of one of the most influential and progressive public intellectuals in China. First, her critics, starting with To Library blogger Drunk Eyes See Sand:


Again, she always talks about S&M, one night stands, extramarital affairs, partner-swapping, incest, prostitution, same sex marriages, none of which are really fresh topics, yet some people still go as far as to say that her ideas are in the avant-garde. So funny! Some say they're too avant-garde, and that's why people can't accept them. And then there's those who say these are trends! Really makes one spit out his rice! I believe, that when these are are talked about when people sit down after dinner, that the most people will do is laugh. This does not mean they don't accept these things.


Time after time, Li Yinhe talks a lot of nonsense in the media and in public spaces, talking about this and that, the criminalization of prostitution, legalization of same sex marriage and what not! Enough already. The number of people who can't stand it keeps going up. These existed in society to begin with, and nobody went out of their way to get involved, and the law's involvement is mostly limited to prostitution at that. What Li Yinhe does is bring up intolerant behaviors dating back to feudal days, which only proves that she's still living in the past, unable to see the culture of modern society. What's most laughable is that she's always thought herself so cultured, and those who don't accept her stances as barbaric. She's even egotistical to the point of saying that some ideas of hers go against the law, and the law is wrong.



The extramarital affairs of which Li Yinhe talks are usually initiated by the men, reflecting male chauvinism. And if spouse-swapping is voluntary, she's all for that. But even an idiot knows that when spouse-swapping occurs in society, by far the majority of it is directed by the man. That's why most of the time it's wife-swapping and not husband-swapping…

Ranging even to the rabid like Sohu blogger Guofana to the printably pragmatic Cat898 blogger A Bucketful of Baloney's ironic ‘Li Yinhe, you free-thinking pig’:


I think she can't really blame others for her problems, Li Yinhe has brought this upon herself. Laozi (Lao Tzu) said, “what others fear, one must also fear.” These are the words of the wise, just the sort so-called “cynics” should follow more closely. Most people are afraid to talk about these things, it's only you who dares, and now it's put you in danger. This isn't just Chinese characteristics, it's just as much an international convention. Heroes sacrificing their lives behind slogans of “fighting for the truth” happens as much overseas as it does in China.

Well, at least Chinabounder is back and keeping the discourse going. Here's BlogLegal's Feng Lei, via Tianya, posted on Valentine's Day.


Today, we regretfully saw Li Yinhe's “latest decision” made public on her own blog. This decision tells us that the vast majority of us lack the courage and have yet to realize that our sex lives are our own prerogatives, our own private affairs, and that we have definitely yet to realize how sex itself both encourages and is conducive to science and civilization.


We've noticed that when Li Yinhe speaks on topics of sex in her role as a sociologist, public response allows the National People's Congress to see things more clearly. When a sociologist speaks on the civilisation and layers of sexuality, our people actually take it as a joke, treating and understanding the subject through ‘morality-tinted glasses’. They don't see sex as a matter of social science, but rather better suited for post-dinner, post-tea chats.



A lot of people will reject Li Yinhe's ideas, but there's absolutely no need to try and shut someone's mouth based on a moral stance, or cancelling another's right to speak. This in itself is naked deprivation [of rights].


When we are no longer able to regret or improve our own lives, or, say, when we no longer seek to break out of the orbits of our lives or rules of our games, when we can just tolerate the existence of different voices, that would evidence a kind of virtue. Speaking of our society, acceptance first of all suggests a kind of improvement. Today we are not able to Li Yinhe's views, and require her mouth to be closed. This in fact proves that the state of our culture [精神文明] still has room to improve and that we have yet to reach the point of being able to tolerate the existence of different viewpoints.

Which isn't to say that such viewpoints don't exist. From Pheonix TV blogger Pierre Hanson:



Reading this leaves a really sour taste in my mouth. Li Yinhe's ‘shutting up’, I feel is the sorrow of us Chinese. This kind of sorrow is just like the China of the President Chiang days last century, when Lu Xun was forced to shut up in the same way.

What I'd like to say here is that regardless of whether Li Yinhe was right in what she said, [public intellectuals like her] should at least be given an evironment in which they can freely express their own opinions and points of view; at the same time, the Li Yinhes among us should develop a fighting spirit the likes of that Mr. Lu Xun had, because you have that responsibility to society.

Bad girl Hexun blogger Yu Fei responds to Dr. Li's speculation that having been silenced in this way will likely lead her down a path of cynicism:


With her silencing, sexology might as well have been announced far and wide as a disgraced science, saying nothing of this society and nation of ours’ heinous nature, leading to a complete end to research into sexology, all for the sake of a ‘spotless white clean land”, saving everyone from having to worry. Dr. Li, PhD. should start thinking about another career. No need to fret over or fear ending up a cynic. As for homosexuals and prostitutes, we can't ignore or overlook them just because they are minority groups in our society or exceed our norms of consistent behavior and moral limits. Quite the opposite, maybe they ought to be paid attention to and cared for. This is why Dr. Li Yinhe's work is completely within the responsibility and profession of an expert.

Some places would understandably be more in tune with contemporary values than Beijing, like Hong Kong neighbor Shenzhen, and its resident, lawyer, blogger and representative to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Yang Yiping posting from the Shenzhen News Blog :


In today's society, should a scholar want to speak up or keep their mouth closed, even if it is their personal freedom? As the public, do we want scholars speaking out or closing their mouths, even if it is their freedom? Only when both are free can a society be called rational. Speaking of scholar Li Yinhe's sexology, that some people approve and some disagree is normal. But we haven't seen which department it was that spoke out and “killed” her, and we're not clear just from which direction her pressure has come. Matters of sex are rather sensitive, and content of sex is a little “not suited for children”, regardless of what the situation is. Publicly declaring theories of sexology might be hard for a lot of people to accept. This might be the main reason Li Yinhe feels pressure. For this reason, we might as well suggest that Li Yinhe need not “shut her mouth”, that simply more paying more attention to the situation would suffice.

And some excellent perspective as always from ex-Bullog blogger turned independent and Yunnan Air employee He Caitou,


This appears to be academic institutions controlling scholars’ academic work and freedom of speech due to pressure from the bureaucratic system, but Taiwan's Li Ao not only explained this problem thirty years ago, but provided a solution as well. Li Ao didn't take money from research institutes. He went out himself and sold fridges and beef noodles. Why? Because Li Ao felt only through financial independence could intellectuals attain personal independence, and only through personal independence be able to discuss other matters.


Li Yinhe has been silenced, because she herself is within the system, and not out “in the wild”. The day she entered the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, she should have known what she would be up against, that there would be “uppers” and that they would be “paying attention”. Li Yinhe takes CASS’ wages, thus she depends on CASS for money. If she wants to speak out and not be silenced, she could always leave CASS. Or she could take the normal route, stay until her hair goes white and then be able to say whatever she happens to be thinking. The bravest people in China are all in their seventies or above; when they reach that age they can indulge their urge to speak the truth.


Suppose Li Yinhe were now to win two hundred million RMB in the sports lottery. Then she wouldn't, I believe, say anything on behalf of her superiors. If ‘the organization’ were not happy, she could write on her resignation letter, ‘you're not happy? I'm the one who's not cool with this.’ doesn't let her blog, she could always buy a server and speak through her own web page. If the police station wants to bring her in for a talk, she could spend a few million RMB and buy a foreign passport, if they have any problems they can talk to the embassy. Why? Because she'd be financially independent and wouldn't have to worry about what her boss thinks.


So, Li Yinhe's talk about ending up a cynic or not, that's all empty talk. Cynics are indifferent to the world, because they need little from it, live in a barrel if need be. Li Yinhe wants to take CASS’ money, wants their benefits and unemployment insurance, that's why when her leaders say stop talking, she's gonna stop. This is just the problem that comes with lack of financial independence.


  • Peggy Lee

    Whether its political or sexology research, the academia is a special space that can raise discussions and debates in an informed and critical manner. The closure of such spaces for whatever reason -be it political or moral- is a loss of freedom for all.

    Whether people agree or not with the views of public academics, they have in important role to play by raising ideas, stimulating people to think and to look critically at their own conceptions and misconceptions on a topic.

    The topic of sexual freedom of expression, if I am correct in characterizing Li Yinhe’s writing, is pertinent to modern China now ever more so than before. We cannot deny that it is a reality that sexual culture is changing in China -people are having sex in a diversity of ways- and people need to look critically at themselves, their sexual practices and their notions of sexuality. To turn a blind a to a reality is only decieving oneself.

    More importantly there are things such as respect for people of diverse sexual orientations and practical realities of public health in terms of safer sex practice that need to be addressed in an open and informed manner.

  • A malformed society!

  • […] China: Sexologist Shuts up February 19th, 2007Renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) announced last week that she had been told in no uncertain terms, by people whose identity she declined to identify, to shut up. (globalvoices) […]

  • Catherine

    “the people shall not be deprived or abridged of the right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” James Madison
    “I may disagree with everything that you say, but I shall defend to the death you’re right to say it.” Voltaire
    “People do not have to listen to people they find offensive, or read what people have written if they find it offensive, or watch entertainment they find offensive, or look at art they find offensive. They have the power and the right to censor for themselves, but not others or society.” N Scott Mills

    As long as there are people who are willing to hear Li Yinhe, she has the right to speak. If no one hears her, she will shut up herself. No one has a right to stop her.
    There are always different ideas. There are always avant-gardes. In most cases, the most “unaccepted” idea at that time is always the most advanced idea. Why our society will advance? Bcause we think. Because we continuously raise different ideas.
    More than a hundred years ago in US when the suffragists raise the idea that women should have the right to vote, this idea was considered as most offensive and even ” wrong” by the public. However, viewing the opinion of the suffragists today, we think their opinion most natural.But if the suffragists were forced to shut up a hundred years ago, what will happen? Maybe the American women will still be forbidden to vote.
    I think she can’t really blame others for her problems, Li Yinhe has brought this upon herself. Laozi (Lao Tzu) said, “what others fear, one must also fear.” These are the words of the wise, just the sort so-called “cynics” should follow more closely. Most people are afraid to talk about these things, it’s only you who dares, and now it’s put you in danger. This isn’t just Chinese characteristics, it’s just as much an international convention. Heroes sacrificing their lives behind slogans of “fighting for the truth” happens as much overseas as it does in China.
    I am ashamed of these sentences. Aren’t we obliged to be willing to fight for and to die for the truth? If everyone follows this sentence “what others fear, one must also fear.”, how can we expect our society to advance? If no one is dare to question the authority, to question the public?

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