China’s elderly shy away from sexology exhibits; young people have their own online sex world

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/29 19:37:00

China has only two sex museums, and each is struggling to stay open

Authorities are reluctant to list such museums as an official local attraction

Sex museum operators believe they can provide the sex education Chinese need


People visit a temporary exhibition of sex-related cultural relics in Luoyang, Central China's Henan Province, on June 20, 2015. Photo: VCG


It took Li Mei (pseudonym) over 30 minutes to find the sign for the Dalin Museum for Sexology, which was hung up in the corner of a hotel in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province.

Under the sign was not a museum but a lottery ticket stand. After asking the vendor for directions with a little embarrassment, she finally found the museum on the second floor of the adjacent hotel.

After paying for a 50 yuan ($7) ticket, Li browsed through 2,000 cultural relics related to sex. The exhibitions she saw included a statue of a naked man with a giant, erect penis tied up with iron chains.

There were also sculptures and paintings displaying different coitus positions and objects used in brothels throughout history. Small clay sculptures from olden times of men and women having intercourse were kept hidden in the bottom of a dowry by brides' mothers as the new couple's sexual education.

"The exhibition is beyond my imagination. Sexual culture in China is as colorful as that in other cultures. I received sex-ed in school, but nothing as vivid and meaningful as my experience in this museum," said Li.

The museum is one of two that still exist in China under the efforts of sexology pioneer Liu Dalin, a retired professor of sociology at Shanghai University. The other is located in Danxia Mountain Scenic Area of Shaoguan, South China's Guangdong Province.

Chinese society has become more open in recent decades, but sex remains the topic that stays hidden in the dark corners of people's lives, similar to the museum itself. While experts are calling for the promotion of more sexual education in China, such sexology museums are trying to find ways to survive.

Chinese sexology pioneer Liu Dalin. Photo: IC

Long hard road

China's first sex museum was set up by Liu and Professor Hu Hongxia in Shanghai in 1998 with their hope of "letting more people know about sex culture throughout China's history."

However, being located in downtown Shanghai along the busy Nanjing Road did not help bring as many visitors as Liu expected, and his request to put up public signage for the museum was rejected by the Shanghai authorities at that time with the reason that "nothing related to sex should be on the street," Dongfang Daily reported.

Few visitors meant it was impossible to make ends meet; Liu eventually had to move the museum to the remote Wuding Road in April 2001. But financial difficulties still haunted the museum.

"We rented a two-floor building, which cost 50,000 yuan per month, so six months later we only kept one floor open for 30,000 yuan every month. But the income from ticket sales was far from enough," Liu said, adding that he used his own remuneration and Hu sold her piano repair shop to support the museum.

Liu applied to the Shanghai government to recognize the museum as an official tourism site, which would have gotten the museum listed in travel agency tour lists and attracted tour groups, but he did not succeed.

Discussions on whether China needs sex museums have continued since Liu's first try in 1998, followed by an online debate conducted by in 2003, where many criticized that exhibitions related to sex are hard to be distinguished from eroticism.

"These discussions showed that sex education should not only go into schools but also be promoted among the general public. Sex never equals eroticism. If the public's artistic appreciation is increased, they will finally realize the value of keeping and displaying sex-related cultural relics," said Peng Xiaohui, a sexologist at Central China Normal University in Wuhan.

"But it is hard to run museums nowadays, as seniors are embarrassed to come here, young people who have access to the sex world via the internet will not spare a glance at such museums, and schools are not ready to organize field trips for teenagers to visit here," Peng said.

Sexology museums help the public know more about sex and sexual culture, which is an important part of human civilization, Peng said. "I encountered an old man in the museum, who murmured during his visit 'Look how I missed my whole life!'"

Moving around

In 2013, Liu and Hu decided to move the museum out of Shanghai to Tongli, an ancient town about 100 kilometers away in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province. Liu thought Tongli would be a new beginning for his museum and excitedly told Hu that he wanted to make it "the No.1 sexology museum in the world" with over 3,000 objects in its collection.

However, this ambition was extinguished by reality. Tongli wanted to introduce the sex museum to hype an adjacent scenic spot, a girl's school built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), but visitors needed to buy tickets for the museum separately, which many tour groups were reluctant to do, Peng told the Global Times.

The museum's collections were eventually moved to three museums in Wuhan, a scenic spot in Danxia Mountain and South China's Hainan Province, Peng said, adding that some items in the Hainan museum were reported lost during a typhoon. The museum in Danxia Mountain Scenic Area is still open to the public and an employee told the Global Times that it is run by an entrepreneur.

"Our museum is closely related to Yangyuan Mountain, which looks like a penis from certain angle. The ticket costs 45 yuan and we offer discounts for some tourist groups," she said. Yangyuan Mountain is part of the Danxia scenic area.

Although the employee did not reveal the status of the business, some visitors to the scenic area wrote on Yelp-like Chinese review website that they came to the area without going into the museum since they needed to pay extra and "nothing seems special about it."

"I went to see Professor Liu in Shanghai in 2001 after reading reports on him and began to open exhibitions about sexology on the second floor of my own hotel in 2002. Liu wanted to build 13 branches of the first sex museums nationwide, but many were closed for different reasons. We are still preserving his dream," Huang Yongjie, head of the Dalin Museum for Sexology in Wuhan, told the Global Times.

Using his own property helped cut costs, but much-needed assistance from governmental departments never arrived, Peng said. Identifying the museum as a tourist spot would increase its income, yet the local tourism department has refused to do so.

The situation improved slightly in 2013 after Wuhan vowed to turn itself into "a city with 100 museums," which resulted in the Wuhan Cultural Affair Bureau and the Wuhan Sexology Association jointly offering 100,000 yuan annually to support the museum, Peng said.

Peng also said that scholars in the field also managed to hold academic conferences in the museum in an effort to give it some supplementary income. The money, however, can barely cover the cost of running the museum; Huang and the deputy director of the museum, Ma Jianguo, personally serve as tour guides.

Different from Peng, however, Huang is more optimistic about the future. He hopes to expand the museum and turn it into a center for sex education and academic research.

"We need to become a platform to collect and restore cultural relics related to sex culture. We could also offer assistance for scholars to have academic conferences and cooperate with other institutions for public benefit activities," Huang said, "for example, promoting AIDS prevention."

"I also planned to expand more exhibition halls. One about sex culture throughout China's history, one for the history of sexology in China and around the world, one for sex education for teenagers, one for sex products for adults and a multimedia room to show how medical science treats sexually transmitted diseases," said Huang.

"Everyone needs to make some contributions in his life. I know running the museum is good for society and we will hold on to the last," Huang said.

Newspaper headline: Sex museum struggle


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