Sex education in Shandong schools continues despite protests, threats

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-8 19:13:01

Following what sexologist Fang Gang considered a successful sex education training session for teachers in Shandong Province, protests and open letter critiques appeared, led by some people who claimed to be parents of students. It was yet another episode in a long-running battle between conservative groups and sexologists. The government has followed the disputes and has begun to weigh in. Sex-ed teachers say they expect things will become more difficult, but they plan to carry on with their classes.

A teacher gives a sex education lesson in a primary school in Shanghai in October 2011. Photo: CFP

Fang Gang hadn't expected the wave of protests and phone calls to his schools.

The sexology professor from Beijing Forestry University had given a training session to teachers in Shandong Province in February on how to teach sex education classes in high schools, hoping it would encourage teachers and schools to develop their own sex-ed curriculums.

But in March, before the new semester even started, protests broke out. Some parents and groups started calling education bureaus and protesting at their doorsteps, calling for a ban on such classes.

In the past, there has been little government involvement in the matter. Anything having to do with sex education classes was decided by each school, with no involvement from educational bureaus.

The government is hoping to play down the controversy. Even though it plans to allow sex education classes to go forward, it hopes the protests will quiet down as well. The sexologists and teachers are facing a difficult situation, but they plan to continue the classes, in the face of increasing external pressure. 

Government attitudes

Sex education training has traditionally been a grass-roots activity in China, pushed by a few sexologists.

For several years, Fang has been giving training and lectures to teachers across China. This year, he finished a book of sex-ed lesson plans. The book covers topics such as homosexuality, love and sex, and how to correctly masturbate, many of which have been taboo in schools in the past.

Two years ago, Wen Xueqi, a psychology teacher, met Fang. Wen attended a few of Fang's training sessions, and came to agree with his central view that sex education should focus on giving students rights and freedoms, empowering them to make their own choices through education.

He recognizes the importance of sex education, saying that as a psychology teacher, he has run into many cases demonstrating its necessity.

Once a student came to him during a consulting session, and said she couldn't stop thinking about a dirty word. She was guilt-ridden and afraid. After some talking and coaxing on Wen's part, the student finally said what bothered her was the word "love."

"This is what lack of sex education creates," he said.

Wen pushed for a sex education trial run in some Shandong high schools in 2013, and in February of this year, a sex education training seminar attended by more than 400 teachers, psychiatrists and NGO workers was held in Ji'nan, capital of Shandong Province. Fang delivered two days of lectures on how to use his lesson book in teaching sex education.

At no point in the process was there any participation by the government. The decision to hold sex-ed classes lay solely with the headmasters of each school.

But the education bureau's hand was forced soon after the training session.

At the beginning of March, more than 20 people claiming to be parents of students gathered in front of the Lixia district education bureau in Ji'nan, protesting against the training.

Some parents even took turns calling the bureau, asking it to ban sexologists like Fang.

A teacher from Shandong Province said that after the protests, the Ji'nan Education Bureau contacted him and asked him to provide documents used in past trial runs, as well as to write a report explaining how sex education is taught in schools.

He senses the government will still allow sex education classes to go forward despite these protests. As a teacher, he will certainly carry on the classes. 

"When we had the trial run, we had good feedback from students and parents," he said. "It wasn't anything we did wrong that caused the protests."

Things get dirty

The sex education training brought more than protests. It brought another episode in the long battle between the sexologists and a group of feces-throwing women.

A public letter appeared on the Internet a couple weeks ago. It was written by someone calling herself "Meizi," who claimed to be the mother of a student in Shandong.

She attacked the sexologists, as well as sex education, in her letter, saying that "If you are a father, then rise up and pick up your weapons. If you are a mother, then drop your fantasies and pick up a shit shovel."

The "shit shovel" phrasing was similar to past incidents in which the sexologists came under public assault.

In November 2014, an elderly woman threw feces on Peng Xiaohui, a sexology professor at Central China Normal University, at a sex expo in Guangzhou during a speech by Peng.

Afterwards, the perpetrators declared online that "It may be feces this time, but it will be sulphuric acid next time."

In December, a group of women threw feces on the streets of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, at the photos of sexologists Li Yinhe, Fang Gang and Peng Xiaohui. Later the women burned the photos, declaring it a "public trial."

Fang suspects a website called "Anti-Porn," run by seven women in Hebei Province, was behind these attacks. The website is dedicated to criticizing "acts that degenerate society."

After Meizi wrote her letter, the website posted it on its homepage.

In a previous interview, Xia Haixin, the founder of the Anti-Porn Website, told the Global Times that the feces throwers are not affiliated with the site, but the website members strongly support their actions.

Meizi's letter was far from the first such written attack on Fang and other sexologists.

In April 2014, an anonymous letter was published in the Internet calling for Beijing Forestry University to "take away Fang Gang's job in the university as well as in China."

To date, there's been no sign of government involvement in this "battle." No officials stood openly on either side, supporting sex education or being firmly against it.

The woman who threw feces on Peng was detained for five days. Fang reported the threats in the letter addressed to him to the police, but after several weeks passed with no further attacks, he dropped the charges.

Fang and other renowned sexologists in China, such as Li Yinhe and Peng, recently wrote a public letter online as a response to the constant protests and name-calling. In the letter, they stated that sex education is beneficial to students and is in line with international standards. About 200 teachers, parents, consultants and other volunteers signed the letter. 

Ongoing education

It is these teachers' shared feeling that the conservative opposition to sex education doesn't include those who are actually benefiting from the program.

Last November, a week after he had feces thrown on him, Peng held classes as usual. The first lecture he held after the incident was so packed that he felt "people were piled up against each other." As soon as he walked in, students broke into a long round of applause.

All this time, the pressure and opposition came from isolated individuals, he said, but never from students or school administrators.

On the other hand, Fang's work has been greatly affected by such incidents. He thinks he might have to halt sex education training for a while.

"When people invite me for lectures or to do TV programs, I always tell them there will be anti-sex groups protesting. I ask them to consider the risks fully before inviting me," he said.

Previously, he had a deal with a middle school in Beijing to do a three-year training course for students on gender equality. But after the feces-throwing incident, Fang sat down with project directors from the school and had an honest chat. In the end, the school decided to cancel the project.

For many teachers who have attended the training, their work will still go on despite opposition.

Classes started about a month after Zhang Yingying came back from Shandong.

In February, Zhang, a high school psychology teacher from Anhui Province, went with two other teachers to Fang's training, which they described as "mind-blowing."

Zhang then developed a curriculum for her psychology class. The students will talk about love and sex, beginning with a discussion about when people are physically mature enough for sexual activities.

"We talked about the class with the headmaster, and it was decided that we should start experimenting with this class," she said.

It is only a start. The school has never had a class like this before, and Zhang is not sure how the students will react.

"I constantly ask myself, is this too much, will they be able to take it," she said. "Nobody knows."

So far, the students have given her positive feedback on the class, welcoming such discussions with open arms. It gives her confidence to carry on, even though she read about the opposition and public letters.

Even though the education bureau warned him to keep things low-key, Wen thinks the classes will continue in his and other schools.

"We already exercise caution in carrying out these classes anyway," he said.

Newspaper headline: A class in controversy

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