Did You Know? - The Museum Of Sexual Culture In China

The Museum of Sexual Culture in China

The Museum of Sexual Culture opened a few years ago, some 50 miles west of Shanghai in the ancient town of Tongli in the tree-shaded campus of a former school for young women. Displaying chronological evidence of the various phases of sexuality in Chinese history, the museum consists of over 1500 items of jade, clay, bronze, wood, porcelain, silk, etc. The museum has on display over 4,000 sex culture relics and sex appliances found in China, including more than 20 collections dating back some 5000 to 6000 years. 

The museum exhibits Chinese sexual history under four main themes: prehistoric times, women and marriage, sex in everyday life, and, unconventional sexual behaviour. There are ten small exhibitions, each focussing on different aspects of sexuality. For example, there’s a section on ‘abnormal behaviour’ such as bestiality and homosexuality (the latter was only declassified as a psychological disorder in China in 2001, but the museum takes a more liberal view towards it). In an attempt to draw comparisons between eastern and western views of sex there are objects from other countries too. A large part of the collection features the world of sex work, such as tea cups which were used in brothels and have pictures of naked women at the bottom. Other exhibits include a donkey saddle with a wooden dildo attached. In ancient China, ‘adulterous’ women were made to sit on the saddle and ride through town. The intention, as the English translation explains, was to ‘ruin them’. 

Alongside these attention-grabbing displays are some informative pieces, like the ‘trunk bottom’ artefacts. When young girls were to be married, their mothers put little boxes containing copulating figurines at the bottom of their ‘dowry trunk’. Scrolls of images were included too, so the newly-weds would know what to do on their wedding night and could copy the positions. 

Apart from a sculpture of the world’s biggest penis, the exhibition features ancient items, such as stone dildos and tiny shoes of women who had their feet bound. Amongst other reasons, women were forced to bind their feet so they couldn’t walk far, certainly not far enough to leave their husbands, making them sexual and domestic slaves. The museum campus now offers both casual visitors and serious scholars the opportunity of studying Chinese sexual and cultural history in detail. 

This ancient museum also has plans to open its doors to young people to provide a space for sexuality education. Though the directors are aware that there might be opposition from the public, they are optimistic that the collection will serve as a rich source of knowledge and information on sexuality for young people. They will be encouraged to watch a 30- minute sexuality education video before a tour of the museum. Extremely graphic material will be kept in a special section, closed off to young people. 

The effort of Liu Dalin, the founder and curator of the Chinese Sexual Culture Museum, has been towards reintroducing his country’s ancient culture of sexuality to generations brought up in more conservative times. He spent 20 years in the army and another 12 as a factory worker, before becoming a sex researcher and collector. A former professor of Sociology at Shanghai University and now the country’s pioneer in the field of sexology, in 1989-190, he conducted a nationwide survey of sexual behaviour in China. It was not easy for Liu Dalin and his co-founder Dr. Hu Hong Xia to set up the museum. Initially they were not allowed to hang a sign outside the museum with the word ‘sex’ on it as sex is seen as something which is shameful or is feared. They have also had to move from the previous location because of financial constraints.

The museum has attracted over 100,000 visitors over the past 15 years. Today, the museum has 6 branches in China in Guangdong Province, Shanxi province, Hubei Province, Shanghai, Jiangxi Province and Zhejiang Province. The sign at the current location now includes ‘xing,’ the word for ‘sex’ in standard Chinese. It’s an ideograph that combines the symbols for ‘heart’ and for ‘life’, showing the centrality of sex in life.