Sex and Shanghai

He's back.  The man who inspired a witchhunt last August for his controversial blogsite about shagging in Shanghai.  We know him as China Bounder.  If you believe his story, he is a British Caucasian in his 30s and a former (if not current) English teacher in Shanghai.  If you're somewhat more susceptible to rumors and innuendo, he is in fact a team of clever, mischievous blogsters making it up as they go along (or maybe even a team of monkeys relentlessly pounding on the keyboard?).  I for one don't believe that tripe for a minute.  In my humble, unenlightened opinion, this guy is real, and so are his stories. 

So hip hip hooray and three cheers for the man who proves that -- gasp! -- Chinese women enjoy having sex with foreign men! 

Of course, anybody who has lived in China for some time would know that already.  Just visit Sanlitunr in Beijing or any one of a number of nightclubs in Shanghai and you'll meet plenty of women who are out there trawling for laowai.  In other words, for most of us, this is old and trite news.

So what makes this website so controversial?  Well, for one thing he describes his liaisons in great detail, including fairly graphic depictions of the sex.  Second and more important, he peppers his blogs with outrageous bouts of, for want of a better term, China bashing.  There are ample derogatory references to Chinese men, as well as the not-so-occasional lashout at Chinese society, culture, politics, and history.

So what gives?  Why this love-hate relationship with China?  And why air it in public for all and sundry?  Is this a new form of shock/schlock literature?  Is it an attempt to alleviate the guilt that sometimes follows multiple sexual conquests?  Is it a sociological experiment?  Or maybe all of the above?  And why, despite a five month hiatus following the "manhunt" proposed by one ardent Chinese national, has he started it all up again?

Personally, I find some of his blogs very interesting.  While the sex parts get a bit ho-hum after a while, the man has a journalistic eye for detail, and some of his descriptions of the local scene in Shanghai are spot on.  On the other hand, the China bashing can be trying, especially since it tends to merely regurgitate the pap that we are accustomed to in the Western mass media and in popular discourse.  Politically he seems a fair ways to the right of Jung Chang, whose biography of Mao is perhaps the best example of unabashed China bashing out there today.

But you can tell that his heart is in the right place.  In his first re-entry blog in late Jan, he discusses the atrocious murders of two young schoolgirls in rural China.  Why not focus on this sort of atrocity in your manhunt? he asks.  Why ignore this type of disaster and instead focus all your anger and attention on a Western guy who -- gasp! -- has sex with a few Chinese women?  While the analogy is misplaced in my opinion, he does have a point.

To answer this sort of question, China Bounder might give Peter Gries's book _China's New Nationalism_ a read.
This book provides an excellent, highly readable, no-nonsense analysis of the politics of Chinese nationalism both at the highest levels of government and media and at the grassroots level of the street and the internet. 

People in the West often wonder why the Chinese masses often exhibit seemingly irrational outbursts of anti-foreignism.  Gries, through analyses of events such as the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the aftermath in Beijing and other Chinese cities, discusses how such events are both manipulated by the government and press, while at the same time they are the product of much deeper anxieties, fears, and other negative emotions that have been embedded into the national culture and language over the past two centuries of Sino-Western contact. 

While the proposed "manhunt" for China Bounder in August 2006 apparently amounted to no more than a lot of hot air, there were some resemblances to the mass-produced anti-Americanism that followed the embassy bombing in '99.  The online controversy that raged last year over the MIT 1894-5 Sino-Japanese War online exhibit reminded me in some ways of these other two events.

One simplistic conclusion is that these sorts of events build a sense of solidarity among a people who are normally riven with deep divisions, whether ethnic, linguistic, cultural, geographical, political, or economic.  We in the West tend to think of China in monolithic terms, but it is in reality an incredibly diverse country.  Only when laowai begin to stick their beaklike noses into China's private places do the Chinese people come to see themselves as one.  It is much harder to build solidarity over an incident involving the misdeeds of one's own people, such as the schoolgirl killings that China Bounder mentions in his Jan post.  For an analogy with American politics, think of the McVeigh Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 versus 9-11.  Which event triggered bouts of vigorous flag-waving?

Obviously, the dynamics of modern-day nationalism, whether in China or elsewhere, are far more complex than that, so I'll leave the deep analysis to Gries and other experts on the subject. 

 A far more simple conclusion can be reached over the popularity of China Bounder's website, Sex and Shanghai, which despite a five-month break has received over 150,000 hits since it was launched last May.  Which is:  sex sells!  As does violence and controversy.  Which makes me wonder:  why give it all away for free when you could sell it at a price? 

Seems to me that there is a market for this sort of "shock/schlock lit".  Certainly there is one for the subject of sex in China--as demonstrated by the international success of authors such as Wei Hui (_Shanghai Baby_) and Mian Mian (_Candy_) whose not-so-literary debuts were greeted with the fanfare normally reserved for Nobel laureates (I'm exaggerating slightly here).  Well, one thing that CB has proven is that he has an avid readership, so it wouldn't be too hard for him to score a contract with some book publisher out there.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised if CB's inspires another manhunt in the next month or so.