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By Luc Loranhe (2007)
In traditional China, a husband was selected for a young woman as an agreement between families. For the family providing the usually rather young wife, the idea was to do the family of the husband, who could be young or old, a favor by providing a sexual outlet for the husband. The family of the husband, or the husband himself, would show gratitude, initially by paying the family of the wife some upfront money.
If the husband, or the family of the husband, was sufficiently wealthy, a channel for wealth flow, via the wife, from the husband or his family to the previous family of the wife would be established.
The old Chinese marriage customs were an ideological superstructure of a society in which the waste majority of people lived in great poverty. Even for most men, among all concerns, sexual pleasure ranked a distant third or forth, after worries about enough food, sufficient shelter, and, often, basic health.
For the young women involved in traditional marriage arrangements, the idea of sexual satisfaction was totally out of the picture. For this reason, it was also of no importance whether the husbands arranged for by their families were young or old, handsome or ugly. Quite usually, the young women never saw their husbands before wedding day.
It was not necessary that she would know him before the wedding, because anyway, the only quality that counted, the quality of the husband as a material provider, could not be assessed by a young woman. She was kept at home for most of her youth and childhood, and had no knowledge of the outside world.
The concept of love in traditional China was not one of physical, sexual attraction, most definitely not for women.
By all what we know, sexual practices between husbands and wives were also not of a kind that would have facilitated sexual satisfaction for the female partners. Sex most probably was, by and large, only genital, never oral. Wives would have their first child well before the age of 20, possibly as young as 15.
As love, in traditional China, was, on the part of the women, not based on the physical attraction she felt for, or the sexual satisfaction she received from, the husband, what, then, fulfilled the emotional need for love on the part of women.
It was what women felt for their children. Having children together was thought of as the source of love between husband and wife. And this even worked for husbands, as a metaphysical quality has traditionally been attached, and sometimes still is, to having offspring in otherwise atheist China.
The above-cited concept of marrying off young women to men who would be lifelong economic providers, and whose children they then would spawn, is of course not unique to China. It is found in most traditional societies around the world, and even was common in Europe not so long ago. It was, and is, a concept that is based on the modes of production of economies of need, in which a large number of people and families struggle to have enough food and sufficient shelter, and to stay basically healthy.
That Europe and North America have developed different concepts of love, and especially, that perceptions were developed of female sexual desire as a basis for partner choice, has been a direct consequence of the fact that Europe had first achieved sufficient widespread wealth, so that women could start thinking about sexual desires rather than having enough to eat.
The modes of material production have changed tremendously in China over the past few decades. No country anywhere in the world generates as much economic growth as does China. And women in modern China have ample opportunities to earn their own lifelihood. They do not have to get married in order to have enough to eat.
Because women in modern China are highly independent, and furthermore, because women in modern China are at least as well educated as men, and therefore have corresponding intellectual capabilities, Chinese women now choose themselves the men they want to associate with, and they apply rather stringent criteria.
Most definitely, they enter sexual relationships, including marriages, only with men whom they love and find physically attractive.
However, the design of the ideological superstructure of Chinese women, in general and in as far as it concerns sexual relationships, has not kept pace with the changes in the modes of production.
While practically all Chinese women today choose themselves their sexual partners and husbands, they are still very much caught within the folds of the old feudal ideology, whereby a woman must become only one man's wife.
Chinese women today assert their right to choose their sexual partners for themselves, but, with few exceptions, they do not assert their right for sexual fulfilment, especially when their sexual orientation is towards a variety of sexual partners.
Many Chinese women have not yet adapted their ideological superstructures to the country's changed modes of production. But, as the pattern of Chinese immigration to the US proves: hardly any non-European ethnic group assimilates as quickly to new social realities as do the Chinese.
It can therefore be predicted with little risk that Chinese women of coming generatins will be asserting their right to engage in sexual contact not just a part of a lifelong subsistence package, but primarily for sexual gratifications.
Chinese women in the coming years will switch from choosing men based on considerations of whether they can be lifelong husbands towards selecting men based on whether they love them and enjoy making love with them, just as in affluent Western societies.
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Copyright Luc Loranhe