The gradual progress of the China Sex Museum from its original site in central Shanghai, then to the city outskirts, then to its current, picturesque surroundings in the small historic canal town of Tong Li, says a lot about the attitude of the authorities to what is essentially a collection of anatomically-correct historic statues and antique playthings. Unsurprisingly, it remains China’s only sex museum. It can still be seen as part of a general trend in East Asia towards displaying stranger artefacts for general amusement, with sex museums opening in Korea and Japan, and symptomatic of a more relaxed attitude towards what was previously taboo.
The CSM was founded by the sexologist Dr Liu Dalin, China’s answer to the US’s Dr Kinsey. Writing his own report on modern sexual behaviour and attitudes within China in the late nineties, he has published several books about the history of Chinese erotica and erotic objects; a lifelong sex researcher, the bulk of CSM’s collection is constituted of his own finds and donations from those sympathetic to his project. This project’s aim is, no less, the development and progress of sexual freedoms beyond monogamy to a point between the extremes of “indulgence” and “confinement”.
The artefacts comprising the exhibition are showcased in a way that describes, as Dr Liu sees it, the conflicts between sexual ignorance and civilization, oppression and resistance. Relics of a rich social history, exhibits range from a luxuriously lacquered courtesan’s bed and instruments for foot binding, to a humorously-shaped stone post used for tethering horses and early woodcut print pornography.
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