Liu Dalin is China's Alfred Kinsey; a former professor of sociology at Shanghai University and now the country's pioneer in the field of sexology. Throughout 1989-1990, Liu conducted a nationwide survey on sexual behaviour in China. During this time he steadily built up a collection of sex-themed antiques, which today numbers close to 4,000 artefacts and constitutes part of China's sex museum in Shanghai.
The museum, which Liu founded along with colleague Dr. Hu Hong Xia, has had some trouble over the years. Originally located on Nanjing Lu, the rent was too high and attracting customers was difficult – Liu wasn’t allowed to hang a sign outside with the word 'sex' on it. So the museum moved to Wuding Lu, before further financial issues forced it to relocate to Tongli in Jiangsu. Today, sufficient funds have been raised to allow a small second branch of the museum to open once again in Shanghai, at the Pu Dong end of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.
There are ten small exhibitions, each focusing on different aspects of sexuality. For example, there's a section on what the translation calls '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. All that really gets highlighted though is the fact that western countries have more laid back attitudes – over here you can't buy mugs with handles shaped like naked women.
A large part of the collection features the world of prostitution, such as tea cups which were used in brothels and have pictures of naked women at the bottom. Other exhibits are slightly harder to stomach, for instance a donkey saddle with a wooden dildo attached. Skip to the next paragraph now if you're squeamish. In ancient China, adulterous women were made to sit on the saddle and ride through town. The intention, as the English translation pointedly explains, was to 'ruin them'. Gruesome.
Alongside these attention-grabbing displays are some informative pieces, like the 'trunk bottom' artefacts, which are far less suggestive than their name might imply. When young girls were due to be married, their mothers put little boxes containing copulating figurines at the bottom of a trunk of their possessions. 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 picture of the world's biggest penis, which will stay with me for a long time, there aren't many photos; mostly the exhibition features ancient items, such as stone dildos or tiny shoes from 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 slaves sexually and domestically. The point of this museum, unlike some of its European counterparts, is genuinely to educate and not amuse. Who could get the giggles over foot binding?
It's surprising then that the only information on modern day sex, such as condoms and AIDS prevention, is right at the end and only in Chinese. As one of the 20% of foreigners who visit each year, I would like to have learnt more about China's stance on sex education today. Admittedly, the museum is meant to focus on ancient sex culture, but I thought it was with a view to understanding present day attitudes. Perhaps an extra section explaining how ancient culture has, or is supposed to have, influenced modern times would help.
Nonetheless, at 20rmb, it's worth a look and I thought it was better than its big brother in Tongli – Shanghai's exhibition is easier to follow and the artefacts are more clearly explained. Because it's at the end of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel the Shanghai sex museum is in a more interesting location too. (+The Tunnel is one of my favourite Shanghai activities. Contrary to its name, it doesn't show you any Bund sights but guides you through varying coloured flashing lights to the rhythmic thumps of an electro track. It's simultaneously funny, scary and exciting.) Couple China's first sex museum and a trip on the Tunnel (20rmb one way) for a uniquely Chinese day out.