Behind the Red Door: Sex in China

Behind the Red Door: Sex in China - CoverBehind the Red Door: Sex in China is the only book that provides a panoramic exploration of the story of sex in China from ancient times to today. The book surveys China’s shifting attitudes toward sex from thousands of years ago to the present, and unwraps the mystery of how a society that was once more sexually open than nearly any other shifted course and embraced sexual puritanism. Interviews with pimps, prostitutes, sex shop owners, sex therapists, gays and straights – all of these help to put a human face on this complex and much misunderstood topic.

Yes, China is undergoing a sexual revolution, but Behind the Red Door: Sex in China illustrates why it is distinctly different from that seen in the West. China is being pulled by contrary forces, its traditional conservative values and the lure of Western-style sexual openness. China’s government wants the country’s sexual revolution to be on its own terms, but can they contain it? The book explores these issues and paints a vivid picture of a country in the midst of seismic change.

Richard Burger, who has blogged about China for more than ten years and worked for the Chinese newspaper The Global Times, employs a journalistic approach to this complex subject, taking the reader on an engaging journey from the days when China’s rulers relied on shockingly explicit Daoist sex manuals to the present, where China is still recovering from the sexual blackout imposed by Mao Zedong sixty years ago.

Topics include the Internet’s deep impact on Chinese perceptions of sex, the mushrooming sex shop industry, China’s shifting attitudes toward homosexuality, the government’s frantic attempts to keep China’s sexual revolution in check, sexual habits and attitudes through China’s long history, and that strange phenomenon, “yellow fever.”

James Fallows, national correspondent at the Atlantic Monthly and author of China Airborne, said of the book, “I would pay to read any of Richard Burger’s insights and interpretations of modern China. To have him explore China through its sexual history, practices, hang-ups, and business ambitions is a particular treat. His writing has been distinguished by its combination of empathy and edge, two traits that come through very clearly in this book.”

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Advance Praise

I would pay to read any of Richard Burger's insights and interpretations of modern China. To have him explore China through its sexual history, practices, hang-ups, and business ambitions is a particular treat. His writing has been distinguished by its combination of empathy and edge, two traits that come through very clearly in this book.

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, author, China Airborne

A wonderful book. A rich exploration of the intimacies, physical and emotional, that have bound Chinese together over millennia of history.

James Palmer, author, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes and The Bloody White Baron

In telling a great story of the history of sex in China, Richard Burger peels back the curtain on the private lives of the world's most populous nation.

John Pomfret, Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post, author, Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and The Story of the New China

With a topic like Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, you might expect a work that is prurient or, the opposite: a dry, academic tome. Instead Richard Burger draws on his years of experience living in and writing about China to craft an informative, enlightening and entertaining survey on this fundamental yet utterly complex topic. Highly recommended for those with an interest in Chinese culture or in how human sexuality shapes and is shaped by a society. Burger's book would be equally at home on the shelves of travelers or expats wanting to learn more about the place they are visiting and professors needing an engaging book for their undergraduate classes.

Lisa Brackmann, author, Rock Paper Tiger

A wonderfully salacious and thoroughly entertaining guided tour through the five thousand years of Chinese history that you are not going to read about in standard accounts of the subject. The book will be an especially useful supplement to traditional textbooks for students of Chinese history.

Peter Vernezze, author, Socrates in Sichuan

A complex and fascinating story in a surprisingly engrossing way. Detailed descriptions of intimacy are handled in a sensitive yet matter-of-fact manner, never vulgar and always thoughtful. The reader is treated to an engaging, readable progression - providing a window into the history of and attitudes to sex in China from China's earliest written chronicles to the astonishing cultural changes of the past 40 years.

Jan Ziff, news host for CBS, former State Department correspondent for the BBC

In this humane, lively, and fluent exploration of a vast topic, it is astonishing how much ground Burger covers: the long shadow of Confucius, a taxonomy of mistresses, the zero-sum premise of ancient Daoist sex manuals, the etiquette of 21st-century dating; and the varying effects, sometimes subtle and often conscious, which authoritarian power has exerted on the Chinese pursuit of Eros.

A.E. Clark, translator, Tibet's True Heart

Incisive, funny and courageous, Richard Burger's writing provides a unique look at Chinese society.

Mei Fong, former Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent at The Wall Street Journal Beijing bureau