It’s the Chinese Sex and the City, so Where’s the Sex?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

The movie "Tiny Times" being promoted in Taipei on July 17, 2013

With the pace of Chinese modernization reaching exponential rates, you could be forgiven for thinking that the traditions surrounding love and relationships are morphing just as fast as the country’s urban skylines. And it certainly looks that way in the China depicted in this summer’s box-office smash, Tiny Times — or at least it does at first. Touted as the Chinese Sex and the City, the glitzy chick flick, which broke China’s opening-day records, follows four best friends in Shanghai as they totter around on Manolo Blahniks pursuing love and career success. The characters are suitably well traveled and urbane. And filmic backdrops do not come much more alluring and romantic than the great cosmopolis of Shanghai, which mesmerizes and draws in the young and ambitious from all over the country (director Guo Jingming, who wrote the series of novels that Tiny Times is based on and is currently China’s highest-earning writer, was one such bright young thing, forsaking his humble home in southwest China for the lights of the Bund).

But where’s the sex?

Well, there isn’t any — not on screen, anyway. The girls are super intelligent (Sandy To, a University of Hong Kong sociologist who has studied the demographic, tells TIME that postgrad degrees from overseas universities are de rigueur among Shanghai’s female highflyers). They’re hot enough. And they’re looking to meet the right guys too. But by the end of the movie they’re all single and celibate, having ditched high school sweethearts, jealous partners, controlling boyfriends and other hangers-on. In this respect, Tiny Times perfectly dramatizes the burning question asked by every successful young Chinese woman today: Where are all the decent guys?

(MORE: Sex, Lies and Photoshop — China’s Racy-Photo Scandals)

In a nation where sex-selection preferences have resulted in vastly more boys than girls, you would think that finding the right man would be a cinch — especially when the woman possesses the desirable attributes of looks, brains and career. But that’s not the case. In her research, To found a good deal of frustration among high-achieving women in Shanghai, aged 27 or above and single (a class derogatorily dubbed shengnu or “leftover women”). The state-run All-China Women’s Federation — perhaps in an urgent bid to find partners for China’s surplus men — says women who remain unmarried have only themselves to blame for being too “willful” or “picky.” But To discovered that educated women have trouble finding a male partner who does not try to stifle their careers or interests.

The researcher interviewed 50 professional women in Shanghai between 2008 to 2011, and found that they had trouble getting married because men felt that they were too successful. As a result some of the women were dating foreigners. “It’s the discrimination they face from very traditional Chinese men that leads them to more open-minded Western men,” To says. It isn’t just Chinese men who are holding on to traditional attitudes, however. To found a paradox among her high-earning interview subjects — that they could easily support a household, and afford to have a husband earning less than them, “but they still strive towards marriage in the traditional sense, in that they want to find men who can be the main breadwinner.”

(MORE: China’s Gays and Lesbians Join the Debate on Same-Sex Marriage)

There’s another factor that distracts many a Cosmo-sipping Shanghai girl from the pursuit of love and marriage. And that’s mom and dad. China’s one-child policy means that many women in their 20s and 30s bear the full burden of caring for their aging parents (and if they are tempted to evade those duties, there is a law to catch them out). “Parents are primarily dependent on their only children as a result of the family-planning policy and … barely functional social-welfare programs,” says Shanghai-born academic Jue Sun, who studied the romantic experiences of Shanghai women for her doctoral thesis at the University of Hong Kong, and was interviewed by e-mail for TIME.

Sun adds that while the state often tries to get involved in personal relationships, the women she spoke to did not lay the blame of their romantic frustrations on the state. “They are not inclined to contest the social circumstances through direct participation in the public sphere,” she says, “but rather to negotiate privately.” The characters in Tiny Times certainly lead completely apolitical lives — one wonders if that’s why the movie has had such an easy ride with China’s notoriously picky censors. The state-run People’s Daily has grumbled about the movie’s ostentatious materialism and individualism in an essay that it headlined “Sequels to Tiny Times Cannot Be Allowed Unconditionally.” But the filmmakers are unfazed: the sequel Tiny Times 2.0 is already out, barely two months after the original movie. And without giving too much away, the new movie is a lot sexier than the first one. Things change fast in the new China.

MORE: Communist Party Officials Gone Wild — Sex-Tape Scandal Rocks China

32 comments
Kutadgubilig
Kutadgubilig

@TIME Democracy and humanity was killed, by foreign and military forces in Egypt. But Islam will win again

Seeho  Yip
Seeho Yip

tiny in Chinese means small not sex...

sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

Reading this article as an Indian, this could equally well apply to India!!

The 'dearth' of fine men for talented women ... though males outnumber females in this country.

Of course, the difference is that there is no one-child policy in India.


Monika Gotkiewicz
Monika Gotkiewicz

I think there are more important things to talk about...so much going on in the world and we are bringing up our children with shows like sex and the city wether here or there...wake up everyone, it is all about money (for the rich to get richer).

Eric Lin
Eric Lin

Really? o.o Because I know Chinese and I don't think that's true.

Mudi Mahmoud
Mudi Mahmoud

No reason to doubt True Manchester United fan!

Rupak Bhattarai
Rupak Bhattarai

"tiny" means sex in chinese!! so sex,s in the name!!

queenofromania
queenofromania

Having lived in China, I was told that Chinese couples (boyfriends and girlfriends) went to the movies to have sex because in the darkened theaters, they had a degree of privacy that they did not experience in the home or their own living situations. So, there appears to be plenty of sex in the movies. It's just that the sex is happening in the theaters and not in the movies themselves. 

Zackster
Zackster

Well, from another side, this movie brings topics in China indeed, but to most normal Chinese after watching it, they talked about what this movie reflects - A unreality, top classes, huge gap between the rich and the poor. It reflects and reminders Chinese, this society brings the most with disparity and rich = corruption, overiding the law, privileged. So, soon after this movie was released, a govenmet background media - People's Daily critized it as an "excessive pursue of materism." , which was trying to put out the sparks that Chinese people may start to blame the ugly facts of this society.

SunnyZhang
SunnyZhang

actually, the movie isn't touted as Sex and the City in China. and if there is too much sex there, the movie can't come out in theater. and it's embarrassing to see it publicly (you know, Chinese culture). i think there is nothing wrong with it. i dont want China and its culture to become the same as in the west. 

nicolejmmartin
nicolejmmartin

@TIME love this idea!! Suddenly thinking my day at the office will improve quite a bit!!

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

if there's no sex, it's not the chinese sex and the city. it's a show about women who live in a city. and work in that city. and shop, eat, go out, etc. in that city. that's literally every sitcom ever about women in a city without sex in it. awesome insight here

Kutadgubilig
Kutadgubilig

@TIME Democracy and humanity was killed, by foreign enemy forces in Egypt and Sryia. But Islam will win again

Kutadgubilig
Kutadgubilig

@TIME Democracy and humanity was killed, by foreign enemy forces in Egypt and Syria. But Islam will win again

Kutadgubilig
Kutadgubilig

@TIME Democracy and humanity was killed, by foreign enemy forces in Egypt and Syria. But Islam will win forever