CCCH9013 China: Culture, State and Society
Love, Marriage and Sex in Modern China

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]

Course Description

This course enables students to understand how love, sex and marriage constitute a useful lens for understanding Chinese culture, thoughts, values and ways of life so as to provide a glimpse into the complex interconnections between political, cultural, economic and interpersonal realms of experience. The course begins with issues that are personally relevant to young people – mate choice, love, marriage, sex and family – with a view to help them think about the historical and cultural roots of values concerning love, sexuality, marriage, and family life in China. In particular, the course will examine the profound transformation in Chinese values, lifestyles, norms and desires, from Maoist utopianism to reform-era hedonism, brought about by market reforms and the opening of China. Through case studies of love and marriage in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, we hope to enable students to understand the diverse characteristics of “Chinese” ways of life, and how Chinese people may currently experience love, sex, marriage and cross different types of borders and boundaries to look for intimacies. Documentary films will be used to give a vivid sense of the different strategies modern Chinese men and women use to fulfill material, affective and sexual desires as a response to social changes. Possible topics include: the three bonds and five relationships in Confucian humanism; the class-based consciousness and the movement-based passions of Mao-era socialism; the impact of Post-Mao reforms on family life; urban families in the eighties and the one child policy; family strategies and economic transformation in rural China; postsocialist China and quality-based desire; shengnv and the changes under the Marriage Law in China; temporary love in urban cities; xiaojies and sex workers in the Pearl River Delta; queer China and cooperative marriage; political dissidents and civic movement in contemporary China.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe and explain key concepts for understanding the diversity and plurality of Chinese culture.
  2. Apply key concepts to analyze the dynamics of dating, mate selection and marriage, and how individual views, choices and behaviour are shaped by complex interconnected political, economic and social forces in different regions in China.
  3. Identify the broad changes and the transformation in China and the world in order to understand how these come to influence the most intimate aspects of one’s life.
  4. Engage in critical reflections on one’s life choice in relation to social norms of specific gender, class and race categories.
  5. Demonstrate cultural sensitivity and interpersonal skills in group projects.
  6. Use the communication skills and techniques acquired to conduct and present their own case studies to an audience in different art forms.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Fieldwork / Visits 8
Reading / Self-study 40
Digital storytelling workshops 2
Assessment: Essay / Proposal writing 21
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 5
Assessment: Production of audio-visual art work 60
Total: 170

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Online Quiz (Multiple Choice) 5
Group project 35
In-class quiz 10
Class participation 10
Tutorial assessment 40

Required Reading

Basic texts

Selections from:

  • Davis, D., & Friedman, S. (Eds.). (2014). Wives, husbands, and lovers: Marriage and sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China. Stanford University Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1995). The body of the condemned. In A. Sheridan (Trans.), Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (pp. 3-31). New York: Vintage Books.
  • Ho, P. S. Y., & Tsang, A. K. T. (2012). Sex & desire in Hong Kong. HK: HKU Press & China Social Sciences Press.
  • Kong, T. S. (2016). The sexual in Chinese sociology: Homosexuality studies in contemporary China. The Sociological Review, 64(3), 495–514.
  • Ringen, S. (2016). The perfect dictatorship: China in the 21st Century. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Rubin, G. (1984, 1993). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In H. Abelove, M. A. Barale & D. M. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 3-18). London: Routledge.
  • Wong, D. (2016). Sexology and the making of sexual subjects in contemporary China. Journal of Sociology, 52(1), 68-82.


Other required readings

  • Giddens, A. (2009). Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press. [pp. 600-623]
  • Ho, P. S. Y. (2006). The (charmed) circle game: Reflections on sexual hierarchy through multiple sexual relationships. Sexualities, 9(5), 547-564.
  • Ho, P. S. Y. (2011). Recognition struggle: One woman’s politics of iconogenesis. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 17(1), 7-27.
  • Jeffreys, E. (Ed.). (2006). Sex and sexuality in China. London: Routledge.
  • King, G., Pan, J., & Roberts, M. (2013). How censorship in China allows government criticism but silences collective expression. American Political Science Review, 107(2), 326-343.
  • Kong, S. K. (2010). Chinese male homosexualities: Memba, tongzhi and golden boy. London: Routledge.
  • Kong, T. S. (2016). The sexual in Chinese sociology: Homosexuality studies in contemporary China. The Sociological Review, 64(3), 495–514.
  • Lee, C. K., & Hsing, Y. T. (2009). Reclaiming Chinese society: The new social activism. London: Routledge. [pp. 1-14]
  • Lee, C. K., & Zhang, Y. H. (2013). The power of instability: Unraveling the microfoundations of Bargained Authoritarianism. American Journal of Sociology, 118(6), 1475-1508.
  • Liu, J. (2007). Gender and work in urban China. London: Routledge. [pp. 25-39]
  • Lorde, A. (1984). Uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg, NY, Crossing Press.
  • Pan, S. (2006). Transformations in the primary life cycle: The origins and nature of China’s sexual revolution. In E. Jeffreys (Ed.), Sex and sexuality in China (pp. 21-42). London: Routledge.
  • Sigley, G. (2006). Sex, politics and the policing of virtue in the People’s Republic of China. In E. Jeffreys (Ed.), Sex and sexuality in China (pp. 43-61). London: Routledge.
  • Wang, S. Y. Y., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2014). Book review: Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi communities and politics in urban China. China Information, 28, 113-115.
  • Wang, X. Y., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2007). Violence and desire in Beijing − A young Chinese woman’s strategies of resistance in father-daughter incest and dating relationships. Violence against Women13(12), 1319-1338.
  • Wang, Y. (2015). Cooperative marriage, a “fake marriage” or a new intimate alliance? (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR.
  • Wong, D. (2015). Sexual minorities in China. In J. D. Wright (Ed.), International encyclopedia of social and behavioral sciences (2nd ed.) (pp. 734-739). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Zeng, J. (2014). The politics of emotion in grassroots feminist protests: A case study of Xiaoming Ai’s nude breasts photography protest online. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(1), 41-52.

Recommended Reading

  • Bao, H. (2016). “Same-sex wedding”, queer performance and spatial tactics in Beijing. In X. Lin, C. Haywood, & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), East Asian men: Masculinity, sexuality and desire (pp. 107-121). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bell, D. (2008). China’s new Confucianism: Politics and everyday life in a changing society. Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press. 
  • Bernstein, E. (2007). Buying and selling the “girlfriend experience”: The social and subjective contours of market intimacy. In M. B. Padilla, J. S. Hirsh, M. Muñoz-Laboy, R. Sember, & R. G. Parker (Eds.), Love and globalization: Transformation of intimacy in the contemporary world (pp.186-202). Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
  • Bernstein, E. (2007). Temporarily yours: Intimacy, authenticity, and the commerce of sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Boittin, M. (2013). New perspectives from the oldest profession: Abuse and the legal consciousness of sex workers in China. Law & Society Review, 47(2), 245-278.
  • Burger, R. (2012). Behind the red door: Sex in China. Hong Kong: Earnshaw Books.
  • Cao, J., & Guo, L. (2016). Chinese “Tongzhi” community, civil society, and online activism. Communication and the Public, 1(4), 504-508.
  • Cao, J., & Lu, X. (2014). A preliminary exploration of the gay movement in mainland China: Legacy, transition, opportunity, and the new media. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 39(4), 840– 848.
  • Chen, M. (2017). Crossing borders to buy sex: Taiwanese men negotiating gender, class and nationality in the Chinese sex industry. Sexualities.
  • Chin, K., & Finckenauer, J. (2012). Selling sex overseas: Chinese women and the realities of prostitution and global sex trafficking. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Choi, S. Y., & Luo, M. (2016). Performative family: Homosexuality, marriage and intergenerational dynamics in China. The British Journal of Sociology, 67(2), 260-280.
  • Davis, D. (2010). Who gets the house? Renegotiating property rights in post-socialist urban China. Modern China, 36(5), 463-492.
  • Davis, D. (2014). Privatization of marriage in post-socialist China. Modern China, 40(6), 551-577.
  • Ding, Y. (2008). Transitions and new possibilities of sex work: Xiaojies’ perception of work and way of life in the Pearl River Delta. The University of Hong Kong.
  • Ding, Y. (2012). Negotiating intimacies in an eroticized environment: Xiaojies and south China entertainment business. International Journal of Business Anthropology, 3(1), 138-175.
  • Ding, Y., & Ho, P. S. (2013). Sex work in China’s Pearl River Delta: Accumulating sexual capital as a life-advancement strategy. Sexuality, 16(1/2), 43-60.
  • Ding, Y., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2008). Beyond sex work: An analysis of xiaojies’ understandings of work in the Pearl River Delta Area, China. In S. Jackson, J. Liu & J. Woo (Eds.), East Asian sexualities: Modernity, gender and new sexual cultures (pp. 123-138). London: Zed Books.
  • Engebretsen, E. (2014). Queer women in urban China: An ethnography. London: Routledge.
  • Engebretsen, E. (2017). Under pressure: Lesbian-gay contract marriages and their patriarchal bargains. In G. Santos & S. Harrell (Eds.), Transforming patriarchy: Chinese families in the 21st century (pp. 163-181). Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Engebretsen, E., Schroeder, W., & Bao, H. (Eds.). (2015). Queer/tongzhi China: New perspectives on research, activism, and media cultures. Denmark: NIAS Press.
  • Erni, J. (2016). Internet sex chatting and “vernacular masculinity” among Hong Kong youth. In J. Coffey, S. Budgeon, & H. Cahill (Eds.), Learning bodies: The body in youth and childhood studies. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Evans, H. (2008). Negotiating gender boundaries between “inner” and “outer”. In The subject of gender: Daughters and mothers in urban China (pp. 101-124). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Evans, H. (2008). Sexed bodies, sexualised identities, and the limits of gender. China Information, 22(2), 361-386.
  • Fang, G. (2016). Dian ying zhong de xing bie bao li [Gender-based violence in films]. Beijing: Zhong guo she hui ke xue chu ban she.
  • Feng, W., Gu, B., & Cai, Y. (2016). The end of China’s one-child policy. Studies in Family Planning, 47(1), 83-86.
  • Feng, X. (2006). Residential patterns among married women of the first generation of only children: A survey of twelve cities. Population research, 30(5), 59-63.
  • Fong, V. (2007). Parent-child communication problems and the perceived inadequacies of Chinese only children. Ethos, 35(1), 85-127.
  • Ford, C. A. (2015). The Party and the Sage: Communist China’s use of quasi-Confucian rationalizations for one-party dictatorship and imperial ambition. Journal of Contemporary China, 24(96), 1032-1047.
  • Glosser, S. (2003). Chinese visions of family and state, 1915-1953. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [pp. 27-52, 174-196]
  • Hershatter, G. (2007). Women in China’s long twentieth century. Berkeley, CA: Global, Area, and International Archive, University of California Press. [pp. 7-50]
  • Hesketh, T., Zhou, X., & Wang, Y. (2015). The end of the one-child policy: Lasting implications for China. JAMA, 314(24), 2619-2620. From
  • Ho, P. S. (2011). Beyond obedience and virtue: Love, sex and marriage in Hong Kong. Global Asia, 6(3), 26-31.
  • Ho, P. S. (2012). Hong Kong men’s stories of intra-national cross border romances. Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 22(3), 176-186.
  • Ho, P. S. (2013). Introduction to the special section – Remapping the erotic: Interrogations from Asia. Sexualities, 16(1/2), 3-11.
  • Ho, P. S., & Hu, Y. (2016). Pray the gay away: Identity conflict between Christianity and sexuality in Hong Kong sexual minorities. Gender Place, and Culture, 23(12), 1725-1737.
  • Hoang, K. (2015). Dealing in desire: Asian ascendancy, Western decline, and the hidden currencies of global sex work. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
  • Hong, Y., Zhang, C., Li, X., Liu, W., & Zhou, Y. (2013). Partner violence and psychosocial distress among female sex workers in China. PLOS ONE, 8(4), e62290.
  • Hong-Fincher, L. (2014). Leftover women: The resurgence of gender inequality in China. London, United Kingdom: Zed Books.
  • Huang, Y., & Pan, S. (2014). Government crackdown of sex work in China: Responses from female sex workers and implications for their health. Global Public Health, 9(9), 1067-79.
  • Jackson, S., & Scott, S. (2010). Theorizing sexuality. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Jacobs, K. (2012). People’s pornography: Sex and surveillance on the Chinese Internet. Bristol: Intellect.
  • Jeffreys, E. (2012). Prostitution scandals in China: Policing, media and society. London, New York: Routledge.
  • Jeffreys, E. (2015). Political celebrities and elite politics in contemporary China. China Information, 30(1), 58-80.
  • Kam, L. Y. (2013). Shanghai lalas: Female tongzhi community and politics in urban China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Kam, L. Y. (2014). Desiring T, desiring self: “T-style” pop singers and lesbian culture in China. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 18(3), 252-65.
  • Kam, L. Y. (2015). The demand for a “normal life”: Marriage and its discontents in contemporary China’. In M. McLelland & V. Mackie (Eds.), Routledge handbook of sexuality studies in East Asia. Oxon, New York: Routledge.
  • Louie, K. (Ed.) (2016). Changing Chinese masculinities: from imperial pillars of state to global real men. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Lui, L. (2016). Sexual harassment of women in China: the role of liberal sexual attitudes. Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, 12(2), 181-196.
  • McDowell, L. (2008). Thinking through work: complex inequalities, constructions of difference and trans-national migrants. Progress in Human Geography, 32(4), 491-507.
  • Osburg, J. (2013). Anxious wealth: Money and morality among China’s new rich. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press. 
  • Pan, L., & Ye, J. (2012). Sexuality and marriage of women with intellectual disability in male-squeezed rural China. Sexuality and Disability, 30(2), 149-160.
  • Pei, Y. X., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2006). Iron girls, strong women, beautiful women writers and super girls: A discourse analysis of the gender performance of women in contemporary China. Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, 15, 61-71.
  • Pei, Y. X., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2008) Sex life and politics formed through the Internet: Online and offline dating experiences of young women in Shanghai. In K. E. Kuah-Pearce (Ed.), Chinese women and the cyberspace. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Rofel, L. (2007). Desiring China: Experiments in neoliberalism, sexuality and public culture. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Seidman, S., Fischer, N., & Meeks, C. (2007). Introducing the new sexuality studies: Original essays and interviews. London: Routledge.
  • Song, G., & Hird, D. (2014). Men and masculinities in contemporary China. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
  • Suen, Y. T. (In press). Challenging the “majority support” argument on not introducing an antidiscrimination legislation on the ground of sexual orientation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Law Journal.
  • Suen, Y. T. (In press). Mental health of transgender people in Hong Kong. Journal of Homosexuality.
  • Suen, Y. T., Wong, A. W., Barrow, A., Wong, M. Y., Mak, W. S., Choi, P. K., & Lau, T. F. (2016). Report on study on legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. From
  • Tang, D. T. (2011). Conditional spaces: Hong Kong lesbian desires and everyday life. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Tang, D. T. (2017). All I get is an emoji: Dating on lesbian mobile phone app Butterfly. Media, Culture & Society, 39(6), 816-832.
  • Tsang, E. Y. (2017). Finding hope as a “tempting Girl” in China: Sex work, indentured mobility, and cosmopolitan individuals. Deviant Behavior, 1-14.
  • Tsang, E. Y. (In press). Re-framing love with the “dirty girl”: Sex work and intimate relationships in urban China. China Quarterly.
  • Tung, S. Y. (2015). What’s gay about being single? A qualitative study of the lived experiences of older single gay men. Sociological Research Online, 20(3).
  • Tung, S. Y. (2017). Older single gay men’s body talk: Resisting and rigidifying the aging discourse in the gay community. Journal of Homosexuality, 64(3), 397-414.
  • Uretsky, E. (2016). Occupational hazards: sex, business, and HIV in post-Mao China. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press. 
  • Wang, X. Y., & Ho, P. S. (2011). “Female virginity complex” untied: Young Chinese women’s experience of virginity loss and sexual coercion. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 81(2-3), 184-200.
  • Wu, W., Fore, S., Wang, X., & Ho, P. S. Y. (2007). Beyond the virtual carnival and masquerade: In-game marriage on the Chinese Internet. Games and Culture, 2(1), 59-89.
  • Zarafonetis, N. (2017). Sexuality in a changing China: Young women, sex and intimate relations in the reform period. New York, NY: Routledge.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor P.S.Y. Ho
Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 2091
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor P.S.Y. Ho
Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 2091