Studies on Women's Sexuality in China since 1980: A Critical Review

By Yuxin, Pei; Petula, Sik-ying Ho et al. | The Journal of Sex Research, May 2007 | Go to article overview
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Studies on Women's Sexuality in China since 1980: A Critical Review

Yuxin, Pei, Petula, Sik-ying Ho, Lun, Ng Man, The Journal of Sex Research


Over the last 20 years, women's sexuality has become one of the most written about and intensely debated subjects in sexology, sociology, and women's studies in mainland China. However, there have been relatively few academic studies on the subject, and these studies have been, until recently, mostly medical in their orientation. This paper reviews the most important of these studies, which are vastly different in their perspectives on women's sexuality, their methodological approaches used to gather data, and their construction of the images of women. The goals of this meta-analysis are to trace the process of development of a generative typology, which started with certain gender stereotypes that were later questioned, revised, supplemented, or displaced by competing typologies and classifications. Various academic disciplines (e.g., medicine, social sciences, humanities, and law) have introduced complementary and yet competing discourses on sex. This analysis shows how sexuality has been constructed and developed in academic discourse in China, assesses the contribution of the reports and papers reviewed, and addresses key issues concerning research on women and sexuality in China.


This review of sexuality studies in China is presented in two parts. In the first section, the researchers use a content analysis approach to examine the main databases of research published in China since 1980. In the second part, the works of prominent scholars are critically reviewed for their analyses of female sexuality.

Four key Chinese databases have served as the main sources of the first part of our research.

1. CJN (China Journals Net), which contains full-text articles from 5,000 reference journals and the titles of articles from 6,600 journals published in China since 1994.

2. RUC (Renmin University of China Database), the most comprehensive database for the subjects of social science and humanities in China. It contains all full-text articles from 3,500 journals since 1995 and the indexes of 2,300,000 articles published since 1979.

3. CDMD (China Doctoral Dissertations & Master's Theses Full-text Databases), which has a collection of 300,000 Master's and PhD dissertations submitted since 2000.

4. CPCD (China Proceedings of Conferences Database), which contains proceedings from national and international conferences and seminars on the latest research from academic associations, industrial organizations, governmental agencies, and international bodies in China.

Together, these four databases include virtually all the reference journals published in China. There are four main disciplines used in the construction of the databases:

1. Medicine/hygiene (MED)

2. Social Science/education (SOC)

3. Literature/history/philosophy (LIT)

4. Law/economics/politics (LAW)

Using a content analysis approach, the researchers searched the databases electronically, generating a lexicon of key terms and identifying frequently occurring key terms. (1) Using these key terms as search words, the researchers sorted out the articles by category, discipline and period, and were thus able to trace the development of different disciplines in the area of sex research. The works of prominent, influential scholars who have published frequently were then critically examined for their analysis of female sexuality.


The total number of articles and the five most frequent key terms in each discipline are listed in Table 1 (see Table 1). It shows that the volume of articles on sex research greatly exceeds that of other categories or disciplines.

The researchers have chosen to track the developments in each discipline by comparing the number of articles on a 5-year basis from 1980 to 2000, and on a year-to-year basis from 1994 to 2004. The reason for using this method is that annual comparison is appropriate for more recent years, following the rapid proliferation of publications, but for earlier periods when there was a smaller volume of publications, it seemed sensible to look at five-year periods.

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