BEIJING—For all its bravado, China often seems a land sexually conflicted.
Prostitution is illegal, yet street-side brothels and hotel in-call services are open and thriving in most cities. Pornography is against the law, yet sex shops proliferate in even the smallest of neighborhoods. But a widely trumpeted sex park that made headlines around the world went a bit too far for everyone's taste—especially for government officials, who shuttered the project before it got off the ground.
Given the confusing contradictions, the ultimate fate of Chongqing's Love Land was hardly surprising. Grand plans for a park that loudly and boldly put sex on display, with sex technique workshops, giant models of genitalia and over-the-top exhibits were slammed shut over the weekend after park developers boasted of their project in the press. Love Land may have taken China's sexual revolution just a little bit too far.
"In some ways, the concept of the sex park and its sudden closure represent the same phenomenon, a sense in China that sex has been repressed and should be 'opened up' to match the culture of sex abroad," said sociologist James Farrer, author of a book on youth sex culture in Shanghai. "And 'opening up' in China means commercial exploitation."
Farrer continued, "As for the closing of the park, it reflects the reality that Chinese are indeed conservative about sex, at least in public, though not necessarily very conservative in private."
Lu Xiaoqing, vice president of the company that touted and began building the park, sounded more like a contrite schoolboy than a businessman peddling sex secrets when he spoke to Chinese press Monday about why the development had been scrapped. Lu told journalists in Chongqing that his company erred by failing to get proper government permission to build the sex park. Love Land, he said, proved instead to be a black eye to Chongqing.
"We wanted to build this park to increase our own name and business, so we were wrong," Lu was quoted as saying.
Despite being a far more open society sexually, the failed experiment proved China does have some limits.
Liu Dalin, the pioneering Chinese sexologist who founded a much-publicized and taboo-busting sex museum in Shanghai more than a decade ago, said studying and publicizing sex culture in China can be a difficult balancing act. Liu's museum in Shanghai was later moved to an outlying suburb.
"Among regular people, it is becoming a more open topic," Liu said in a telephone interview. "We have held many exhibitions around China, including five this year, and we can feel people are even more interested than before."
"But government controls can still be very strict," he explained.
Sexpert Liu said the odd tale of Chongqing's Love Land is just another example of China's sex-culture growing pains.
"Along with China's opening and reform, there will of course be an opening up in sex culture, a healthy one," Liu said. "No one can prevent this from happening, but some twists and turns are unavoidable."
Farrer said he believes Love Land may have overreached in its commercial, not just cultural, aspirations.
"People in China are willing to pay for sex in barber shops and saunas because they get a straightforward sexual service, often including full intercourse. There are now sexual services for women as well," he said. "The theme park in contrast was just a bunch of exhibits and pictures, and people would have quickly tired with it."