Never have I read such a large quantity of English books than during these two years when I am pursuing my master’s degree in creative writing. While I’m exposed to all sorts of media—TV, print publications, the Internet and others—in America, I’m shocked to learn that sex is openly discussed in this country. Compared to the English classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and others that I read in China, contemporary American literature is at least one hundred times more liberal regarding the subject of sex. I’m not sure if this is a fad or a deeply held belief in freedom of speech, but here people can write whatever they want.
I find it less convincing when a fictional or fact-based story includes substantial descriptions of love making or sexual abuse or sensual fantasies. Perhaps this is mainly because I come from a relatively conservative society. But let me put aside my cultural background, and compare today’s literature with the one produced a century or more ago in this country. Wouldn’t what we read today be classified as pornography in the 19th century?
Sex is prevalent in American movies, TV shows, glossy magazines and even young adult books. I understand why some English books written by Chinese writers are not circulated in China. Many authors and overseas readers believe a political reason is the only obstacle for the translation and publication of a book. But they overlook the fact that quite a lot of books contain sexual description. For instance, the National Book Award winner Waiting by Ha Jin has a graphic description of a rape. The New York bestseller Red Azalea by Anchee Min discusses homosexuality. Given long-standing cultural norms and taboos, how can the Chinese government allow publication of translated works containing explicit material?
Homosexuality is an especially sensitive topic in China. America, by comparison, is a place of openness for gays and lesbians. In my experience, many Americans are unashamed of, or even proud of, their homosexuality, which not many years ago was taboo and in many states actually illegal.
I’m still getting used to the openness and tolerance of American society. China is going to seem like a very different place when I return.