For those who’ve been to a Tier 1 (or even Tier 2) city in China, you may find this post a little confusing. It’s time to talk about PDA’s or Public Displays of Affection. For a nation hooked to syrupy sweet pop music (which is still occasionally confiscated for being against public morals – rather than as it should be, being confiscated as a crime against music) you’d think this was no big deal.
The truth as always is a little different. Traditionally China has promoted modesty in public between the sexes and as such public displays of affection are frowned upon. In fact for a while there was an unwritten rule that members of the opposite sex should be at least 3 feet apart in public. This rule has long since departed, probably due to the enormous overcrowding of Chinese cities but the principles are still in play.
For the older generation public displays of affection are off the menu completely, many Chinese children have never seen their parents kiss or even say; “I love you”. In more traditional areas holding hands in public is still a no-no, in fact a friend of mine went to visit a female friend (based in Shenzhen) in her home town and received a swift kick to the shins for trying to hug her in greeting (as he would do normally) and was told; “You do not touch me in my town!”
Chinese people are much more comfortable being affectionate with members of the same sex when out and about. It’s not unusual to see girls walk down the street hand in hand, or men with arms draped over each other’s shoulders. If you should hit a nightclub it’s not uncommon for the sexes to be apart from each other, chaps dancing with chaps and ladies with ladies, either.
Even in the arts, you’ll often find couples played by two actors of the same sex because they find it less embarrassing to make slight intimate contact with a member of their own gender. Strip shows are illegal and are unheard of in China, even in brothels. Showgirls have been known to break down in tears when asked to wear a revealing or sexy costume on stage.
What about kissing? Well kissing is regarded as nearly as intimate as full sex, and as such it is a secretive act for many. Many young adults have never seen their parents kiss and have certainly never been kissed themselves. French kissing is almost never seen at all, though this is changing in Tier 1 cities – slightly. Some of the braver young souls will venture to expatriate bars or clubs to hide away and snog, knowing that foreigners are much less likely to be critical than their country folk.
Having said this, there is a move away from this rigidity and in 2009 a shopping centre held a Valentine’s Day kissing contest, and if you look carefully you can see young men stealing a quick peck from their partners on train station platforms and in cafes and restaurants.
My wife is OK about holding hands in public, but she draws the line at kissing – I occasionally grab a kiss any way but am often told; “You are crazy what if people see?” And I once got a proper ticking off from a taxi driver when I kissed her on the cheek before she got in to the car.
Why is this piece called “Kiss me Deadly”? Because there are kisses you want to avoid in China, in the previous decade a young lady, called Xia Xinfeng, murdered her lover by slipping him a poison capsule during a heady kiss. He died, but so did she when she was caught and executed by local authorities. So if you can, make sure your Chinese partner is in a good mood before getting passionate.