Naturists tread with care on the path to acceptance

Updated: 2014-03-21 07:51

By Zhang Lei (China Daily)

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Commercial nudism

Li Zhuo, a professor in the oil painting department of Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, said Chinese society is presented a distorted version of nudism. "For example, you can easily find in the media many advertisements featuring half-naked young women. Some businesses such as spa centers invite models to bathe in front of the public wearing revealing dresses. Some auto shows hire nude painting models to attract attention. Such commercial nudism means people are inclined to associate nudist culture with marketing gimmicks," he said.

According to Li, such commercialization is giving nudism a bad name and attracting an increasing number of people carrying out businesses on the margins of the law. "Nudism is and should be a private act, and it should not affect the lives of others. I don't think the government has the right to interfere, but if someone is making money out of it, then don't call it nudism," Li said.

In February, local law enforcement officers in Sanya, Hainan province, dissuaded nudists from entering the city's Donghai public beach, and a 58-year-old male nudist was sentenced to five days in custody after refusing to leave the premises.

The beach has attracted nudists since 2002. Contrary to other nudist bathhouses that have strong commercial agendas, nudists at this particular sandy beach gather spontaneously. Fang Gang, a sexologist with Beijing Forestry University, has appealed to the relevant government departments to launch judicial proceedings as soon as possible to grant legal status to such beaches.

However, Sanya police said they will arrange a 24-hour police presence to ensure no nudists ever use the beach again. The move has fueled another round of public debate about the pros and cons of a law covering public nudism. Prior to closing the beach in Sanya to nudists, the police usually turned a blind eye to them, so long as there were no complaints. Fang said the nudists at Donghai beach normally chose a relatively sparse terrace on the beach, and some of them were not real nudists but came to sunbathe to cure fungal skin diseases.

Zhang Meimei, director of the sexual health education center at Capital Normal University, believes it is too early to set up legal nudist beaches in China. She said unlike in Western countries, Chinese culture does not have a history of nudism, therefore people are likely to be physiologically or sexually aroused in a public nude environment. Western countries easily accept and appreciate nudism, because Western culture is influenced by ancient Greece, which elevated the beauty of the naked body.

Zhang said that even if China were to establish nudist beaches in the future, they should be on secluded islands, far from the mainland. If Donghai beach is transformed into a nudist beach, surrounded by swarming tourists and hotels, it will inevitably attract peeping toms and shady behavior.

Word of mouth

Since public acceptance and the law are equally lacking, nudists clubs and activities in big cities such as Beijing are still limited to nudists who get to know each other through word of mouth. Wang Yang said new members can only join their club if recommended by a friend.

Wang Yang organizes getaways to Beijing's mountainous areas such as Fangshan from spring to autumn, and nude swimming is his favorite pastime. "Since we know each other well, awkward situations such as erections never happen, and we take our outing in a playful manner, no different from fully dressed people hiking up a mountain. There is no sex involved, nobody would even think about it. The only difference perhaps is that without the constraint of clothes, we can appreciate nature more," he said.

"Several years ago, we used to go nude swimming after 10 pm in Bayi Lake at Yuyuantan Park. Actually there were a lot of nude swimmers. It was an ideal place for nudists, because it is in the city, so we didn't have to traipse out to the suburbs. But two years ago the water quality deteriorated, and we had to relocate all our activities to remote places. I believe this shows that a growing number of city residents long for a release from the ever-increasing tempo of city life, and there should be a venue for them to shed some of their pressures. Naturist activities are ideal in this regard."

Wang said the public has a distorted vision of nudists. Even in the West, nudist activities have to comply with certain codes, members are prohibited from using any language or doing anything that make others feel uncomfortable or unpleasant, especially criticizing someone else's body. Staring at others is impolite and even couples cannot openly express sexually suggestive topics.

A cultural signal

Fang Gang, the sex expert, said the rise of spontaneous nudists' activities is a cultural signal, which shows that Chinese people's sexual attitudes and multicultural acceptance are evolving. Several hundred online message boards dedicated to naturists have emerged in recent years. Type "Beijing naturists" on QQ (China's version of Microsoft live messenger), and you will find at least 20 to 30 such groups.

In his book Nudists: Contrasting Observations Between the Chinese Mainland and Taiwan, Fang portrays the inner world and the real practice of China's nudists, so the public can hear their true voice and show greater tolerance. Many naturists admit that the current social atmosphere makes them feel like criminals.

"Nudism is just a way of life. It is nothing to be ashamed of. But I cannot help feeling some people treat us like perverts," said Wang Yang.

But, he said, times change and such narrow-minded thinking will change sooner rather than later. Until then he "doesn't care about what people think".

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