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Behind the Red Door: Sex in China by [Burger, Richard]
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4.5 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"I would pay to read any of Richard Burger's insights and interpretations of modern China. To have him explore China through its sexual history, practices, hang-ups, and business ambitions is a particular treat. His writing has been distinguished by its combination of empathy and edge, two traits that come through very clearly in this book."  —James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, author, China Airborne

"A wonderful book. A rich exploration of the intimacies, physical and emotional, that have bound Chinese together over millennia of history."  —James Palmer, author, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes and The Bloody White Baron

"In telling a great story of the history of sex in China, Richard Burger peels back the curtain on the private lives of the world's most populous nation."  —John Pomfret, Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post, author, Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and The Story of the New China

"With a topic like Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, you might expect a work that is prurient or, the opposite: a dry, academic tome. Instead Richard Burger draws on his years of experience living in and writing about China to craft an informative, enlightening and entertaining survey on this fundamental yet utterly complex topic. Highly recommended for those with an interest in Chinese culture or in how human sexuality shapes and is shaped by a society. Burger's book would be equally at home on the shelves of travelers or expats wanting to learn more about the place they are visiting and professors needing an engaging book for their undergraduate classes." —Lisa Brackmann, author, Rock Paper Tiger

"A wonderfully salacious and thoroughly entertaining guided tour through the five thousand years of Chinese history that you are not going to read about in standard accounts of the subject. The book will be an especially useful supplement to traditional textbooks for students of Chinese history."  —Peter Vernezze, author, Socrates in Sichuan

"A complex and fascinating story in a surprisingly engrossing way. Detailed descriptions of intimacy are handled in a sensitive yet matter-of-fact manner, never vulgar and always thoughtful. The reader is treated to an engaging, readable progression - providing a window into the history of and attitudes to sex in China from China's earliest written chronicles to the astonishing cultural changes of the past 40 years."  —Jan Ziff, news host for CBS, former State Department correspondent for the BBC

"In this humane, lively, and fluent exploration of a vast topic, it is astonishing how much ground Burger covers: the long shadow of Confucius, a taxonomy of mistresses, the zero-sum premise of ancient Daoist sex manuals, the etiquette of 21st-century dating; and the varying effects, sometimes subtle and often conscious, which authoritarian power has exerted on the Chinese pursuit of Eros."  —A.E. Clark, translator, Tibet's True Heart

"Incisive, funny and courageous, Richard Burger's writing provides a unique look at Chinese society."  —Mei Fong, former Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent at The Wall Street Journal Beijing bureau

About the Author

Richard Burger has more than 23 years of combined journalism and corporate communications experience. He worked as an editor for the Chinese newspaper The Global Times in Beijing and was a correspondent for the Fairchild News Syndicate and a contributor to the Baltimore Sun. He worked as a communications specialist for eight years in Greater China, with nearly four years spent in Beijing. His blog, The Peking Duck, was started in 2002 and was one of the first blogs in China.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1602 KB
  • Print Length: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Earnshaw Books (September 1, 2012)
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2012
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0093C1NKM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,348 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of "taboo" topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd. Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don't seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger's new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best know for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China's longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and *ahem* no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as "the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang." Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty - recognized as China's cultural zenith - which Burger's research surmises is no mere coincidence.

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only "for the purpose of producing heirs." As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, well researched and, most importantly, very well written. It manages to take arcane material, including what could become boring statistical data, and make it flow, keeping the reader engrossed. The author has created a narrative that spans thousands of years, and it reads like a very well written magazine article, fast-paced and filled with anecdotes and human characters that give the book a human feel. It is a fast and satisfying read. It is to the author's credit that he was able to secure interviews with prostitutes and pimps and ordinary people to humanize the material.

My one gripe is that he tells us quite sensibly in the introduction that it is impossible to draw neat and tidy conclusions about China's sexual revolution and where it is headed. Then, in the afterward, that is exactly what he tries to do, somewhat awkwardly. It's obvious he is trying to wrap it all up and come to an optimistic conclusion, but this seems forced, as though the author isn't sure himself whether he believes his own predictions. It's the one issue I had with the book. But that's a minor criticism, though I found it enough to lower my rating from 5 to 4 stars. The book is solid, and as far as I know there is no other book like it. Well worth the low price.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This work of sympathetic understanding often glints with indignation, humor, or pathos, but it is above all factual. Supported by careful research and a good journalist's eye for the telling detail, _Behind the Red Door_ sets forth how the Chinese understand and live their sexuality. Millennia of history as well as the diversity of more than a billion individuals alive today are expertly marshaled in focused chapters that cover everything from the far-reaching impact of the One-Child Policy to fashions in plastic surgery and the complex etiquette of dating.

Highly readable and extremely informative.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is weird right from the beginning.

Burger states his position at the outset that he will be a bricoleur and that this is not an exhaustive or directed research text-- rather an expository and impressionistic piece. Nonetheless, the range of sources he cited was barely passable and *might* make for good further reading for someone who is interested (unlike the present reviewer). One book that he cited that I emphatically recommend that anyone avoid is Mara Hvistendahl's garbage screed, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. The total bibliography ran to 2 pages and 18 sources. One was an undergraduate thesis, another was a MS thesis, two were from an encyclopedia, and another was from a website.

There were a few weird things/ lines of reasoning:

1. The first thing is that the author tries to tell us that China's ideas about sexuality didn't follow the Western progression. But first he tries to convince us that it did/should have and then devotes several pages (at recurring intervals) to explaining why that's wrong. (Real academic style stuff here-- convincing us of something that is obviously false in order to give the writer a platform for expostulation.)

2. The author went into a lot of weird Western (self-) flagellation in the chapter on homosexuality. (Have you ever noticed that academics try to make *every single ill* in the world the fault of the United States/ Western world?
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