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Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226238715
ISBN-10: 0226238717
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Opening Up conveys a panoramic, vivid, and fully convincing picture of the changing scene in China with remarkable assurance. James Farrer draws on extensive research and interviews with Chinese youth, revealing a rich and deep mastery of his subject. This is an extraordinary new book." - Ann Swidler, author of Talk of Love; "I can think of few books that offer such a layered appreciation for the textures of everyday life in urban China. Written in a hip and contemporary style, Opening Up is a pleasure to read." - Michael Dutton, author of Streetlife China

From the Inside Flap

From teen dating to public displays of affection, from the "fishing girls" and "big moneys" that wander discos in search of romance to the changing shape of sex in the Chinese city, this is a book like no other. James Farrer immerses himself in the vibrant nightlife of Shanghai, draws on individual and group interviews with Chinese youth, as well as recent changes in popular media, and considers how sexual culture has changed in China since its shift to a more market-based economy.

More and more men and women in China these days are having sex before marriage, creating a new youth sex culture based on romance, leisure, and free choice. The Chinese themselves describe these changes as an "opening up" in response to foreign influences and increased Westernization. Farrer explores these changes by tracing the basic elements in talk about sex and sexuality in Shanghai. He then shows how Chinese youth act out the sometimes-contradictory meanings of sex in the new market society. For Farrer, sexuality is a lens through which we can see how China imagines and understands itself in the wake of increased globalization. Through personal storytelling, neighborhood gossip, and games of seduction, young men and women in Shanghai balance pragmatism with romance, lust with love, and seriousness with play, collectively constructing and individually coping with a new culture based on market principles. With its provocative glimpse into the sex lives of young Chinese, then, Opening Up offers something even greater: a thoughtful consideration of China as it continues to develop into an economic superpower.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226238717
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226238715
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,809,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anyone who has spent any time in Shanghai knows that it is a city dripping with sex, from its "Wh*re of the Orient" label filtered down to the frolicking bra ads in the subway, the come-hither looks of Maoming Lu bar girls, and the ubiquitous revealing, form-fitting fashions. Yet for all of Shanghai's sexuality, it is decidedly unsensual due to the determined twinge of commercial opportunity that sours every interaction.
In Shanghai, money is sexy and sex is financial, a phenomenon that dominates James Farrer's intriguingly accurate but densely academic study of the city's recent sexual revolution. The characters and scenarios presented in Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai will be entertainingly familiar to residents of Shanghai or any other major Chinese city. Observers who have paid more than passing attention to sex in the city will be gratified for this rigorous quantification of the subject, but they will also probably be frustrated at the dense and distracting academic dialectic attempts to fit Shanghai into some postmodern deconstructive box.
Farrer combs comprehensively through all strata of Shanghai society, from the "Low Corner" blue-collars and marginalized unemployed to the downtown "little white collars" to the middle-aged "old cabbage leaves." These different classes and generations are dissected along with their respective mating rituals and the venues in which they are executed. There is a heavier focus on young white collar women, understandable given the author's perspective as an American married to one of them and his readership's likely greater exposure to and interest (prurient or otherwise) that group.
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Format: Paperback
As an anthropologist of Asia, I found this book sensitively written with the sort of rich detail that only comes from years of systematic field work, in this case, exclusively in Shanghai. The data is exhaustive and the facts well documented. (Although the footnote style makes references excruciatingly difficult to follow).
The book is also a pleasure to read. Rather than the usual heavy-handed dose of cultural theory with thin ethnographic data, we plunge into an amusing and readable narrative that is a tour through contemporary Shanghai's cultural scene, into poor neighborhoods, flashy discotheques and even back in time to the early 1980s (though arguably not back far enough to when Shanghai was really interesting -- the 1930`s and 40`s)
As a scholar I also found the introduction to the book particularly helpful. It is employs an innovative take on Kenneth Burke`s theory of rhetoric to analyze how popular representations and practices of sexuality are transformed in a complex changing social and economic context of Shanghai.
Farrer is able to bring to life the dynamics and contradictions -- sexual, social and economic -- that these young people face. This is very unusual in academic writing of any kind. I was struck by the way that he saw narratives of sexual play as important devices in the marking out of new moral terrains as the once-secure Chinese political and social landscapes fade away. I also thought the use of rhetoric theory pointed to new and refreshing approaches to the question of agency within the sociology of culture: Farrer clearly shows the struggle that young people in China are facing and how they deploy in innovative ways cultural forms from a wide range of global contexts to bear upon the immediate situation.
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By A Customer on July 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
I lived in Shanghai as a Chinese-speaking "expat" during most of the time Farrer conducted his research. This book accurately captures how the Chinese and westerners I knew talked about themselves and others during this period. He notably gives equal time to voices from the people of Shanghai that most foreigners never get to know, people who aren't represented in the glossy prosperity featured in international news magazines.
The academic jargon in the introductory chapter and interspersed throughout is distracting for readers unfamiliar with that literature, but in general Farrer wears his theory lightly, making it easy to understand or skip past.
Wei Hui's controversial novel Shanghai Baby should entertain those looking for a fictional treatment of many of the same issues.
Journalist Pam Yatsko's book New Shanghai also touches on these issues as well as the larger political, economic, and social trends over the same period.
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Format: Paperback
How does one get through verbiage such as the following?

"This [the above paragraph] approach to sexual cultural works within a tradition of social construction and symbolic interaction that explains variations in sexual culture in terms of cultural vocabularies, social organization, and social interaction. My approach is agnostic to the popular claims of evolutionary psychology that sexual drives are biologically programmed for mate selection." (page 7)

Mr. Farrer's book could have been easily shortened to one hundred pages had he eliminated the obtuse, sociological jargon. The book's main attraction is the combination of "China" and "sex" in the title. Adding "market reform" didn't hurt.

I have no problem with this book if it were listed as "pop culture." What makes this book questionable is Mr. Farrer's attempt to portray his bar hopping observations as a scholarly work.

Chinese terms in pin yin are sprinkled throughout the book. Yet these terms are simple Chinese words used in everyday conversation. They have no special bearing on the material except to impress the non-Chinese speaker.

There is no analysis of Chinese sexual mores prior to 1949. Mr. Farrer shows an embarrassing ignorance of Chinese sexual sophistication in spite of listing a bibliography of 252 references.

He makes no comparison of the effects fascism/communism and democracy have on the sexual behavior of a society.

Had he studied Spain, Taiwan, and South Korea as they changed from their conservative authoritarian government, he would have noted similar characteristics with Shanghai society.

Mr. Farrer's book gives a superficial description of a country and people who are going through a great social and economic change.
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