Sexual Radicals?

South China Morning Post (July 1, 2004) Bradley Winterton

A not-guilty verdict last week in what has become known as the “beast love” case highlights the continuing battle between Taiwan’s traditionalists and its sexual radicals.

The prosecution was brought by a group of parents, teachers, and others against a prominent feminist, Josephine Ho Chuen-Juei, a professor at the National Central University. Ms. Ho had been charged over providing students with links to a US website about people having sex with animals.

Ms. Ho and her colleagues argued they were not endorsing such practices. Putting barriers in the way of such knowledge was on a par with historical banning their students from studying about Nazi Germany, they said. “Academics research whatever they like in other spheres, but for some reason sexuality is viewed as a special case, “one of them said.

Taiwan is host to one of the most progressive movements of sexual radicalism in Asia, yet as the same time it is a major centre of Confucian tradition. Conflict between the two impulses was bound to emerge eventually. Today the radicals, who enjoyed a run of successes in the 1990s, are encountering a backlash which is gathering force and shaping itself for further confrontations. An intriguing aspect of the recent case was that key figures on both sides were women. Is this a sign of Puritanism on the rise? Some radicals here think it is, even though last week’s judgment went in their favor.

They point to other cases currently in the news, such a s the impounding of pornographic magazines destined for a Taipei gay bookstore and the prosecution of a housewife and a student for having virtual sex on the internet. The safest conclusion is probably that the forces arguing for greater erotic freedom and those seeking to protect family values are always and everywhere in opposition, and the battles between them will go sometimes one way, sometimes another. Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in Taiwan, where rapid modernization and the historical legacy have combined to give a defining edge to both camps.

“What’s important is that society doesn’t get into moral panic mode,” said Nae-fei Ding, author of a recent study of China’s 17th century erotic classic Jing Ping Mei, last week. She was probably thinking of Victorian England, or the 1950s in the US. In other societies the belief flourished that unconventional sexual behavior in some way threatened the population at large.

Such a development seems unlikely in free-wheeling, tolerant Taiwan. But one thing is certain. With several cases still before the courts, and an appeal in the offing in the “beast love” affair, last week’s judgment will not be the end of the story.