By Raymond Zhou
I never knew China has nudist beaches. Even now, I am still not sure. I have not seen one myself, but then I must confess I have not been to one of those "hot" places.
If netizens are to be believed, a popular resort in Sanya, Hainan province, has evolved into an au naturel habitat. At its most crowded, there are 400-500 swimmers in their birthday suits, claimed one online posting.
A call to the local authorities turned up nothing. They would not confirm it.
This reminds me of previous reports I had read about nudist locations in other Chinese cities, for instance, one outside Harbin. They struck me as just grapevine news that could not be verified or denied.
Then it dawned on me that local officials have intuitively taken on the Bill Clinton strategy: Don't ask, don't tell. They surely know what is happening in their backyard, but they risk scaring away tourists and curiosity-seekers if they play tough; or they risk incurring the ire of higher-ups as well as the general public if they openly announce a policy of tolerance. The only sensible way out may be to keep their mouths shut and pretend it does not exist.
Is public nudity legal in China? I do not know. I have not heard of a law that legitimizes or forbids it, but it certainly goes against China's social mores. The puritanical constraints of Confucianism essentially put these matters off limit for rational debate. If you look online, the most oft-repeated argument by critics is: Would you take your wife to go skinny-dipping?
Paradoxically, the Chinese society has long put up with social nudity. Someone told me of women in rural places, young and old, who in the old days did not bother to wear tops in the suffocating heat of summer.
It is civilization, I realized, that put the camouflage of clothing on those who did not feel awkward before. In a sense, it is like the topless men who wander out of their urban homes in the summer. The government has made efforts to discourage them from the old habit, which dies hard. I guess you will not see such an "ungainly" sight during the Olympics because their neighbors will talk them into wearing a T-shirt.
My first time at a nudist beach was by pure accident. It was my first trip overseas - to Vancouver. I took an aimless walk along a beach near a university, and one turn, I found myself among a group of totally naked people.
One cannot separate nudity from sexuality until one has been to a nudist colony. No amount of squabbling can convince the non-believer. I am still amazed that China has nude models at fine arts academies. It took someone like the painter Liu Haisu to pioneer it and Mao Zedong to prevent it from being abolished. Actually, Mao called the efforts to ban it "feudal thinking", adding that even when bad incidents came out of it, it is a small sacrifice for the sake of art.
I am sure there are people who go to a nudist beach mainly to ogle. When China reintroduced social dancing in the early 1980s, people were also worried that it could lead to a spurt of extramarital affairs. If you ask around at one of those ubiquitous park dancethons, they will laugh and say the idea is ludicrous.
In a country with more pressing issues to solve, naturism is something that concerns a tiny slice of social life. People who are into it should exercise common sense and refrain from creating a scene; they should visit secluded locations for their activities such as sun-bathing and swimming. While the public should be more open-minded, the gradual pace of social acceptance is the intangible rule that guides such things.
(China Daily 07/19/2008 page4)