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Beach brouhaha is only natural

[ 2014-02-26 16:36] 来源:中国日报网     字号 [] [] []  
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Nude sunbathers in tropical Hainan have attracted legions of gawkers and now a crackdown. It's better they are kept from public sight, but the public should be ready for the winds of change.

While the rest of China is shrouded in winter cold, the southern tip of Hainan Island is bathed in summer heat. That's why people from the bleak north flock to cities like Sanya. A few of the visitors got so carried away by the welcoming sun that they started skinny-dipping or lying on the beach in their birthday suits.

And that has riled local authorities. First, the Party secretary of Hainan province issued a warning that nude bathing is against decorum and those who insist on violating the rules would be rounded up. To back up his words with deeds, armed police have been sent along the suspect beaches in Sanya, to check that people are not overexposed.

This seems to be overkill - even if they are dealing with dedicated exhibitionists who would die for their right to be naked. I wonder what kind of weapon they are going to wield against the armed police if they put up a fight.

However, if you take the perspective of the morality police, these people could be worse than rioters. They disturb social order by exposing private body parts normally concealed from the public eye and, by extension, hint at lascivious acts that corrupt the morals of society.

Beach brouhaha is only natural

Public nudity is a strange and uncomfortable notion in contemporary China. It is caught in a limbo between the past and the future. In the old days, it was more accepted, sometimes out of necessity. When few households had pipes for hot water, people washed themselves in public bathhouses, which turned into venues for social gathering, taking on some of the functions of teahouses. The young generation growing up now with middle-class domestic facilities cannot imagine undressing in front of a big crowd - albeit of the same gender - and nowadays the connotation of the public bathhouse is changing from cleansing one's body to all kinds of sex-related activities.

In rural areas, it was commonplace for adults and children, usually male though, to strip off completely and bathe in the local river. They would not go nude sunbathing as getting tanned was not in vogue in an agrarian society. In some places, though, even women would not go to great lengths to cover themselves while bathing.

Generally speaking, the more economic adversity at a time or place, the more relaxed the dress code, even down to the absence of a single shred around one's body. It is only in prosperity that clothing, or the lack thereof, takes on the meaning of expressing oneself and one's desires.

Fast forward to when China will be enjoying the living standards of Western countries. I believe people will not take another look when they bump into a band of nudists. Would it make someone uncomfortable? Sure. Would it incite a flight of fancy toward Don Juan-style sexcapades? Sure, if the object is the stuff of your dreams. But overall, they would be no weirder than a group of grannies dancing their hearts out in a park.

In the late 1970s when China was opening up and social dance was reintroduced, there were murmurs that it would cause the collapse of social mores.

"People not in relationships holding each other and dancing? Wouldn't that lead to illicit affairs? What would the woman's husband or boyfriend say? It must be an insult to him."

Well, I did not make this up. Someone actually asked me this when I returned from a city to the small town where people had just heard of such outrageous things as men and women engaged in dance with no intention of tying the knot.

Let's face it: The extent to which we cover our bodies with clothing varies with time and place and culture. In most Muslim countries, a woman would be considered immodest if she did not cover her hair. In the West, some evening gowns show all the cleavage and all the back. I remember when the first batch of Western films were shown in China and townsfolk were joking that men in those movies left their lower body naked while women covered up only their lower body. (They were referring to tights in costume dramas and gowns in party scenes.)

It took a long time for the bikini to be accepted in China. I'm sure there are still people who associate it with immoral behavior. And the first time a male dancer stripped to his waist in a performance, it caused a big stir.

"We did not tell the producer or stage manager, or they would never have approved of it," the choreographer revealed to me later.

In contemporary China, it is indeed inappropriate to sunbathe or swim in the nude in public places.

First of all, many of these beaches are frequented by parents with children in tow. Even many adults might find such a sight unsettling, for moral or other reasons. From online responses, it seems these people are not in a minority. So, those with the urge to go au natural should refrain from doing so while visiting these crowded and tourist-friendly locales.

However, China's coastline is very long and there must be beaches tucked away from public prowling.

Ideally, a few of these places could be designated for naturalists so that people with an aversion to the sight may not ramble into the areas by mistake. Given the social attitude of the day, this may serve to call attention to naturalists rather than keeping haters of public nudity at bay.

So, the best approach might be to keep nudist places out of sight and not publicize them too widely.

As a matter of fact, nudist locales have long existed in China. The Sun Island Park in Harbin has one, which was all over the news years ago. When I visited this northeastern city, my host pointed it out to me. It's actually quite close to the traffic in this vast expanse of nature, but it is hidden inside a thick grove, which made me pry into the minds of the naturalists: Yes it's hidden, yet it's dangerously close to being discovered. There seems to be a sense of flirting with danger.

In a similar vein, naturalists have to walk a fine line between respecting public moral standards and exercising their rights to this still decidedly minority hobby. If they push too hard, letting it all hang out in hot destinations like Sanya, a backlash is certain. Even the most liberal-minded authorities will have to react when there are complaints.

On the part of those filing complaints or grumbling online about this form of what they deem "visual trash", they have to ask themselves whether they are totally against nudity or only against nudity by people who are not physically attractive.

It is quite common for photos of a scantily clad supermodel type to be followed by a long chain of oohs and aahs, while images of not-so-beautiful people showing just a little more skin, as in the recent news photos from Sanya, would elicit booms of righteous denunciation. These people should never go near a nudist colony because nudists are mostly real people, not Megan Fox types.

Most nudists are not out to challenge the status quo. They are not making political statements. And there is really nothing sexual in the activity, as far as I know. They should be left alone, and before society agrees on it, they should also make it convenient for themselves to be left alone.

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily )





























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