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Pedophilia from the Chinese Perspective

Emil M. L. Ng, M.D., 
Department of Psychiatry, University of Hong Kong, 
Queen Mary Hospital, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China 
(e-mail: Ng.Man.Lun@hku.hk )


In traditional Chinese medicine, there has never been a mental disease akin to, or called, pedophilia or homosexuality or most of the so-called sexual variations for that matter. Depiction of "child romance" in ancient or modern Chinese literature is not difficult to find. It includes passages on joyous heterosexual or homosexual activities by children as young as 12-13-years-old with one another or with adults. Children are usually described as natural sexual beings and erotic stimulation and sex play is viewed as beneficial to their healthy development (Chen, 2000).

In China, the current minimum legal age for sexual intercourse is 18 for both sexes. For marriage, it is 22 for males and 20 for females (Ruan \& Lau, 1997). But in ancient China, when population control was not a concern, the age was much lower. In a large part of Chinese history, the minimum marriage age suggested by the government ranged between 12 and 16, and it was not legally binding, especially in the wealthy class or some minority ethnic groups. 

Until the first half of the last century, there was still the practice of child bridegrooms in, but not restricted to, the Hubei region of China (Lou, 1970). A male child of any age, even before birth, could by parental arrangement


get an adult woman as a wife. The purpose could be to consolidate family status and relationships or simply to have someone to help take care of the child. 

After marriage, the couple slept in one bed like all other husbands and wives. No one would pay concern to what type of sexual relationship they might have and when. In the normal course of events, they would begin with the sex play that they were capable of and wanted, until one day, when the child was old enough to desire and do it, they had coitus. After the son grew older, he usually took a second wife closer to his age, but he would continue to keep, love, and respect the first wife.

Schmidt challenged vehemently the capacity of children to give valid consent to sexual activity with adults. Despite his sound arguments, to the Chinese, who are particularly conscious of the importance and priority of social (and hence, adult) values, to single out for discussion the child consent issue in pedophilic activities is blatantly irrelevant and hypocritical. 

Even in Western culture, where individual human rights are strongly emphasized, 

how often do the adults try to ascertain valid consent from their children before getting them to do most things? 
Have the adults sought valid consent from their children before baptizing them soon after birth? 
Or, when their children express by words or action that they do not want to eat, sleep, play games with adults, or go to school at certain times, do the adults not use reward, threat, punishment, persuasion, luring, seduction, deception, or any other workable means to manipulate them back to the "right track"? 
Have the adults ever explored and studied the "trauma" that may be caused by forcing all those "good" things on to their children without their valid consent? 

There are certain occasions when the adults do respect the children's wishes and ask for their consent, but only when the choices given to them are within the adult acceptable range.

Hence, the seemingly righteous and humanitarian debate on child self-determination and consent in sex is just another game adults play to impose their own values on children. For most of the everyday adult assigned children activities on which the adults hold no discrepant values, debates on child consent are taken as irrelevant and best to be forgotten for parental conveniences. 

Yet, for child sexual activity, the debate is raised only because not all adults hold the same value judgment. Despite what the debaters on each side may say, it does not follow that any of them are actually more concerned with children welfare and rights than the others. Both sides are only fishing out and exploiting the children's rights issue to support their own preconceptions or needs on child sexuality.

My commentary is not meant to discourage debates on children's sexual rights. Such debates will continue to give insight to the kind of sexual politics adults can play and elucidate the true meaning of children's sexual rights and their capability to give consent. People just have to be reminded that the debates by themselves will not alleviate any moral discomfort they might have on child autonomy, no matter which side they take on pedophilia.

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