Pedophilia from the Chinese perspective

Archives of Sexual Behavior

Ng, Emil M. L.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there has never been a mental disease called pedophilia (or an equivalent term), or homosexuality, or most of the other so-called sexual variations for that matter.

Depictions of “child-romance” in ancient or modern Chinese literature are not difficult to find. They include passages on joyous heterosexual or homosexual activities by children as young as 12 to13 years old with one another or with adults. Children are usually described as natural sexual beings and erotic stimulation and sex-play are seen as beneficial to their healthy development (Chen 2000).

In China, the current minimum legal age for sexual intercourse is 14 for both sexes and marriage age 22 for males and 20 for females. However, in ancient China when population control was not a concern, the age was quite low. For most of Chinese history, the minimum marriage age suggested by the government had ranged between 12 and 16, and it was not legally binding, especially in the wealthy classes or in certain ethnic minorities.

Until the first half of the last century, there was still the practice of the “child bridegroom” 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 take an adult woman as a wife. The purpose could be to consolidate family status and relationship, or simply to have someone to help taking care of the child.

After marriage, the couple slept in one bed like all other husbands and wives. No one would pay attention to what type of sexual relationship they might have and when. In the normal course of events, they would begin with those sex plays 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 boy grew still older, he usually took a second wife closer to his age, but he would continue to keep, love and respect the first wife.

Some writers very vehemently question the capacity of children to give valid consent to sexual activity with adults. Despite their arguments, to the Chinese - who are particularly conscious of the importance and priority of social (and hence adult) values - the focus of discussions on the child consent issue in pedophilic activities is blatantly irrelevant and hypocritical.

  • Even in the Western culture where individual human rights are strongly emphasized, how often do 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 actions 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 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 are within the adult acceptable range.

Hence, the seemingly righteous and humanitarian debate on child self-determination and consent in sexual matters is just another game that adults play to impose their own values on children. For most of those everyday activities adults assign to children, debates on child consent are considered irrelevant and are simply forgotten for parental conveniences.

Indeed, when it comes to a child’s sexual activity, the debate begins only because not all adults have the same values. In spite of what the debaters on one side may say, it does not follow that they are actually more concerned with the rights and welfare of the children than the other side. Both sides merely select and exploit the issue of children’s rights to support their own needs and preconceptions about childhood sexuality.

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


Chen, C. (2000). Lo Litao yu Yuanwu, Liang Ben Ertong Qingyu Xiaosuo (Lolita and Yuanwu, Two Child-romance Novels). In Li Huoren (Lai Wood Yan. ed.), Xianggang Bashi Niandai Wenxue Xianxiang (The Literary Phenomena of Hong Kong in the Eighties) pp.109-152, Taipei: Xuesheng Shudian. (in Chinese)

 Lou, T.K. (1970). Hun-su-zhi (Marital Customs), Taipei, Commercial Press. (in Chinese)

 Ruan, F.F. & Lau, M.P. (1997), China. In Francoeur R.T. (ed.), The International Encyclopaedia of Sexuality, p.372. New York, Continuum Press.