A new sex-ed textbook in China is sparking discussions for setting revolutionary new values in girls.
Titled “Radiant Girls”, the new textbook from Shanghai Educational Publishing House targets fourth to fifth graders. It appears to be the counterpart of “Little Brave Men”, which the House published in August.
Xu Jing, chief editor and principal of Shanghai Jing’an Zhabei No.1 Central Primary School, told the Xinmin Evening News (via the Global Times):
“As the national model school for mental health education, our school is dedicated to providing sex education. We have focused on mental health of the students, but this new textbook is dealing with the problem in a new thematic way.”
“Radiant Girls” contains six chapters, namely (1) “I am a Girl,” (2) “Pursuit of Beauty,” (3) “Protecting Yourself,” (4) “The Treasure of Interpersonal Relations,” (5) “Kind-Hearted Angel” and (6) “Embracing the Future.”
The textbook opens with a historical position:
“Take a look at the history of the human race, women are documented to suffer from discrimination and suppression both in Oriental civilizations and in Western countries. Women have much more difficulty than men in defending their rights in life and marriage.”
Some parts of the book, however, appear controversial. For instance, the chapter “Pursuit of Beauty” teaches girls how to maintain their face and skin. This is seen as a shift from traditional Chinese ethics.
The chapter “Protecting Yourself” teaches girls which parts of their body must be protected, how to protect themselves and how to find help during harassment. Warning examples include when a male teacher asks one to stay alone with him after class and when an old male neighbor touches her.
In a commentary, Chen Zeling of the Global Times praised the textbook for taking “a refreshingly liberal view toward traditional ethics,” but noted its “obvious” shortcomings, such as trying to turn girls into “quiet, polite wallflowers.” She cites one example where a straight-A student fails to become the Students’ Union’s leader because she was too boisterous around boys.
Chen argued that the textbook fails to cultivate the unique in every girl:
“As a matter of fact, by setting such a stereotype for them, the educators fail to bring out unique characteristics in every girl, as some of us might be introverted bookworms, some may prefer to lose themselves in art or music, and others of us enjoy sports and roughhousing.
“The book should lead by example instead of becoming a benchmark against which little women are urged into modifying their behavior.
“After all, many of the most notable Chinese females in history are the ones who went against the grain and did it their way. Chinese parents and educators should recognize that girls can – and should – be different.”
This is not the first time a sex-ed textbook is stirring controversy in China, particularly among concerned parents. Earlier this year, a series of textbooks that contained illustrations of male and female genitals, as well as couples having sex, sent the country in a heated debate, the South China Morning Post noted.
China’s seemingly evasive stance on the topic lags the youth’s understanding of reproductive health. While the country is noted to have the highest rates of contraceptive use in the world, policies are primarily targeted at married women.
Fang Gang, professor at Beijing Forestry University, said last year:
“Sex education everywhere in China, no matter in the countryside or city, remains, on the whole, a blank.”