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Beach brouhaha is only natural

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-15 11:36

Beach brouhaha is only natural

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.

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