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BDSM, the Chinese way

If you think you have seen it all when it comes to unusual erotica, one blog I just discovered could make you reconsider. Chinakunbang, subtitled ‘Chinese jail and bondage culture’ sure is different – at least to our western eyes. Born at the online intersection between historical heritage and uncomprehending emulation, this simple website is the window front of a virtual store selling BDSM erotica… as seen from China, where sexuality remains mostly an unspoken, mysterious topic.
In accordance to local laws the daily sample pictures are strictly non-pornographic. They somehow remind of the fetish pictures from ‘50s America, when Bettie Page and her colleagues were very careful not to show too much skin and the titillation was in the little details of their costumes or expressions. They also betray very low production values: the dresses are shoddy and occasionally ill-fitting, lighting and composition are unheard of, the backgrounds remind of dirt-cheap school plays and the outdoor shots smell of clandestine, hit-and-run sessions. The subjects, however, are a mesmerizing bizarro-version of every kinky website you’ve ever seen.

Western BDSM, you see, is the conflation of countless erotic iconographies through the centuries. There are elements of Christian martyrdom, of the writings of de Sade, of medieval punishments, the Inquisition, Nazi atrocities, high literature and pulp, popular movies, fashion, illustration, comics and classic art, porn, theatre, technology, music and much more – all ground up and processed through the interplay of many local cultures from liberal northern Europe to repressed south, from the Puritanical United States to the non-moralism of Japan. What we masturbate to on sites like Kink.com or House of Gord is the distillation of the strongest archetypes from all of these sources, mixed together in a constantly evolving blend.
Most Chinese, however, never encountered any of this. The refined sexual culture of ancient Chinese nobility was based on an archaic conception of the female role and on a generally pre-technological view of the world. The Cultural Revolution destroyed all of it anyway and relegated sex to a purely reproductive purpose. Even recent generations grew up in a culturally insular country with little or no access to western erotica. Sexual education is lacking, and the “Internet great wall” of State censorship sure doesn’t allow the kind of easy access to porn we are all accustomed to.

In this context the idea of erotic power play naturally took a very different form from western BDSM. Browsing the blog you will notice in example that “bondage” is in fact just a couple of standard military punishment ties, with none of the fancy rope work of Japanese kinbaku, nor of American-style restraints. Incidentally, Chinese ties tend to be very dangerous as they often constrict vulnerable points including the neck.
Talking about other practices, it is shocking to see that while Westerners have a vast vocabulary of sensual pain games, China takes the concept of “torture” very literally, replicating horrors like the infamous tiger bench and even mock executions like they were fashionable turn-ons. With badly applied lipstick “beatings” marks, but no less chilling for that.

The other aspect I found amazing is also the most evident. Beside the many general, bland “fetish” shoots, three scenarios keep popping up again and again: military and Red Guard abuse of common people, contemporary police interrogations and imprisonments, and historical Imperial-age reenactments. While the photos are clearly staged and the actresses have an amusing habit of maintaining a very professional-looking “no inappropriate touching” attitude, you won’t find much consensual exploration depicted. In this country (and under their laws) doing kink for mutual pleasure is clearly not conceivable. Conversely, abuse of power and the thrashing of human rights are considered normal.
The helpful tags above every photo are equally fascinating. Probably to differentiate the site from illegal pornography they are very keen of pointing out that all the pictures are ‘cosplay’ or ‘recreeations’, but sometimes they manage to turn a banal photo into a nightmare. The bored girl in the picture above, in example, is explained to be just another victim of a common wartime mode of execution where people was simply left half-buried to die. Thanks for the note, buddy.
I don’t think Chinakunbang will ever become my fap shop of choice, but as a cultural phenomenon, I find it incredibly interesting. Who knows what they think of www.ayzad.com in Beijing…

 

Update – In 2019 I automatically republished this post on my Facebook page, and my fans noticed that the website in question was no more. A true pity, if you ask me. I scoured the internet for a copy of its contents, and all I could find was this relatively mundane clip, which is however enough to show the dissonance I wrote about. If you can find a larger archive, please get in touch and I will gladly update the post again.

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