A Touchy Issue

December 29, 2014
Editor: Frank Zhao

A grainy online video showing a man cuddling and kissing his 3-year-old daughter for more than three minutes on a public bus in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, has gone viral in recent weeks, sparking widespread discussion on the Internet in China with opinions sharply divided as whether the man's conduct was appropriate.  

The video, which was posted in the days following the incident on December 2, has prompted heated debate among Net users, with some posts deriding the man's behavior as "disgusting" and accusing him of trying to position his daughter in such a way that her legs would touch his private parts, and others seeing little wrong with the man's display of affection toward his daughter. 

On the evening of December 7, Zhuhai police released a statement on their official Sina Weibo account, identifying the man in the video as a 31-year-old businessman surnamed Chen. The post said that Chen and his wife, the girl's mother, had come to the police station of their own accord, to explain that the scenes recorded in the video was simply a father showing his affection towards his daughter. Police did not press charges, and said that no crime had been committed. 

Public debate surrounding the incident however has continued, morphing into a wider discussion about what kinds of physical intimacy, and how much physical intimacy, is appropriate for parents to show their children.

Where to Draw the Line

Xiaotie, director of the Beijing LGBT Center and a self-described feminist, said she felt uncomfortable after seeing the video. She described Chen's behavior as a form of "indecent assault" on his daughter. "I've seen the video, the man keeps kissing the child on the lips, and he is groping the child all over her. It's too much," said Xiaotie. "It's not normal, and it's possible that such behavior indicates the possibility of future sexual molestation."

In the wake of the incident, Xiaotie and a friend staged a performance art piece at Yinding Bridge near Shichahai Lake in Beijing's Xicheng district, where  they wrote on the ground, in water, stories of family sexual abuse or indecent assault that they had heard firsthand or were reported in the media. Xiaotie said she hoped the gesture would attract more attention to the issue of sexual education in China.   

"Sex education in China is still so backward. Most children don't know anything about sex, and would have no idea about what is appropriate and inappropriate physical contact, especially if it's coming from their parents," she said.

Xiaotie cited a report published by the Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center which showed that 61 percent of the 340 child sexual abuse offenses reported between 2006 and 2008 were committed by the father or stepfathers of the victim, to illustrate the prevalence of family sexual abuse, and the fact that children were particularly vulnerable to abuse from parents.

"In many cases, children have no idea of what is happening, nor do they have any channels for seeking help," said Xiaotie. "We need more detailed laws that stipulate where the line for acceptable physical intimacy is between parents and children in China."

Fang Gang, a sexologist at Beijing Forestry University who had also seen the video, had an entirely different reaction. He said a father expressing his love to his daughter in the manner seen in the video was completely acceptable.

"What's wrong isn't his behavior, but the mindset of viewers in China," said Fang. "The uncomfortable feeling that people have when watching it is caused by the culture traditions we've inherited."

Fang gave the example of one of his friends, who used to feel very uncomfortable when he saw fathers kissing their young daughters on the lips, on the TV show, Dad, Where Are We Going. But after seeing the act several more times, he found it a lot more acceptable.

"Chinese people aren't accustomed to physical intimacy. The older a child gets, the more that parents keep their distance from their child. Because of this, we lose many opportunities to develop an intimate relationship [with our children]," said Fang. "The taboo against physical contact is a reflection of our fear towards sex."

Deng Mingyu, a research fellow of International Association of Chinese Medical Specialists & Psychologists, struck a middle ground in comments made to Guangzhou Daily this month. He said that it's necessary for parents to cuddle their children and to show them intimacy, as part of their maturation.

"But there should also be limitations," Deng said in the report. "Also, parents should make sure that they do not give stimulation to a child's sensitive parts. There should be less and less [physical intimacy] as the child grows up."

Cultural Divide?

In a comment posted on Sina Weibo under the Zhuhai bus incident, a Net user using the online name of Zuiai Wode Xiaobaozi wrote, "I really want to know what Westerners think about the father's behavior. I heard that people in Western countries like to express their emotions with kisses, so I'd like to know if they think the father's behavior is okay. Perhaps we're just overreacting."

Contrary to Fang's opinion that Chinese commentators' objections to Chen's behavior was purely cultural, Peter Krasnopolsky, a 35-year-old English teacher in Beijing who has an 8-year-old daughter, said he found Chen's actions in the video to be both unusual and inappropriate. 

"However, the abnormal behavior of one individual is hardly a reason for making a social or cultural issue out of it," said Krasnopolsky, who is originally from the US. "There is nothing wrong for a father to cuddle a baby girl as long as the cuddling does not carry any other undertone. In his case it appears that it does." 

Rather than setting any strict rules, Krasnopolsky said that for him, the degree of physical intimacy a parent should share with his or her child is determined by common sense.

"I can still pick her up and throw her around, but she hasn't been sitting on my lap for quite a while," he explained. "It's not because I set that rule. The physical distance has been increasing somewhat naturally as she grows older."

In contrast, Steve Wang, a 28-year-old Beijing marketing employee with a 4-month-old daughter, said that he would never shower his daughter with kisses for more than 10 seconds, and intentionally avoids kissing her on the lips.

"I'm worried that if I am too physically intimate with her, this will confuse her understanding of how to deal with people of the opposite sex in the future," said Wang. He added that when his daughter reached the age of 2, he would stop bathing her and start letting her sleep on her own.

"Her mother can help her. As someone of the opposite sex, I should keep some distance," Wang said. 

Krasnopolsky disagreed with the idea that what was needed was imposing stricter rules, believing that it was a question of social mores. 

"The US, like all of the West, is a bit obsessed with the fear of pedophiles and child molesters. Sometimes it's blown out of proportion. The government and 'social rights' groups think they have a moral responsibility to regulate the relationship between parents and children," said Krasnopolsky. 

He went on to say that perhaps the problem was the Chinese cultural habit of non-intervention. "Chinese culture dictates for the bystanders not to get involved when they see something which is only 'borderline' inappropriate. My guess is that in the West the man would be more concerned about the public opinion," he said.

Finding Balance

Wang Lihua, an expert on children's education and psychology who teaches at Beijing Normal University, said that too much and too intimate physical contact is bad for the development of a child.

"If a parent just kisses their child's head and cheek, it's okay. But for example, if a father kisses daughter's lips for a long time and touches the child's private parts, this will confuse the child's understanding about sex, and the relationship between the two genders as he or she gets older," said Wang.

Wang said children usually begin to develop an awareness of gender between the ages of 3 and 5, so it was important that parents set boundaries on the degree of physical intimacy they showed to their children from those ages onwards.  

She noted in particular that the bathing of children by a parent of the opposite sex after this age range, and children sharing a bed with their parents, could negatively affect a child's development. "If the child shows a strong resistance [to these things], this could lead to emotional trauma, and the child might end up fearing the opposite sex when they grow up."

(Source: Global Times)

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