In 1999, sociologist and sexologist Pan Suiming and his colleagues at the Institute for Research in Sexuality and Gender at Beijing’s Renmin University of China launched a pilot project on the dissemination of sexual knowledge among family planning cadres in two villages in Jinghai county, Tianjin. Thirty-one family planning cadres (24 female, 7 male) were recruited to partake in intensive training that would help them advise husbands and wives on matters related to marital sexuality. The project also yielded a 100-page training manual, entitled Sex Education Manual for Family Planning Workers, which was animated by a 'holistic' conception of sexual well-being that not only involved the absence of reproductive diseases but also every individual’s entitlement to pleasure, happiness, and fulfilment in intimate life. Such concerns dovetailed with China’s interest in a managed and choreographed 'sexual revolution', and in the maintenance of social stability via the strengthening of 'familial harmony'.
The project was endorsed by the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) of China, and funded by the Ford Foundation. Through this case study, informed by recently opened archival materials at the Rockefeller Archive Center, I dissect the tensions, convergences and contradictions between the ambitions of transnational NGOs and the objectives of the Chinese state. I seek to reconstruct the microhistory of groups of Ford officers and the Chinese academics with whom they collaborated, as well as offer a global account on the insertion and dissemination of neoliberal biopower and governmentality.
Leon Rocha is Lecturer in History and Chinese Studies at the University of Liverpool. He received his PhD from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. He is currently working on two book-projects: Harnessing Pleasure: Imagining Chinese Sexuality in the Twentieth Century and Needham Questions.