Students Staff

27 April 2016

‘Rice theory’ shows that China’s ‘sex revolution’ might not be all that it seems

Picture of rice growing in China

Rice growing in China.

New research from the University of Essex has shown that people from rice growing communities in China are far more tolerant of premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexuality, when compared with those from wheat growing communities.

The findings from research recently published in The Journal of Sex Research indicate that far from there being a national ‘sex revolution’ in China, there are still significant regional differences that are guided by distinct social factors.

Dr Yang Hu, from our Department of Sociology, explains, “The so called ‘rice theory’ is the notion that people from rice growing communities have more liberal and tolerant views towards others because they have to depend on and cooperate with others for agricultural subsistence. Rice requires a lot of irrigation and a lot of team work and it’s this sense of interdependence that instils higher tolerance levels towards other individuals.

“Wheat on the other hand, tends to be managed by people working alone and therefore not needing to learn and acquire the same levels of tolerance and understanding of others.”

Dr Hu’s study found that the distinction between rice and wheat agriculture explained up to 30% of the province-level variance in sex ideologies.

The study also tested three other contending theories of interprovincial differences in sex ideologies in China; modernisation, Westernisation and deindustrialisation. The results show that modernisation had not had a significant effect as socioeconomic development is not significantly associated with sex ideologies.

A higher level of Westernisation was associated with less traditional attitudes to pre-marital sex; and a higher level of de-industrialisation—including development of the service sector and provision of sex-related services—was associated with a higher level of tolerance of extra-marital sex.

Given the distinct social forces underlying the landscape of sex ideologies across China’s vast geographic span, the research calls into question the national level ‘sex revolution’ generalisation. Dr Hu noted, “It’s important that we find out what is driving different levels of tolerance to certain sexual practices as this will affect how it’s taught in school and the way in which an individual feels it’s acceptable to behave.”

...more news releases