In “Cuba could attract Americans with sin?” I pointed out that Boston and Havana had pretty much switched places in terms of access to debauchery. I think the same may be true of China, a place that shocked Christian missionaries who arrived during what Professor Andrew Wilson calls “the golden age of commercial sex” in China (I recommend his 24-lecture course, Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture). Westerners were responsible for the expansion of opium use in China (history), but then they professed to be shocked at the number of opium users.
How about today? Let’s compare China versus the United States along various axes of debauchery.
Opium use? “The United States makes up 4.4% of the world’s population, and consumes over 80% of the world’s opioids” (source). Most consumption and addiction is funded by taxpayers (previous post). Drugs of abuse are available to some extent in China, but taxpayers don’t fund them and they are illegal.
Need to smoke some medical or recreational marijuana every morning? The U.S. is the place to do it, depending on the state. (see “China Cashes In on the Cannabis Boom” (nytimes) for how China may want to supply the U.S. market)
Need to unwind from demanding college classes by getting drunk every weekend and hooking up with a new friend? America: Yes. China: No. “Acceptance of premarital sex is relatively recent,” said a 50-year-old who got a degree and worked in the U.S. before returning to Shanghai, “but certainly the Tinder culture would never be acceptable for a properly raised young Chinese.”
What if the casual sex results in pregnancy? Will a single mom get the standard American package of free apartment, free health care, free food, and free smartphone (funded by taxpayers if she had sex with a low-income partner; funded by child support revenue if she had sex with a high-income partner in the right state)? “No,” replied my local hosts. “That’s simply illegal. The child will not be recognized by the state and will not be entitled to attend a state-run school or use the state-run health care system. Being a single mom is possible only for the rich who can afford to pay for private school and private health care. Some women will fly to the U.S. or Hong Kong to give birth and then the child can have a legal status in China as a foreigner.”
As in the U.S., prostitution is illegal but purportedly common. (I did not see any evidence of this, but let’s call this a draw in debauchery.)
Supposedly the Chinese now drink slightly more alcohol per capita than Americans (Guardian), but I did not see a drunk person during my peregrinations around Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Nor did I pass by a loud bar, though I was told by locals that I was walking down “the most famous bar street in Shanghai.” If the Chinese are drinking they’re doing it quietly and without having sex with a stranger right after.
How about porn, that cornerstone of the U.S. Internet? It is illegal in China.
Gambling? The U.S. has casinos in 43 states. China proper is home to 0 casinos. Chinese who want to gamble in a fancy casino need to get on a plane and fly to Macau (or the U.S.!).
How about vandalism? If we accept that as a category of debauchery, China comes out as much less debauched than the U.S. There are clean public restrooms in seemingly every metro station in Shanghai and Suzhou. I don’t think that they run security cameras inside the restrooms, so we can’t say that the lack of destruction of fixtures is due to surveillance. I am sure that it exists, but I did not notice any graffiti anywhere in China. Here are some photos that drew a few quizzical looks from the locals:
From a shopping mall (note the child-height sink, very common in China and also the signage giving a more limited array of gender ID options and family structures than you might see in a California restroom sign):
This is not to say that vandalism is non-existent. Here is a sign describing an incident that occurred in the 1960s:
Maybe the U.S. will end up with a sustainable economic advantage as a destination for Chinese who want to indulge in debauchery? We will be the 1920s Havana to 2020s Shanghai.