The Impotence Epidemic: Men’s Medicine and Sexual Desire in Contemporary China
Everett Yuehong Zhang is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and Anthropology at Princeton University. He is the co-editor of Governance of Life in Chinese Moral Experience: The Quest for an Adequate Life, and co-author of Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person.
Society and the State
This chapter de-essentializes the shame associated with impotence by locating it in the historical context of China’s post-Mao transformation. Through the contrast between declining clinic visits by patients seeking medication for yijing (nocturnal emission) and the increase in patient visits for impotence, yijing was conceptualized as a symptom of Maoist socialism, when sexual desire was discouraged, whereas impotence became a symptom of the post-Mao reform, as public perception of sexual desire had changed from negative to positive. In the Maoist period (particularly in the Cultural Revolution), one felt ashamed to seek treatment for impotence because it revealed one’s desire for sexual pleasure, whereas in post-Mao China, seeking medication for purposes of sexual enjoyment was encouraged. In doing so, men and women were shaped into the subjectivity of desire.