September 28, Warning: This story contains graphic images. The operators assured users that they would be washed between rentals. But Ta Qu climaxed all too soon, and it was rapidly shut down by the authorities after the story went viral on the Chinese internet. Thanks to a long-held cultural preference for sons, coupled with over three decades of restrictive population planning policies, China is forecast to have over 30 million surplus men by This preference for boys has slowly dwindled, especially in the cities, but the country still faces a critical gap for the next few decades.
Chinese authorities cannot magic up a Canadian-sized population of women to be the wives, mothers, and caregivers the country desperately needs now. This has led the nation in search of solutions, ranging from the improbable — proposals to revive wife-sharing — to the unspeakable, such as a rise in sex trafficking.
It has also led to a dramatic rise in the popularity of sex toys for lonely men. While reliable industrywide numbers are unavailable, sales of sex toys on online platforms such as Alibaba and Taobao surged an average of 50 percent year-on-year in the last five years, according to a report by Global Times. Over 65 percent of sex toys sold online were to males between the ages of 18 to 29, according to the report.
I was researching my book on the consequences of the one-child policy and was curious about where a nationwide absence of women might lead. But I was operating more on hunch than certainty that demand for sex dolls would escalate. Even the company I profiled, Hitdoll, was hinging their business model on a mix of domestic and global sales.
They can go for real women. I knew from my reporting that the shopping areas they frequented sold products such as artificial vaginas. There seemed to be less social stigma around the idea than in the West, judged both by the prominence with which they were displayed in the ubiquitous corner sex stores and the open discussion of the virtues and flaws of different devices in male-dominated forums online.
Aside from demographics, China has a demonstrated manufacturing capacity to bring prices down and tip sex dolls from niche to mainstream, a combustible mix. Clad in a leather jacket and jeans, He, an affable man in his early 50s, met me at his workshop.
His company used to make office furniture for export, but rising labor costs had pushed profits down, so they began casting around for a new product. Manufacturer Vincent He demonstrates the features of his sex dolls in his Dongguan factory during a visit. Mei Fong for Foreign Policy The workshop was small, churning out some customizable life-sized models shipped out in coffin-like crates every month. Scantily clad buxom models lounged in chairs; some, like the Venus de Milo, missing limbs.
He and his employees showed me around the premises with a matter-of-fact air, cupping rubbery teats and parting silicone thighs with as much sangfroid as if they were still making office chairs.
China was better known for cheaper blow-up dolls that could be easily transported. Hitdoll, in time-honored Chinese manufacturing tradition, was looking to replicate this with fewer features and a much lower price point. They even had a name, the Kawaii Club — using a Japanese term for cuteness, especially as applied to young women, adopted into Chinese.
Feng Wengguang, a former Guangdong University of Technology student, was a member. His description of his experiences sounded like a perverse telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Early on, the Kawaii Club members complained the prototypes were too stiff, too cold, too unreal.
Feng , then 24, viewed all this as playful experimentation. Vincent He showed me the disposable rubber vaginas they used. Each Kawaii member got to keep them after the trials, he said. It was a real perk, he assured me: All in all, the Kawaii Club soldiered through prototypes before Hitdoll developed a model worthy of exhibiting at the Guangzhou Sex Culture Festival. For one thing, I worried that a great deal of this was speculative. The city, a manufacturing hub of the Chinese south, embodies skewed gender relations: But as trading of real women flagged, the market for fake women in China began to take off.
The increasing use of sex dolls has of course amplified concerns — both in and out of China — as to whether this sexually objectifies real women and encourages a Westworld-like rise in violence. Some supporters of sex dolls even argue it could actually decrease rape culture and reduce demand for sex trafficking.
The latter argument is of real concern in China, which the U. State Department this year named one of the worst offenders in the global sex trade. These arguments are of course echoed in other parts of the world where usage of sex robots are increasingly more popular, including even the opening of a sex doll brothel in Spain.
But what might appear to be a whimsical desire in, say, Japan, looks expeditious in Jiangxi, where the gender ratio is men to women. The average global ratio is men for women. The gains made by its educated female workforce are already sparking nostalgia for the past, including the rising popularity of lectures promoting subservient women.
More realistic dolls, however, could blur the boundaries between real women and sex objects. Still, a country desperately trying to raise birth rates and keep its economy churning might have bigger problems.