China embraces love hotels

Room 204 is the Shakespeare room at Beijing’s Lots of Love Hotel. A plaque on the door reads: zhongxia ye zhi meng or “a midsummer night’s dream”, evoking Shakespeare’s play. But inside the bedroom’s crimson confines there is no trace of the Bard.

Instead Chinese lovers are invited to frolic on a rose-stamped circular mattress or entangle themselves in a foam-filled jacuzzi.

“It massages your body!” enthused Wang Ziwen, the hotel’s 23-year-old marketing director, as he showed off his purple and pink establishment at the heart of China’s political capital.

For decades Japan, which boasts a multitrillion yen love-hotel industry and an estimated 30 000 love hotels, has been considered the motel capital of the world. There, anyone can pay – by the hour or the night – to escape the prying eyes of a deeply conservative society or act out their most intimate fantasies in the embrace of a lover or a stranger.

Now, the world’s most populous nation is slowly catching the love hotel bug too as Chinese entrepreneurs spot an opportunity in the country’s changing sexual mores. Hundreds of such establishments – with names such as Love at First Sight and the We Love Hotel – have sprung up since what was reputedly China’s first love hotel opened its doors in 2008 in Nanning.

“The demand is there. There are so many lovers and they have a need for love,” said Wang, whose franchise has opened nine branches – in Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu and Guiyang – since 2011 and will add Kunming and Nanjing hotels soon. “Every day we are full.”

Sun Yanping, a Wuhan businesswoman who opened her first love hotel in 2013 and now has five, said she hoped to build an empire of 100 by 2020. “I think we should listen to the voices in our hearts and go with the flow, including when it comes to the pursuit of sex. That is human nature,” said Sun, who said she had grown tired of staying in “monotonous and stiff” hotels.

China witnessed not just an economic revolution but a sexual one, too, since the deeply conservative days of Chairman Mao Zedong came to an end with his death in 1976.

A Peking University study released this week showed Chinese were getting married later, losing their virginity earlier and having more affairs than in previous decades. In 1989, just 15% of Chinese people had engaged in sex before marriage, according to state media. Today more than 70% have.

China has also become the world’s largest sex toy producer, with one visionary entrepreneur building a multimillion dollar dildo empire since Beijing’s first sex shop opened in the 1990s.

Even so, China’s love motels remain a distinctly prudish shadow of their Japanese counterparts, where water slides and S&M rooms have long been par for the course.

At the Lots of Love Hotel, rooms are equipped with plasma screen TVs – but Communist party anti-smut rules mean patrons channel-hopping for pornography will be disappointed.

Wang tried to distance his hotels – which boast cave-, aquarium- and Swiss chalet-themed rooms – from what he described as their overly erotic counterparts in countries such as Brazil and Japan. “In Japan love hotels are everywhere. There it is just about having sex,” he scoffed. “We are not just a place to have sex or do sexual things. We want to create a space and a romantic atmosphere.

“We want to provide a healthy and romantic experience,” he added as he toured the hotel’s dimly lit corridors where the word “love” was stamped on to the walls in languages such as Latvian, Hebrew and Norwegian.

Wang claimed the setting was so romantic that marriage proposals were common: “It happens nearly every day,” he said.

Zheng Li, the hotel’s 50-year-old head of room service, said she would be untroubled if she caught her 25-year-old son sneaking into a room with a lover. “I would be happy that they had chosen this kind of romance,” she said with a grin. “Society is changing. People are increasingly able to accept such things.”

Sun also shied away from the label “love hotel” despite having named her chain after 37°2 le Matin, a 1985 erotic movie by French director Jean-Jacques Beineix. “Our hotels should be called lovers’ hotels, not love hotels,” she said, adding: “We do not offer any sex toys or these kind of things in the rooms.”

China’s nascent love hotel movement still raises eyebrows in some quarters. Wang said elderly residents of a community next to a Lots of Love hotel in northeast Beijing had taken exception to a recent advertising campaign with the slogan: “Extreme passion, extreme romance!”. “They thought it would mislead their children,” Wang recalled. The slogan was changed.

Despite that setback, Wang said the future was bright for China’s fledgling love hotel industry. He boasted that in Tianjin, the establishments had caught on to such an extent that parents were booking rooms for their children.

Each night queues form at the Lots of Love reception desk, where affection-starved guests can choose from one of 55 themed bedrooms – including Shakespeare’s Room 204 – on an iMac computer. Before taking a lift upstairs, visitors peruse a cabinet filled with bottles of pink Lambrusco and packets of instant noodles. “We provide a romantic place for lovers,” said Wang. – © Guardian News & Media 2016

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Christy Yao
Christy Yao works from Beijing. Formerly Guardian Beijing Researcher & CBC Beijing producer & AP Beijing Freelancer. Views are my own. Christy Yao has over 391 followers on Twitter.

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