A series of controversial sex education textbooks for young children that sparked outcry at a primary school in East China's Zhejiang Province will no longer be used, chinanews.com quoted school officials as saying Tuesday.
Though some parents complained about the book's straightforward explanations of reproduction, homosexuality and sexual abuse, many netizens expressed their support for the books.
Experts told the Global Times that people should set aside their prejudice and allow children to receive this kind of education, which can teach them how to protect themselves if they face abuse.
An official from Hangzhou's Gaoqiao Primary School said on Monday that the school had decided to withdraw the groundbreaking textbooks.
"Since sex education is necessary, the school will promote related courses at a proper time in the future," the official said.
A mother of a second grade student at the school posted on Sina Weibo on February 28 that she was shocked to find that her child's textbook included cartoons of male and female reproductive organs.
She posted a picture of a chapter that teaches children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Her picture shows a cartoon of woman asking to see a young boy's genitals.
Her post went viral, sparking discussion with many criticizing the textbook's content as "too much."
"Too early or too much sex education may cause children to start puberty too early!" one Sina Weibo user said. There is no evidence that reading can spark puberty.
Knowledge is power
The textbook series, named "Cherish Life," was published by an academic group specializing in child sex education under Beijing Normal University after nine years of research, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Tuesday.
The academic group said Saturday that they are not sure how many schools around the country are using their textbooks, but are able to confirm 18 Beijing schools have adopted them.
Different books in the series are intended to be used with students from grades one to five.
The volume for first graders presents the cartoons of human organs that so worried the mother.
Material about sexual intercourse, menstruation and nocturnal emissions are introduced in books for second and third graders. Fifth grade students are told by the books that homosexuality is normal.
The books also tell children about gender equality, saying that men can be nurses, while women can also serve in the army.
When the books came under fire, people felt compelled to speak up in support of their efforts.
"That a parent thought she was correct to report such textbooks showed that how ignorant Chinese adults' understanding of sex is. Do they think they are protecting their children?" said one user of Weibo.
"This is why many boys grow up with pornography as their sex education textbook and imagine all women are like pornographic actresses," said another Weibo user.
"I support such education. My son is in third grade, but they do not have this kind of class at his school," a mother in Ji'nan, East China's Shandong Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"I bought him picture books on sex education when he was very young. When he asks me about these things, I always tell him the facts in plain language," she said, adding that "there is nothing to hide. If he doesn't know the facts, how can he protect himself?"
After this publicity, books from the Cherish Life series have sold out from many online bookstores, including popular e-commerce platform jd.com.
A total of 443 cases of sexual violence against children aged under 14, involving 778 victims, were reported in 2016, according to an annual report released by the Beijing-based Girls' Protection NGO.
"In many cases, children were sexually assaulted or abused because they did not have basic knowledge about sex or how to ask for help," Zhao Hui, a lawyer and director of the Beijing Bar Association Committee on Child Protection, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"Some of them even thought the adults were playing with them," Zhao said, adding that "Sex education is scientific. People should not make it a taboo."
The Program for the Development of Chinese Women (2011-2020) released by China's State Council suggested that lessons on sex and reproductive health should be included in the compulsory education system.
Zhang Meimei, a professor of sexual education at the Capital Normal University, said that "using these kinds of textbooks is tricky, and schools should discuss such courses with parents first," according to chinanews.com.