BEIJING, China — Young Chinese couples in romantic relationships mingle through the crowd with hands interlocked, hugging or kissing and displaying other forms of affection.

Foreign tourists strolling the Qian Hai boardwalk, a lively sightseeing destination in central Beijing, might not give this level of public affection, common in many other countries, a second thought. Yet it still raises eyebrows in some quarters in China where PDA, or public displays of affection, were virtually nonexistent in Chinese society just two decades ago.

“Certainly young people today are enjoying more freedom of expression,” said Lan Linyou, a professor of Anthropology at Minzu University of China in Beijing. “Lovers holding hands in public were regarded as taboo during my time. “

Lan said that during the 1980s Chinese conservative culture dictated that young people were not allowed to be in relationships and women then could not wear their hair down or walk in heels. China’s focus on such restrictions began to fade when reformists within the Communist Party led by Deng Xiaoping introduced a series of economic reforms in 1978.

“Since the economic reforms, people focused more on making money and getting rich,” Lan said, “so the spiritual pursuit got weaker and the material pursuit got stronger.”

This may be one reason why China’s youth is able to participate in more public displays of affection today.

“Kissing is just a way through which we display our affection,” said 23-year-old Chen Chao while sitting next to his girlfriend near the boardwalk. “Once we love each other, no one can restrict us. I think the old generation may not say their disapproval aloud. If the older generation complains, we don’t care.”

Generally the older members of Chinese society are not used to seeing affection shown in public, said Lan.

“Perhaps others can accept it but I don’t,” said 54-year-old Wei Xinhua, who offers massage services near the boardwalk. “Holding hands is okay, but it’s not quite proper to hug in any places. People’s upbringings are different, and I was brought up in this habit.”

Lan said even though young people have more freedom to display their love in public, they should still save it for the right time and place because it’s a visual pollution that makes people feel uncomfortable.

Chen Ying , an Instructor of Sociology at Capital Normal University in Beijing, said some secondary schools in China have written rules against public displays of affection while on campus.

“We don’t behave this way when we’re on campus,” said 17-year-old Jin Jinghan, while holding his girlfriend’s hand. “We have to pretend to be friends or strangers.”

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