Mobilising sperm donors in China

You are invited to the public lecture which is part of the 2019-20 Sadler Seminar Series, ‘Vital Circulations: Bodily Fluids in Bioeconomy’.

Ever since China's first human sperm bank was established in 1981 in Hunan province - in many ways against all odds - sperm banking has emerged as an option for those involuntarily childless couples where male factor infertility is at stake. Yet, this possible solution to what some have dubbed China's "sperm crisis" has resulted in another form of “emergency” - namely a chronic lack of sperm donors which is partly structural (a limitation of five offspring per donor) and partly 'cultural' (taboos around sexuality and masturbation and ideas about kinship).

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in China's largest sperm bank I show how each year potentially bioavailable sub-populations of sperm donors are formed through gaokao-screening (university exams). It is these cohorts of male university students who are mobilized through the labour-intensive recruitment practices involving face-to-face and online canvassing by recruiters. China’s ‘restrictive’ limit of five couples per donor has generated a high throughput, cyclic sperm donation system wherein reproductive vitality is extracted through mass donation practices. National semen reserves are in constant shortage as sperm banks struggle to grow their reserves to meet increasing demand from fertility clinics leading to a perpetual ‘state of emergency’.

Ayo Wahlberg is Professor MSO at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen. He is author of Good Quality – the Routinization of Sperm Banking in China (University of California Press), co-editor of Selective Reproduction in the 21st Century (Palgrave MacMillan) and Editor of the inter-disciplinary journal BioSocieties. His current work is focused on chronic living together with a team of researchers working on the European Research Council funded project “The Vitality of Disease – Quality of Life in the Making”.

This event is part of the Sadler Seminar series, Vital Circulations: Bodily Fluids in Bioeconomy, supported by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.


Seminar Room 1 (3.01), Clothworkers South Building.