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This article examines sexual representations in print during the early People’s Republic of China, up to Mao Zedong’s instigation of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. The Maoist state, despite efforts to control the print markets inherited from its Nationalist rivals, was not as effective as some state, academic, and popular discourses suggest. In line with recent revisionist accounts of the Mao era, I find that trends begun decades earlier, traceable even to the late sixteenth century, persisted as the authoritarian tide rose. Moreover, evidence suggests that the most potent tools that the young state used for political legitimization could be appropriated by citizens to defend their actions and desires in confrontation with the state. The contest between censors and individuals over sexual representations and the desires they generated was one manifestation of the fundamental instability of the use by authoritarian states—and indeed all modern states—of inherently incomplete power over information and bodies to control their citizens’ subjectivities.