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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
China hides shame over orgy

By Tim Luard
BBC News Online

Alarmed at the damage done to its international image by lurid tales of a mass orgy, China has ordered a crackdown on its rampant sex industry.

The orgy, allegedly involving about 400 Japanese tourists and 500 Chinese prostitutes, took place last month at a luxury hotel in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai.
Outside a Chinese Sex Shop
Some commentators labelled Zhuhai a 'national disgrace'

Since details came to light, police have rounded up many of those involved, including more than 50 prostitutes, a nightclub madame and several pimps, according to a local newspaper.

But local journalists say they have been told to restrict their reporting of the orgy for fear of giving the wrong impression of life in the new, freewheeling China.

Publicly, the government is blaming Japan for the three-day orgy, and has demanded that it take steps to "educate" its citizens about how to behave abroad.

Like everything else these days, sex is a matter of supply and demand
Wei Hui, novelist

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing expressed its "utmost indignation" to Tokyo over what it called the "odious" incident, which coincided - intentionally or otherwise - with the anniversary of Japan's invasion of north eastern China in 1931.

Tens of thousands of Chinese internet users also took out their fury on the Japanese, calling them "animals" and recalling such wartime atrocities as the Nanjing Massacre, or Rape of Nanking, in which an estimated 300,000 Chinese were killed and 20,000 women raped.

A number of elderly Chinese women are still seeking compensation from Japan for having been forced to become sex slaves, or "comfort women".

But this time, some Chinese are saying that their own country should be feeling just as ashamed as Japan.

Unless China wants to acquire a reputation as a sleazy haven for sex tourists, they say, it should be learning something from the latest incident itself rather than blaming foreigners.

Japanese men are not the only ones at fault here", according to Wei Hui, a Shanghai-based novelist. "They may have a bad reputation abroad as womanisers but, after all, it takes two to tango.

Standing up for reform

"Like everything else these days, sex is a matter of supply and demand."

The free-market reforms of recent years have brought a proliferation of sex workers from poor outlying provinces to China's booming eastern cities.

Poor girls from the countryside selling themselves to foreign businessmen
Xue Xinran, author of The Good Women of China
In the early years of communist rule the government claimed to have completely eliminated prostitution.

But today the social divisions - and the red light districts - are bigger than ever, says Xue Xinran - author of The Good Women of China.

"If you go to these modern hotels in China's south you will see thousands of poor girls from the countryside openly selling themselves to visiting businessmen from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere", Ms Xue told BBC News Online.

She compared the situation today with that of pre-communist Shanghai in the 1930s, with its 30,000 prostitutes and its countless nicknames such as "Paris of the East" and "Whore of Asia".

Today's Zhuhai understandably strives for a different image, describing itself as a "new garden seaside city... standing up in the trend of China's reform and opening up".

In fact it has been receiving sex tours for years.

"Over the years Zhuhai residents have grown oblivious to the sight of busloads of up to 100 'hostesses' arriving at hotels," said a visitor this week.

Officials for the most part tolerate such practices because of the boost to the local economy, says Kevin Lau, a journalist based in Hong Kong.

It is an attitude known as "One eye open, one eye closed", he says.

New campaign

But according to reports from Hong Kong, the Communist Party Secretary of Guangdong province is now under heavy pressure from Beijing to investigate last month's incident and carry out a thorough crackdown on all prostitution.

A new round of an ideological campaign to promote "spiritual civilisation", or officially approved morality, is expected to be introduced soon.

Prostitutes detained by police at such times are usually sent for "long-term rehabilitation" to labour camps.

But such crackdowns rarely achieve much, according to Dr Phil Deans, Director of the Contemporary China Institute at SOAS London University.

"There is growing concern about the issue of prostitution in China", he said.

"But as in many developing countries there is lax law enforcement and a degree of corruption at the local level that makes it hard for the senior political authorities to impose control," he said.

China media fury over 'orgy'
30 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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29 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
China hotel 'orgy' sparks fury
28 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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18 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Anti-Japan protests worry China
18 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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