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China anti-corruption drive zeroes in on sex trade

Date
Detained suspects are gathered in a lobby near a glass door with the words "Welcome to Visit" during an anti-prostitution raid earlier this month in Dongguan in China's southern province of Guangdong.

Detained suspects are gathered in a lobby near a glass door with the words "Welcome to Visit" during an anti-prostitution raid earlier this month in Dongguan in China's southern province of Guangdong. Photo: AP

Beijing: China’s crackdown on the sex trade in the southern industrial city of Dongguan, launched after a salacious television exposé, has widened to a sweeping national campaign against vice.

In signs the campaign is being orchestrated from the top levels of government, the Ministry of Public Security - the main police and security authority in China - urged police nationwide to crack down hard on crimes involving prostitution, gambling and drugs.

"Be resolute with the crackdown no matter who is involved, and regardless of what official ranks they are at, with no leniency or soft-heartedness," a notice posted on the ministry's official website said.

Sixty-seven people were arrested and 12 entertainment venues were shut down in raids earlier this month after China Central Television revealed a dozen hotels in Dongguan offered sex services.

Sixty-seven people were arrested and 12 entertainment venues were shut down in raids earlier this month after China Central Television revealed a dozen hotels in Dongguan offered sex services. Photo: AFP

Dongguan deputy mayor and police chief Yan Xiaokang was sacked on Friday for allowing prostitution to flourish in the Guangdong manufacturing hub, as police raided nearly 2000 entertainment venues last week after an exposé on state broadcaster CCTV showed brothels openly operating in upmarket hotels and saunas. At least 16 other cities in nine other other provinces, including Zhejiang, Gansu, Shandong, Guangxi and Heilongjiang, have since made similar raids.

Chinese authorities have generally turned a blind eye to prostitution, which is illegal on the mainland, but operates with wide visibility not just in major regional capitals but also in second and third-tier cities. Dongguan’s sex trade has long been an open secret, earning it notoriety as the "sex capital" of China.

The crackdown is seen as potentially another leg of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s "rectification" campaign, part of a wide-ranging push to restore morality and credibility within the Communist Party.

Chinese police watch over a female suspect during an anti-prostitution raid  in Dongguan earlier this month.

Chinese police watch over a female suspect during an anti-prostitution raid in Dongguan earlier this month. Photo: AFP

In his pledge to fight corruption at all levels of the party, Mr Xi has pledged to target "tigers and flies".

“The current government believes social mores have fallen too far,” said Zhang Ming, a professor in the political science department at Renmin University.

“This is consistent with Xi’s policies so far. While calling for cleaner governance by fighting corruption, he has also tried to change social morality. This is his ambition, but I am not sure whether he will succeed.”

But in a reflection of increasingly liberal attitudes in China, the reaction on social media has been largely sympathetic to those caught up in the bust.

“They said they would go after tigers and flies, but it was the chicken that got shot in the end,” one commenter posted on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. Chicken is a slang term for a female prostitute in a number of Chinese dialects, including Mandarin and Cantonese.

But Zhu Jidong, deputy director of the party’s Research Centre for National Culture Security and Ideology Construction, said the government was right to stamp out vices like prostitution “because it is against the socialist system and the party’s aim”.

“No matter how deep reform gets, or how far marketisation goes, it is unnecessary and impossible to legalise prostitution [in China],” Mr Zhu said.

with Sanghee Liu

 

 

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