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Sunday, July 31, 2005

China's pulse races

Headlines like "Sex, Porn Pack Berlin Film Festival," features on the Pamela Anderson cartoon "Stripperella" and photos of Paris Hilton examining her cleavage might easily be the work of the National Enquirer or Globe. But the Chinese state news agency?

In the China Youth Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League, readers can find articles on adult toys, while the People's Daily has published features on Shanghai's Ancient Sex Culture Museum, once a source of government ire. And then there is state agency Xinhua, which regularly displays photos of scantily clad women on its website. In a four-day period in early May, Xinhua ran pictures from the Miss Bikini China contest; a spread of foreign swimsuit models, one of whom was wearing only a bikini bottom; provocative shots of foreign women under the English headline "How many luring poses can you imagine?"; photos from the swimsuit competition of last year's Miss Universe contest; and, for good measure, pictures from a Thai transvestite beauty contest.

Jeremy Goldkorn, who runs a Beijing advertising firm and keeps an English-language blog on the Chinese media at www.danwei.org, says the change has been vast. "You would never have the idea that there was any sex in China from reading the People's Daily five or six years ago," he says. Now, "There's a lot more lifestyle stuff. The party has decided it doesn't want to control people's private lives."

The explosion of suggestive images is partly a reflection of changes in Chinese society — many sociologists say China is in the midst of a sweeping sexual revolution — and partly due to market reforms. In 2003, the Chinese government introduced far-reaching regulations that require many newspapers and magazines to try to turn a profit. Television is undergoing a similar, though more gradual, transformation. Xinhua remains state-owned, but it competes for hits with NASDAQ-traded Internet portals Sina and Sohu, which publish their share of racy content. "They have less of a profit motive," Goldkorn said of Xinhua, "but they must be looking at their visitor stats."
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