China Central Television, the Chinese state-run broadcaster, went full force with an aggressive investigation exposing the rampant sex industry in the southern city of Dongguan recently, showing how brothels operated in broad daylight, and how police did nothing to stop them. Prostitutes covered their faces in humiliation as the cameras rolled.
Like many things in China, prostitution is technically illegal, but in reality the law is widely ignored including by those who are supposed to enforce it.
Dozens of venues selling sexual services — taking the form of massage parlors, hair salons, and even high-class hotels — were exposed in the report on Feb. 9. Many of them were shut down and a large number of malefactors arrested. Two police chiefs were also sacked.
CCTV reporters used hidden cameras to document a kind of beauty pageant, where johns could select scantily-clad prostitutes from a line-up. Price-tags were attached to the women. The facilities advertised providing a large range of sexual services.
Public opinion turned out to be sharply critical of CCTV’s approach, however. A torrent of one-sided, angry comments filled China’s blogs and Weibo (microblog) networks. Internet users expressed sympathy with the women who turned to prostitution, and calling out China Central Television for what they said was its hypocrisy, given that the station itself has been embarrassed by a number of salacious sex scandals.
Among the caustic remarks and snarky questions made by Internet users were: “A national brothel exposes civil brothels,” “How many beautiful television hosts have been hired as mistresses by high officials?” and “Those high officials all have mistresses. Why don’t you disclose them?” Many of the comments were made on Sina Weibo, commonly called China’s version of Twitter.
CCTV is the official propaganda mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, which attempts to maintain an image of austere commitment to socialist values, even as its official engage in widely reported debauchery, violence against ordinary people, and embezzlement from the public purse.
Because of its primary role in spreading the Party’s message, netizens say it is a station that has “sold its soul.”
This remark instantly went viral on the Chinese Internet, meeting with widespread acclaim and laughter: “From the incident with CCTV exposing the Dongguan brothel industry, we can see that someone who has sold his soul looks down on people who sell their bodies.”
Hao Jian, professor at Beijing Film Academy, chimed in with: “Sex workers have even more dignity than the CCTV journalists, editors, and productor who exposed them… At least there is no bureaucratic corruption in the sex industry.”
He continued: “There are so many grievances in China. When did CCTV ever report on them? The most filthy thing is the one that sells his soul!”
The official report on the Dongguan crackdown made implicit another question for viewers: Why is the sex industry so rampant in China anyway?
Dongguan, known as a hub for manufacturing and processing products for export, has for years been known as China’s Sin City. Sex services have been openly available there for a decade, and the police typically did little to intervene.
“Not a surprise at all,” wrote netizen aymyaa in response to CCTV’s report. “Without protection from higher levels, how could it be so rampant?”
Political interests are tied to some parts of the industry. Liang Yaohui, for example, the chairman of the Crown Prince Hotel, a five-star hotel that offers sexual services as reported by CCTV, is also a politician. He is the representative of Guangdong Province to the National People’s Congress, a rubber-stamp legislature that functions in sync with the Communist Party.