MAGAZINE
China’s XXX factor: Crackdown in the world’s leading porn consumer

China tops the global charts for viewing porn despite strict laws cracking down on its use. Jemimah Steinfeld discusses upcoming restrictions on reading about sex and a drive to get women to cover up their cleavage

21 Dec 2015
BY JEMIMAH STEINFELD

This is an extract from an article in the Winter 2015 issue of Index on Censorship magazine. To read the entire article, you can take out a digital or print subscription here.

The streets of Dongguan in southern China have been quiet of late. In the past, China’s city of sin would hum to the sound of late-night karaoke bars offering more than just an innocent sing-along. Now these establishments have been forced underground or driven out of business entirely. Their chances of a future are not looking good. On 1 January 2016, new regulations will come into effect that dictate appropriate behaviour for the Communist Party’s 88 million members. As part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, the new rules explicitly ban the trading of power for sex, money for sex, and adultery – but these are the foundations of business in Dongguan.

“In Dongguan, whose reputation, if not economy, practically rests on its skin trade, I’m told by several sources that the trade remains mostly out of sight nearly two years after a television report [led to]a sweeping crackdown,” said Robert Foyle Hunwick, a writer who has visited the city many times to research his forthcoming book The Pleasure Garden: China’s Hidden World of Sex, Drugs and the Super-Rich.

Dongguan is not the only city suffering from this campaign against smut – it has been lights out for many brothels across China. Nor is this crackdown limited to China’s Communist party members, as the January 2016 regulations imply. Instead, it forms part of a broader crackdown on China’s sex industry that has been underway since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Enemy number one is internet pornography. In the most recent statistics, from 2014, China accounts for up to 28% of the world’s porn consumption, taking the global lead. It’s a statistic that does not sit well with Xi. Shortly into his term in power, he launched his first anti-pornography crusade, calling for a “benign internet environment”. An attempt was made to clear China’s internet of anything verging on pornography. A similar initiative was launched this summer, following the release of a video featuring a couple having sex in a Uniqlo store. It was the usual drill: sites were blocked or removed and anyone caught facilitating the production or distribution of pornography was arrested.

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Jemimah Steinfeld

Jemimah Steinfeld

Deputy Editor, Index on Censorship magazine

Jemimah Steinfeld has lived and worked in both Shanghai and Beijing where she has written on a wide range of topics, with a particular focus on youth culture, gender and censorship. She is the author of the book Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China, which was described by the FT as "meticulously researched and highly readable". Jemimah has freelanced for a variety of publications, including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Vice, CNN, Time Out and the Huffington Post. She has a degree in history from Bristol University and went on to study an MA in Chinese Studies at SOAS.
Jemimah Steinfeld

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