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Despite being made illegal when the Communists rose to power in 1949, pornography flourishes in China. Look at any DVD stand and you're sure to see pirated porn movies. Although the penalties for purchasing, peddling and producing pornographic material are draconian (including jail time, a 20,000 RMB fine, and even execution in extreme cases), it is clear that the threat is no deterrent. However, is any of the porn available actually made here?|
One of the few publishable images from "3D Sex & Zen". Photo: bbs.ly.shangdu.com
A brief history of Chinese pornography
Pornography in China dates back to antiquity, and has a long and colorful history. Sexually explicit drawings have been found that date back to the 1st century, but the art form only began to really develop in the artistic flourishings of the 10th century. This early erotic material was influenced by Daoist practices and the growing use of courtesans by the imperial court. The heyday came in the 17th century during the Ming Dynasty, with the production of "Spring Palace Paintings" (春宫画 - chungong hua), which depicted sexual scenes from the Forbidden City. Erotic literature was popular at this time too, and the most popular work was "The Plum in the Golden Vase" (金瓶梅 - Jin Ping Mei). The tradition continued into the Qing Dynasty, during which time "The Carnal Prayer Mat" (肉蒲團 - Rou Pu Tuan) was penned.
However, since Chairman Mao outlawed porn when he took the helm, any outward or obvious erotic material has been kept firmly out of the public domain. Any signs of it are clamped down on quickly, such as a 2008 raid in Shanghai that resulted in the seizure of more than 8,000 porn DVDs en route from Guangdong. But the rise of the Internet has proven problematic for the government, as despite many cleanups and crackdowns (including the shutting down of 60,000 websites in 2009), any web search for pornography will throw up literally millions of hits. The widespread use of VPNs and proxies means that even banned sites are still easily accessible.
Not made in China?
Yet the overwhelming majority of porn accessed by people on the Mainland isn't made here. It seems that there is no actual pornography industry here, aside from a handful of enterprising filmmakers who stay firmly under the radar. Any extant erotic movies that feature Chinese people are amateur productions or sex tapes. Over the past few years, numerous sex scandals have sprung from the Internet, fueled by the power of the so-called 'human flesh search engine' (人肉搜索). There is something perniciously exploitative about these cases, as it is often by mistake or through malice that these videos find their way to the web. In the notorious case of "ICBC Girl", the video was found when she left her phone in a bank. Her identity was discovered, leading to abject humiliation, and a slur on her character that will be impossible to erase. Cases like this prove that there is clearly a market for pornography here. A recent poll by Sina found that only 2% of respondents agree with China's blanket ban on porn.
Japan to the rescue!
Japanese porn has long been popular in China. The porn star Sora Aoki has proven to be a big hit on the Mainland, and a web search of her name produces over 41 million hits—more than Yao Ming. In her book "People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet", Katrien Jacobs claims that Japanese women in pornography represent a "feminine ideal" that is superior to their Chinese counterparts in the eyes of porn users. With so much Japanese erotica available, is there actually a need for Chinese porn?
Jacobs concurs that Chinese porn is rare, but believes that an industry will rise here. She points out that many sex workers make promotional videos for clients, and this may eventually blossom into a fully-functional industry. The release of the Hong Kong erotic 3D blockbuster "3D Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" will perhaps be a benchmark, but it is unlikely that the government will ever back down from its ban.
With so many things "Made in China" these days, it seems that the only industry that doesn't flourish here is porn, and that's unlikely to change any time soon.