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SEX AND THE CITY

The streets of China have always seemed to this diarist to be an ideal learning ground for urban Indian men. It’s an Asian country which, only a century ago, was as feudal as parts of India are today. Yet, today, girls wear the most revealing clothes, couples smooch in public, and no one even stares.

Apparently, that’s changing, and of all places, in Shanghai, the country’s most modern city. An unremarkable advertisement featuring the Hong Kong movie star, Edison Chen, has been pulled out of the Shanghai Metro after commuters complained. The ad, for a car rental company, had Chen dressed in a tee with an open shirt over it, and a slogan saying: “Have fun, waste no money.’’

Chen was at the centre of a major sex scandal in 2008; pictures of him in orgies with various showbiz stars are all over the web. The pictures reportedly originated from his computer. Apparently, people haven’t forgotten that. One Shanghai commuter said: “Is this ad suggesting young people save money by having fun in a rented car?” An opinion poll had 55 per cent disapproving of the ad, saying it was “destructive to social morals’’, while only 20 per cent had no objection to it.

Some months back, the management of the Shanghai Metro was at the centre of another controversy. An internet post on its official micro blog showed a woman dressed in transparent clothes — it was the peak of summer. Below the picture was the caption: “It would be a miracle if you dress like this in the subway without being harassed. Girls, please be self-dignified to avoid perverts.” The subway had witnessed three incidents of gross sexual harassment in the months preceding the post. But the official advice to women to cover up was received with fierce hostility.

Mixed signals

Two masked women dressed in mini-skirts even protested inside the Metro cars, carrying placards that said: “I can dress coquettishly, but you can’t harass me’’ and “We want to feel cool. We want no dirty hands.’’ In interviews in the China Daily, most people opposed the advice, even those who said they felt embarrassed by the clothes worn by girls today.

Ironically, though molestation of the kind common in India is rare here, sexual exploitation seems to be the norm among officials. In the last few days, two officials of the Chinese communist party have had to resign after their sexcapades were exposed. The manager of a State-owned company was fired this week after a former TV host accused him, on a popular micro blogging site, of blackmailing her and of misusing his powers. Her allegations were investigated and proved right. Last week, a party secretary was fired after an explicit tape of him and an 18-year-old was posted on the same site by a journalist. And investigations began yesterday into another such tape involving yet another official.

More such tapes are expected to emerge — part of a collection confiscated by the controversial Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, when he busted a blackmail racket set up by a local builder to trap party officials five years ago. The builder was arrested and the matter hushed up by Wang and his boss, the high-profile Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai.

China sends out confusing signals about sex. Last year, a video uploaded on the net showed girls changing clothes inside a Shanghai Metro compartment while commuters looked on expressionlessly, or looked at their mobiles. Last week, to mark World AIDS Day, a masturbation contest was held in Shenzhen. Ten men, wearing oversized goggles and nose masks, participated, as young girls walked around with life-size inflatable dolls. The contest was sponsored by a sex toy manufacturer who said it was intended to promote sexual freedom and zero-risk sex.