As Chinese Open Up About Sex, Government Clamps Down

Matt O'Conner
BEIJING — While China has seen sweeping changes in attitudes and openness about sex and the country has become by far the world’s largest supplier of sex toys, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to keep its citizens from accessing Internet pornography.

The latest effort requires all websites to register with the government by June 30 or face immediate closure. Websites also must conform to more than 60 laws dealing with content regulation.

As recently as the late 1980s, more than 80 percent of Chinese citizens said they were virgins on their wedding day, kissing in public was grounds for arrest in some areas and being openly gay was unheard of.

Today, gay and lesbian bars draw packed crowds in major cities, Chinese factories produce more than 70 percent of the world’s sex toys and sex shops are sprouting up throughout the country.

“I feel my business is standing on the front lines of a sexual revolution,” the owner of one such shop, called the G-Spot, said.

But, while there is a large market for pirated adult DVDs, pornography remains strictly forbidden, and the government has gone to great lengths to keep porn from reaching its citizens, especially where the Internet is concerned.

Chinese makers and distributors of adult materials sent through the Internet, mobile phones and other communication devices face penalties as severe as life in prison.

Even individual web users must register with the police within 30 days of opening an Internet account, presumably in order to make it easy for the government to monitor their activities.

China employs more than 30,000 people to oversee the Internet seeking out both offending sites and users.

Last year China began an extensive program of shutting down 47,000 unlicensed Internet cafes and 1,800 adult websites.

Cafe owners must block inappropriate websites and report illegal behavior. In Shanghai, some internet cafes are monitored by closed-circuit TV to ensure the regulations are followed, and others employ staff to check what sites users are accessing.

Also last year, the government recently undertook a massive Internet infrastructure upgrade spearheaded by American companies including Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks.

The Cisco routers sold to China have the ability to block not only the main addresses for websites, but also specific sub-pages while leaving the rest of the site accessible. The same capability allows access to Google’s main search page, while blocking specific search results based on banned keywords or web addresses.

Another American company, Microsoft, is providing filtering technology aimed at preventing the country’s 100 million web surfers from accessing porn.

The company also is helping the government censor political speech online. Chinese users of Microsoft-hosted blogging services who try using words like “democracy” and “Freedom” receive a message telling them profanity is prohibited.