Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have announced an impending three month-long anti-prostitution campaign, after a television expose in Dongguan prompted an oppressive raid.
The expose' and heavy-handed response have proved surprisingly controversial in China , where prostitution is technically illegal but practically ubiquitous. Internet users and human rights groups have criticised authorities for shaming and
intimidating female sex workers rather than offering them help.
The UN estimates that four to six million women work in the country's sex industry nationwide, many of them in brothels thinly disguised as hair salons, massage parlours and karaoke bars.
In the expose, aired by state broadcaster CCTV, undercover reporters visited a range of upscale hotels and karaoke bars in the city of Dongguan, known as a prostitution hot spot. In one segment, a reporter enters a room divided by one-way
glass; on the other side, two scantily-clad women dance provocatively to a Lady Gaga song. A venue employee identifies them by their numbers, prices, and hometowns.
The city responded to the broadcast by dispatching 6,525 police officers in a raid. They arrested 67 people and closed 12 entertainment venues. Pictures posted online showed lines of men and women kneeling on the floor in the middle of a hotel
lobby, their heads down and their hands cuffed, surrounded by scores of uniformed police.
Guangdong authorities will now launch a three-month, province-wide crackdown on prostitution. Local police officers who are found protecting the sex industry or who organise sexual services will be severely punished, said Li Chunsheng,
the province's vice-governor.
In addition to a news feature on China Central Television about the corruption of the sex industry in Dongguan, the official Sina Weibo published an eight-hour population in-flow and out-flow map of Donguan city, which has been interpreted as
the escape path of prostitutes and prostitution clients during the crackdown. Generated by Baidu Qianxi with data from Baidu map, the map indicated that most people fleeing the crackdown escaped to Hong Kong.
Originally, Baidu Qianxi was designed as a visualization tool that could map population flows during the Chinese Lunar New Year. But as Luo Changping at Letscorp pointed out [zh], the fact that Baidu Qianxi was able to appropriate the data
surrounding the prostitution crackdown suggests that authorities are using mass surveillance to track these patterns, rather than only targeting criminal suspects, and thereby violating the personal privacy of untold numbers of citizens.
The use of geolocation tracking technology in this crackdown by the party propaganda authority indicates to the public that the police authority, through Baidu and other mobile application developers, is capable of tracking mobile phones and
thus the real identity of individuals, as nearly all mobile numbers are linked with the owner's identity card. In reaction to this threat, many Hong Kong netizens said that they planned to shut down their mobile when traveling in China.
Update: Police chief sacked
15th February 2013. See article
The Chinese government has sacked the police chief of Dongguan following a report by the main state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), on the underground sex industry there, the Xinhua news agency has reported.
Yan Xiaokang, who was also Dongguan's vice mayor, was removed from his posts for dereliction of duty, Xinhua said, quoting Communist party officials in Guangdong province.
Yan's dereliction of duty led to the persistent illegal sex trade in Dongguan, which has reflected very badly on the city, both domestically and internationally, Xinhua reported, citing a party statement. It added that another seven
Dongguan officials were also sacked in relation to the case.