China cleans up sex industry before Games

BEIJING - Like countless other Beijing prostitutes, "Kelly" had viewed the Olympic rings as akin to dollar signs, expecting a big pay-day as the city shifts into party mode for next month's Games.

BEIJING - Like countless other Beijing prostitutes, "Kelly" had viewed the Olympic rings as akin to dollar signs, expecting a big pay-day as the city shifts into party mode for next month's Games.

But those dreams are in doubt now thanks to a police offensive aimed at preventing the city's rollicking sex industry from tarnishing the Games.

"The police are suddenly much more formidable now. We have to be very careful," the waif-like 23-year-old said, stirring a watered-down drink in a dim bar frequented by sex workers but notably empty on a recent Saturday night.

The crackdown has closed many of the most notorious bars and other prostitution centres.

Kelly, who hails from nearby Hebei province and declined to give her Chinese name, said many of her fellow sex workers had recently been thrown in jail before being sent back to their home provinces.

"We have to be careful. If I get thrown out of Beijing, I won't be able to get back in because police are putting up roadblocks into Beijing," said Kelly, who formerly prowled hotel lobbies but was chased out by management.

The crackdown is part of a hurried makeover aimed at sweeping the city's less savoury elements under the rug, at least until the August 8-24 Games conclude, which has seen campaigns against drug offenders and even spitting and queue-jumping by the public.

Tighter controls and more frequent checks on the visas of foreigners - apparently aimed at preventing security threats to the Games - have also cleared out the many prostitutes from neighbouring Mongolia and Russia, Kelly said.

"We are closed for fire inspection. Come back after the Olympics," said a man who answered the phone at Maggie's, a bar in the city's embassy district normally filled nightly with freelancing Mongolian hookers. Its front door has been padlocked for about three months.

Basically stamped out during the puritanical Mao Zedong era, prostitution flourishes in today's more open China, with estimates of the country's sex workers ranging as high as 10 million or more.

Sex workers ply their trade with virtual impunity in bars, massage spas, karaoke parlours and the "barber shops" that are found in many Beijing back alleys that have nothing to do with haircuts. - Sapa-AFP

X