Monday, April 24, 2006

"Comrade Hu, instead of jailing human rights activists, why don't we let them hold Tupperware parties?"

Everybody who has followed the news around Google's, Yahoo's, and more recently, Skype's activities in China knows it: people who think they can publish freely are bound to get into trouble. Big trouble. Off-limits subjects cover a wide range: democracy, human rights, Falun Gong. And indecent material, of course.

Unless you're doing it for commercial purposes, that is. Real estate developers in Shanghai enlist models wearing body paint and very little else to sell apartments, a Changchun fish restaurant pins menus to its waitresses breasts so patrons have an excuse to ogle them, and Hooters' first China branch is doing brisk business.

On more than one occasion censorship in China has used porn as an excuse to block foreign websites. This farce was effectively undone when the Washington Post and other media obtained a list of keywords for filtering web content that didn't contain any type of indecent expression (apart from the quite intriguing "Hire a killer to murder one's wife").

It now seems this chink in the armour has been picked up with gusto by China's ever-entrepreneurial commercial sector. Another sign that commercial interests are driving significant change in China's society, despite the fact that commerce and politics are being kept strictly separated.

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