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Asia/South Asia
Global Village
Student lectured on dangers of sex trade
Andrew Yeh

          Even by the standards of a country where the divide between the private and public parts of someone's life is often blurred, the situation at Chongqing Normal University (CNU) is unusual.
In the summer the teaching school, in a part of south-west China being transformed by a feverish market economy, drafted a rule threatening its 30,000 students with expulsion if they were found to be involved in prostitution or the escort business, had become mistresses or even had one-night stands-behaviour the university believes harms its image.
The draft rule sparked a stir in the local media and on the internet, pitting conservative administrators eager to shield students from what they see as corrupting outside - or foreign - influences, against a generation of young Chinese growing used to more freedom and privacy.
Even though prostitution is illegal in China, it thrives in plain sight in places such as karaoke clubs, massage parlours and some hotels.
Chinese universities, for decades governed by strict tradition, are seen by some as the last refuge from the ills of a fast-changing society where, for some, the pursuit of money has become all embracing.
At its root the rule -- which has yet to be adopted by CNU or other institutions -- gets to the heart of a real dilemma in modern China: how to maintain control over a society while encouraging free market activity.
Officials at CNU argue that the new rule is necessary. An administrator said it was still a draft and the university was open to student feedback.
The feedback is likely to provide a mixed picture, with some students supporting the rule and arguing that such behaviour demonstrates problems of "personal character". Others interviewed believe the rule is unenforceable and their private affairs should not be the concern of the school.
"Society can't avoid these things [the rule targets] but the school can," said You Haoyang, 22, a graduate of CNU who works at a software company. "From the traditional view it's not good, but from a more modern perspective these things are common."
The controversy has drawn attention from other parts of the country, prompting the Shanghai Daily to argue: "Our public morals have already declined. We have seen too many married people flirting with men or women. If society has failed to rebuild public morals because of the invasion of western values, China cannot afford to lose one of its last battlegrounds: the college campus."
Twenty years ago it was considered taboo for Chinese university students to have openly intimate relationships, or to show too much affection in public. Relationships between Chinese students and foreigners were particularly frowned on.
Today the picture is changing. Bu Yan, 20, a Chinese language major, said she had heard of girls becoming ernai (or mistresses) to older, wealthy men but she believes the proposed rule is a violation of privacy. "After entering college, we are free and unfettered and this makes it more likely for people to be affected by social ills," she said. "Morally [being an ernai ] it might seem abnormal but how do you know whether it's true love or not?"
Others said the few students who became ernai or worked in the sex industry did so for financial reasons or vanity. "Vanity is based on money," said a male student. "Most students rely on their families for money but often their family cannot satisfy them. So they seek social channels."
Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University recently said that students engaging in non-marital sex could be punished with a warning and those discovered to be involved in prostitution would face expulsion.
The changed atmosphere on the campuses coincides with reports that three brothers were convicted of luring 70 students into an escort service called the "Student Business Club" in the Chongqing college district.
The men reportedly posted advertisements on campuses looking for "smart, outgoing and fashionable" girls. Students reported seeing similar postings from karaoke establishments seeking "private room princesses". A district court sentenced the men to up to six years in prison "for the crimes of luring women into prostitution and living off immoral earnings", according to one report.
One student at CNU said her older boyfriend working in the commercial sector said Chinese businessmen preferred students to prostitutes because they were more cultured.
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