Connect to share and comment

Pornonomics in China

A slowing economy. An internet porn site boom. What's the connection?

Mosaic made of condoms
A mosaic of some 60,000 condoms painted in different colors are made to look like a traditional Chinese ink painting. The image, from the banks of the Li River in south China's Guilin, is displayed at an exhibition of sex and 'reproductive health technology' in Beijing on Aug. 8, 2009. (AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Is China's uneasy relationship with internet porn ending?

That question spread quickly on Twitter and across the web this week after word leaked that several popular porn sites were now available in China, the world's largest internet market.

Since late May, 420 million Chinese web users have had access to YouPorn, PornHub, the Chinese site Xingba ("Sex Bar") and others, according to bloggers inside China.

"This has never been done with the [Chinese] internet before," Beijing internet analyst Zhao Jing, who goes by the English name Michael Anti, told the Associated Press.

Smirk if you must. And, yes, porn can feel like an inconsequential topic in a serious and complex world.

But this latest development says a lot about the new China.

It also raises a number of important issues that go far beyond a little laptop titillation.

First, a bit of background. Internet regulation represents a serious digital dilemma for Chinese authorities; namely, how to use the benefits of the internet — openness, efficiency, communication and the like — to promote economic growth, while maintaining political control over Chinese society.

To strike this balance Bejing has created the world's most sophisticated internet police force: 30,000 people who monitor sensitive content like mentions of the spiritutal movement Falun Gong, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Dalai Lama and — until recently it seems — internet porn.

Clearly, these prohibitions haven't slowed internet growth or use in China: 420 million people is more than the entire population of any other country in the world, save India.

But China's digital dilemma can create problems ranging from rocky relations with foreign firms (see the Google back-and-forth episode), to confusing or ineffective policies like last year's Green Dam/Youth Escort software filter that was to be installed on every new computer sold in China. That plan was eventually scrapped amid general relief.

So what's behind this apparent loosening of porn regulations?

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/asia/100723/china-internet-porn