Two high-ranking officials have spoken out recently on the usually taboo subject of prostitution, which apparently has become widespread in some parts of China.
A comment by one of the officials and an article in an academic publication here indicate that the problem is a serious one in China's southern coastal area.
The subject is sensitive in part because the ruling Chinese Communist Party assumed it had eliminated prostitution after coming to power 36 years ago.
Prostitution is also a sensitive subject because opponents of the economic changes being introduced here could point to it as a sign that the opening of the country to more foreign trade and investment has brought with it some "evils of the old society" that existed prior to the Communist takeover in 1949.
Even proponents of the economic reforms seem to have become disturbed enough to have seized on this theme recently. In a speech to a special Communist Party conference last month, the country's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, said, "some evil things that had long been extinct after liberation have come to life again."
This was taken to be a reference to the pursuit of wealth and to a revival of prostitution, according to analysts here.
Chen Yun, chairman of the Communist Party's Discipline Inspection Commission, which polices the behavior of members, spoke even more explicitly about prostitution. In a speech to the commission, he said "quite a few" newly established companies that "worked hand in hand with lawbreakers and lawless foreign businessmen" were involved in speculation, profiteering, bribery, smuggling, fraud, extortion and other malpractices, including "inducing women to go in for prostitution."
When one of the party's most prominent orthodox Marxists, Deng Liqun, was asked by reporters about prostitution, he said, "In cities along the coast, this problem is a bit serious." Deng, who is not related to Deng Xiaoping, is a member of the party Secretariat that directs day-to-day affairs and has been a strong proponent of reining in China's opening to the West, arguing that exposure to some western influences can lead to "spiritual pollution."
Western journalists have been reporting cases of prostitution in China since 1979. But the recent statements by high-level officials, a magazine report from Hong Kong published earlier this year, and an article based on research into the subject here show that prostitution may now be more widespread than most observers originally thought.
According to an article obtained here recently that was published in May in the monthly magazine Youth Research, an internal journal of the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, prostitution is "rampant" in rural coastal areas of Fujian Province opposite Taiwan.
"It is difficult to stamp out prostitution, which has become a kind of underground activity in the rural areas," said the article.
"In the coastal rural areas, there are quite a number of professional prostitutes," the article said. "In some places, the situation is becoming more and more serious. Moreover, there is an evident trend toward a lowering in the age of women who engage in prostitution."
The article said the prices asked by prostitutes range from 1 to 8 yuan, or from 35 cents to $2.75, depending on the age of the prostitute. The younger the prostitute, the higher the price, the article said.
Regulations published in the southern province of Guangdong in 1981 indicated that those who keep the company of prostitutes are subject to fines equivalent to $35 to $1,000. The prostitutes are subject to detention and are asked to sign a pledge to repent.
The official party newspaper, People's Daily, alluded indirectly but unmistakably to prostitution Oct. 1 in a front-page editorial celebrating National Day, the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The paper said that "bad things stamped out after liberation are coming to life again."
The editorial placed heavy stress on the need to adhere to Marxism and communist ideals.