Allen T. Cheng, BEIJING
Log on to the internet in China, type the word 'sex' in Chinese in the search engine and you will be amazed at the amount of smut available.
Mainland censors may regularly block The New York Times or Time magazine, but they seldom impose restrictions on sites that sell pictures of naked Chinese, Japanese and Korean women in all shapes and positions.
It is ironic that such porn is so widely available in a communist country that still censors 'spiritual pollution'. It is not like the government has not tried, however. The pornography problem was so serious that Beijing forced the top three portals, Sohu, Sina and Netease, to cut links with independent China-based sex sites six months ago.
A substantial portion of the portals' revenues came from downloads of naked women's pictures - so much so, that their US-traded share prices suffered when they were forced to cut ties with the pornography dealers.
Not to be put out of business, the independent sites, almost all of them run by young tech-savvy entrepreneurs have courted clients on their own. Many have developed technology that automatically hooks into web surfers who happen to visit by chance. I was one such victim of this practice and now when I open up the computer the site keeps popping up.
Most sites do not have original material, which is illegally copied from others in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and elsewhere. But clearly, some produce their own material posting pictures of mainland women in partial or full nudity. The pictures can be bought for as little as 20 to 30 fen.
A Sohu official recently said it was actively fighting smut by censoring content. But he admits that Sohu cannot stop its 10 million-plus surfers from posting naked photos of themselves or their girlfriends, especially on its dating or matchmaking sites. 'We can't stop people from doing this,' he says. 'We can only try to pull down photos that are extreme.'
Nude photos are widely available these days. Economic reforms have brought huge changes to mainland Chinese values. With economic liberation, there has also been sexual liberation. Not only are young women wearing make-up and colourful fashions, some are spending thousands of yuan having nude photos done.
It is so popular that almost all photographic shops in China display their skills. Walk into any wedding speciality shop and you will find not only photo albums of happy newlyweds, but also nude pictures of the brides.
Asked why, one shop owner replied: 'Chinese women are like women anywhere else. They want to be beautiful and they realise they're only young once. That's why some women have photos done for memory's sake. They want to see themselves as beautiful, even when they're old.'
China has come a long way. The prudish days of communism are over.