Images depicting very young girls in swimwear attempting to strike seductive poses with cars at a vehicle show have sparked fierce criticism online.
Three girls, all about five years old, were photographed at the Chutian Auto Culture Festival, which began on Friday and ended yesterday in Wuhan, Hubei. In the images distributed online, they wore swimsuits, boots and glasses, similar to those used by adult models at the show. In recent years, mainland car shows have increasingly featured scantily-clad models, resulting in the shows being blasted as "breast exhibitions with many famous cars".
However, the Wuhan show's organisers denied the child models were used to get people's attention, noting that they were on stage for only a few minutes.
"Their performance was not an advertisement, since we don't pay them and they don't pay us," said a man with the marketing department of the Wuhan Shangge Exhibition and Trade Company, which was in charge of the vehicle fair.
The man, who refused to give his name, said the modelling show featuring the girls was just a "small rehearsal" for part of a talent competition; other sections included children singing and dancing with their parents.
He conceded, however, that the backlash was far more than the organisers had expected.
The mother of one of the girls said she let her daughter pose in a bikini because the girl had previously modelled in contests that also required her to wear one, the Beijing Youth Daily reports. However, the mother did not realise the public's perception of car models focused on the baring of breasts and legs.
She said her daughter was unaware of the public outcry, and that she would not be taking part in modelling shows in the future.
Another girl's mother told the Wuhan Evening News she did not understand the fuss. She hoped being a model would make her daughter outgoing.
Professor Peng Xiaohui , a sexologist at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, said parents were often ignorant of the effects such risqué behaviour could have on child models' sexual development. He said mainland authorities should legislate to protect children from "sexual exploitation".
Zhu Jianjun , a psychologist at Beijing Forestry University, said: "This auto fair's self-promotion tactic is dangerous for not only young girls, but also for society."