Are massage parlour “happy endings” illegal? Not exactly, according to Foshan law enforcement authorities. Most massage parlours operate “justifiably” and the act itself is difficult to crack down on, the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper has found, along with a legal loophole which is as ambiguous as the sex trade itself. The age-old debate on whether "manual stimulation" equates to prostitution – illegal but thriving in China – has recently been the subject of contention in the Guangdong city of Foshan. It all started in July 2011 when a massage parlour owner and two associates were arrested in a police raid for “organising prostitution”. Employees at the parlour had reportedly offered “happy endings” and “other erotic massage services” to clients. The men were each handed a five-year sentence by the Foshan Court of First Instance. But an appeal filed by the men to the Foshan Intermediate People's Court one year later managed to help them turn the case around. After further investigation, the defendants were found “not criminally responsible” and were subsequently acquitted due to “unclear facts and improper application of the law”. The court said manual stimulation did not belong in the realm of prostitution. The ruling sparked controversy in the city. Many pointed to a decree in 2001 by the Ministry of Public Security, which specified that providing or receiving of sexual activity for hire, be it oral sex, masturbation or sodomy, would be considered prostitution and was thus, illegal. The act of a manual stimulation – by hand – is often offered an extra service at many massage and “beauty” parlours across the country. Prostitution was not always outlawed in China. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) it was legal and taxed. The Communist Party abolished prostitution after it came to power in 1949. According to the Ministry of Public Security, nearly 140,000 prostitution cases are investigated annually, or about 383 cases a day, with 250,000 perpetrators - including prostitutes and clients.