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At a music bar in the town of Changping in Dongguan, a bargirl eyes her surroundings as she pours another round of drinks for customers. Only two small groups of men are there, drinking and playing dice over the bar's techno beats.
Most of the tables are empty. It is another quiet night for business. Dongguan's nightlife has been like this for the past year, says the bargirl, who goes by the name of Xiaofeng. Petite and fair, the year-old is wearing a sleeveless, short, orange dress and high heels.
Sao huang literally means "sweeping yellow", a colour associated with sex in China. With about , sex workers in a city of just seven million people, Dongguan was once a byword for prostitution, which picked up together with the city's manufacturing sector in the s. In the past, whenever I tell people I'm from Dongguan, they'd give a knowing look and smile, and say, 'Yes, lovely place.
Many of us make an honest living. We would entertain clients at dinner, then go to a nightclub or sauna for girls after that," says a factory manager who wanted to be known only as Mr Ma, But this ended early last year, in what turned out to be China's most sustained and widespread anti-vice crackdown in recent memory. Shortly after Chinese New Year last year, state broadcaster CCTV aired an expose on Dongguan's sex trade, showing the flagrant parading and hawking of prostitutes.
This triggered a crackdown on China's "sin city", with police raiding massage parlours, saunas, nightclubs and hotels. More than 3, had their operations shut or suspended, 3, suspects were nabbed and gangs busted. More than 30 city police officials, including former deputy mayor and head of the local public security bureau Yan Xiaokang, were sacked or suspended from their duties. The communist government is opposed to the sex trade - from both a moral and a Marxist point of view - which it sees as an exploitative industry, experts tell The Straits Times.