Wrong To Shame “Chickens”, Won’t Scare Monkeys – Survey
Shenzhen’s streets were the scene of a good old-fashioned public shaming this week. To launch a two-month-long crackdown on prostitution, police trotted out more than 100 men and women accused of working as pimps, madams, street girls and their johns. Local press like Southern Metropolis Daily caught the proceedings in the Shenzhen community of Shazui, better known by its street name, “Mistress Village”. On Wednesday, in the style of a show trial, suspects were lined up and introduced one by one. Each was forced to step forward when his or her name was called, then was marched back to the paddy wagons. As punishment, police announced, they were being held for 15 days of “administrative detention”. Over 1,000 onlookers gathered round. Occasionally, the crowd applauded.
But the minute news of the shaming hit the Web on Thursday, controversy erupted. By Friday morning, more than 105,000 respondents had participated in a survey on Sina.com asking what they thought of the rally. Against it: 69.1 percent, who thought the tactic “invaded the privacy rights of the parties involved.” In favor: 24.5 percent, who believed the display “conducive toward cracking down on crimes involving sex.”
On bulletin boards and in editorials, a load of commentators professed the opinion that the shamed party was in fact the police…
Many questioned the legality of Shenzhen’s tactics. Changsha Online cited a 1996 amendment to the criminal code disallowing public sentencing rallies (Á§∫‰ºó) in death penalty case. Wrote Shenyang Online: “It’s very hard to imagine that this kind of thing could happen in the vanguard of reform and opening, Shenzhen.” Today, China Daily made comparison to “The Scarlet Letter”, concluding: “Offending or insulting the sex workers cannot remove prostitution out of this land. This practice, which outside the law, throws dirt on the police.”
Online, folks have been even less restrained. Some accused police of rounding up the weakest pawns of the sex industry, while protecting a huge source of tax revenue and police payoffs. Such criticisms provoked a knee-jerk backlash from moralistic hardliners, who scolded other commentators for defending the “chickens”, punning slang for prostitutes.
Among the parties implicated for hypocrisy in this privacy debate, though, one was glaringly ignored: the media itself. For more than a decade, of course, commercial newspapers and news magazine shows have made a killing off sensationalistic coverage of police crackdowns. Propaganda photo opportunities are one thing. But some outlets, taking tips from colleagues in Hong Kong, also have been known to pay for pics and video from police photographers, or the right to slip behind police lines themselves. Busts of brothels, in particular, are prized, and subjects’ faces aren’t always blurred. Partial disclosure: In 1999, your reporter once ran a batch obtained by questionable means in the pages of a Beijing-based magazine.
More photos are here.