Visitors to the Beijing Games may be able to buy Playboy and a raft of other limited publications as China mulls relaxing its controls for the Summer Olympics in line with international practice.
Source China Daily.
All pornographic material is prohibited on the mainland but a temporary exception could be made for the Games, according to the biggest importer of foreign publications in the country. “Our law forbids Playboy and we should obey this, but we can’t rule out the possibility that it might make its debut. There might be a demand for it (from athletes or visitors) during the Games,” said Liang Jianrui, vice-president of China National Publications Import and Export Corporation, which will manage the nine magazine-selling kiosks sanctioned by Olympic organizers BOCOG during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Each kiosk will retail over 100 kinds of newspapers and magazines, including publications that are difficult to find in the capital like The New York Times, Newsweek and Britain’s The Sun famous for its topless Page 3 models. “We will provide most of the world’s top-selling newspapers and magazines,” said Liang. While Playboy, the brainchild of Hugh Hefner that is known for its “tasteful” photos of buxom beauties, remains a highly controversial choice at the Olympic Village, there is a growing trend in China to experiment with magazines that were once deemed dangerous or unsanitary.
China’s increasingly liberal political climate has seen sweeping changes hit the shelves of bookstores in the last 18 months, with a Chinese edition of edgy music journal Rolling Stone now deemed fit for the Chinese reading public. Other foreign media, like The New York Times, usually costs twice as much in Beijing as it does in Hong Kong - because of high tax rate and shipping costs, and is often restricted to five-star hotels, international compounds and special foreign bookstores.
Many expatriates in the capital consider this one of the “cons” of living in the city. “It is very inconvenient to buy foreign newspapers and magazines in Beijing,” said South African Jeremy Goldkorn, a 12-year China resident who founded a popular English blog about the country. “As a long-term resident of Beijing, I am already used to reading my favorite publications online, but even then, some foreign websites are inexplicably difficult to access.”
Beijing is going all out on a PR offensive to show the world next summer that it is an international city and is ready to bend the rules to give visitors a more comfortable stay. In addition to implementing a citywide clean-up campaign involving taxi-drivers and social etiquette lessons, it is ramping up English learning across the city, recruiting an unprecedented number of volunteers for the Games and doing its utmost to sanitize the environment and food hygiene levels in the city. The relaxation of curbs on magazines and newspapers follows Olympic protocol. Previous host cities like Athens, Sydney and Atlanta were also asked to ensure journalists and athletes had access to all leading international publications.
The move is also in line with a growing appetite among the Chinese public for foreign, and especially original, material, including novels. The final installment of the bestselling Harry Potter series, for example, sold 50,000 copies on its first print here despite a high retail price of 200 yuan per hardback copy. “This trend of releasing more foreign material stems purely from demand,” said Liang. “Before China opened up, expatriates were so eager to read their newspapers and books in Beijing that China made exceptions by opening foreign bookstores. Nowadays, Chinese bookstores sell foreign books.”
The good news for athletes, tourists and journalists during the 2008 Olympics is that they will be able to find many of their favorite paperbacks at downtown bookstores, while also being able to catch up on the latest news from the nine designated kiosks only hours after publications like the Financial Times are printed in Hong Kong. Popular Asian newspapers such as Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Singapore’s The Strait Times and France’s L’Équipe will also be available, said Liang.
The kiosks got a pre-run this August at the Olympic co-host city of Qingdao when it staged the Qingdao International Sailing Regatta, an Olympic test event. Liang said his company is also talking with leading newspapers including The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times to keep down retail costs and make sure the papers arrive in a timely manner. These two dailies do not have access to printing presses in Hong Kong and must be flown from the United States to Beijing. “Our newsstands will respond to the practical needs of visitors during the Games,” said Liang. “We plan to release a list of what’s going to be available next April or May, but it may not be the final list.”
Six of the nine kiosks will be located in the media area for accredited and non-accredited journalists, he said. The biggest one, with a floor space of 68 sq m, will sit in the International Broadcasting Center. Athletes and coaches will have access to their favorite reads at the Olympic Village, while another store at the Olympic Green will cater to international and domestic spectators. The newsstands will be updated every three hours from 9 am to 6 pm, Jiao Guoying, president of the company, told local media recently.
On a newsstand at the University of International Business and Economics in north Beijing, several copies of a pink Financial Times stick out from behind piles of Chinese publications. The second-hand newspaper costs only 4 yuan (50 US cents), a fraction of its retail price in Europe, but is a must-read for finance majors at the college. Yet the fact it is even here at all is a mystery to many. “A man delivers the papers to me, but I’m not exactly sure where they come from,” said Han, a vendor at the school who refused to disclose her full name. A man who used to sell second-hand magazines during his college days told China Daily on condition of anonymity that he persuaded airport staff at Beijing Capital International Airport to collect used foreign magazines from the cabins of international flights, before carrying them to universities and crowded English schools like New Oriental in the capital.
As foreign publications, both in print and online, are still few and far between in China, used copies from “smugglers” like this form one of the limited channels for Chinese to (literally) get their hands on material that is easily available overseas. “When Time magazine published its Person of the Year edition last December, featuring a mirror reflecting the reader herself, I was eager to get one,” said Wu Yun, a senior student of Beijing Foreign Studies University. “It took me over a month to get one copy but in the end I did it,” she told China Daily.
Used periodicals like Time, The Economist and National Geographic, which are brought to the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong, are also among the best sellers, said vendors around Wu’s school. One vender there said he sold about 50 to 60 copies every month. Readers of foreign publications in China include students, scholars and office workers with some foreign-language skills.
During weekends, reading rooms for foreign-language periodicals are usually packed at the National Library of China near Zhongguancun, where more than 10,000 foreign periodicals are available. “I asked for leave from my company to come here and read foreign periodicals like I.D., Innovation, Design and Mono,” said a woman surnamed He, an industrial designer in her late 20s and a fine arts enthusiast. “Not many Chinese design companies can afford to subscribe to all these magazines,” she said. “But they are really useful.” Luo Huan, a 30-year-old librarian at the library, said that nowadays Chinese readers want to know more about what is going on in the world of international science, law and social affairs.
Many Chinese frequently read foreign publications online, using portals, search engines, proxies and RSS feeds. The Chinese websites of some western media have also experienced a growing readership on the Chinese mainland. “Reading more global publications certainly broadens the mind,” said Chen Lidan, a media expert at Beijing-based Renmin University. “But right now few people do that in China.”
“The driving force behind foreign publications in China comes from the coalition of the market and the policy. Policy follows demand,” said Liang Jianrui, vice-president of China National Publications Import and Export Corporation. “I often bought second-hand magazines at school. But since I left, I can rarely find them,” said Han Mingbing, a college graduate who now works at a tourism company in Beijing. “If the latest edition of Time was available around the corner, I would snap it up no matter how much it cost,” he said.