Beijing--Many of the tiny bookstalls along this city's side streets still exhibit posters displaying well-endowed Western women in skimpy clothing or somewhat racy, Chinese-made calendars with such pictorial themes as "Motor Girls of Sichuan."
But the closest thing to what might be considered pornograph readily available to a casual browser is a heavily censored edition of one of China's greatest novels, "Golden Lotus" -- and this only from a shifty private dealer who brings the banned, 17th-century erotic classic's two volumes from his house wrapped in brown paper.
Nevertheless, if China's leaders are to be believed, their nation i awash in pornography, and the West is to blame for it.
Moreover, they claim, the very future of socialism in Chin depends on stomping out the porn plague.
But the true concern of the Chinese leadership's current, rabi focus on smut is much broader, more politically motivated than simply limiting access to sexually graphic materials.
It is just a small part of a much more encompassing effort t launch a campaign aimed at raising China's level of "spiritual civilization" and, in the process, combating a decade's worth of encroachment by "bourgeois liberalization" and "spiritual pollution."
"Spiritual civilization," "bourgeois liberalization" and "spiritua pollution" are bits of typically obtuse Chinese Communist jargon often used as rallying points by hard-line Marxists as covers for attacks on reformist political factions, writers and artists. And this time may not be much different.
"The fight against pornography is by no means a question o banning a few harmful books and magnetic tapes," an editorial in China's leading paper, People's Daily, advised this fall. "It is a struggle between socialist and capitalist ideologies.
"This struggle has an important bearing on the success or failur of China's socialist cause and the rise and fall of the country. . . . Hostile forces at home and abroad have never abandoned their attempts to subvert the socialist system and overthrow the leadership of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]," the editorial explained.
"When they failed to accomplish what they wanted through gun and artillery, they preached 'peaceful evolution' . . . in a vain attempt to win the battle without a fight. One of their means is through dissemination of obscene, pornographic and decadent books, magazines and audio and video products."
To drive home the reality of this threat from the West, China' state-run press has been peppered in recent months with shocking stories from all over the country about seizures of millions of pieces of pornography, about waves of juvenile sex crimes spurred by exposure to obscene materials, about the buying and selling like chattel of innocent women and about the busting up of full-scale brothels.
And those who run afoul of this latest Chinese crusade ar paying heavy prices, possibly even being executed. In one televised case this fall, an illiterate woman caught bringing tens of thousands of pornographic books here from a coastal area -- books with such titles as "The Enchanting Maiden" -- ended up with a life term in jail.
Make no mistake, there is something of a basis for a anti-pornography campaign in China, though the sources of the problem are not entirely Western.
Independent of any Western influences, China has a lon tradition of erotic, if not pornographic, literature.
With the country's reopening to the outside world over the pas ** 10 years, a sizable, not-so-covert trade has flourished here in sexually graphic materials imported from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan as well from Europe and the United States.
Beijing residents say that before the recent pornograph crackdown, it was not unusual for entrepreneurs to set up small theaters in their homes, advertise among friends and charge fees for watching blue videos on home TV sets. Similar activities are said to be common still outside the politically-sensitive capital, particularly in the more free-wheeling coastal provinces closer to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
This taste for porn developed in a huge market largely starve for several decades of basic information about human biology. Even now, as China attempts to provide some rudimentary sex education to its urban young people, the teaching materials often are burdened by quaint irrelevancies, such as proscriptions against wearing tight pants.
"There is really a lot of interest in pornography here, but th government people who start these campaigns never ask themselves why," said a Beijing intellectual. "It's because people are hungry for information about things they've never been told about. A lot of people older than 20 have never had the slightest instruction in these matters.
"Chinese people particularly want to see pornography from th West, simply because it's still so very new to them," he said. "They all think that things from the West are better than Chinese things."