BEIJING - Police said yesterday that they had detained a half-dozen people in connection with reports that hundreds of Japanese tourists in a southern city recently hired hundreds of local prostitutes and staged a public display of promiscuity on a sensitive anniversary in Sino-Japanese relations.
Details remain sketchy of what is alleged to have been a three-day sex romp at a luxury hotel in Zhuhai in mid-September, but that has not diminished an outpouring of invective against Japan on China's Internet chat sites or unusually racy articles in the state-controlled press.
The incident has further aggravated relations between China and Japan, which had already been strained earlier in the month when Chinese construction workers stumbled upon a cache of mustard gas left over from Japan's World War II occupation of China. One man died and several others were badly burned in the accident, prompting an apology from Japan.
Beijing and Tokyo have also been competing strenuously in an effort to gain access to Russian oil, with each pushing proposals for the construction of a pipeline that both governments see as crucial to meeting their nations' growing demands for imported oil.
Zhuhai, like some other cities near Hong Kong and Macau, is well known for attracting Chinese and Western sex tourists. But the incident involving a group of 400 Japanese visitors and as many as 500 local prostitutes prompted national outrage because of the scale and the timing.
Chinese newspapers reported over the weekend that the male tourists, some as young as 16, had hired prostitutes at local nightclubs and brought them back in groups to the Zhuhai International Conference Center Hotel. Chinese guests staying at the hotel were quoted as saying that the Japanese men had groped the prostitutes in the lobby and on elevators, and that guest floors had overflowed with scenes of carnality and drunkenness.
The local press said the sex romp began Sept. 16 and ended Sept. 18, which China records as the start of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931.
It is unclear why reports of the sex scandal did not emerge until the weekend, more than a week after they were said to have occurred.
Even allowing for what is likely to be exaggeration in the news media, which rarely miss an opportunity to express China's anger about Japan's historical atrocities, officials say they are taking the reports seriously. Police in Zhuhai and Guangdong province said they had begun an investigation, and the hotel was temporarily closed.
A police spokeswoman said last night that up to six people had been detained in connection with the matter but declined to specify their nationalities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan called the incident odious. "Foreigners coming to China must comply with Chinese law," he said. "We hope the Japanese government will enhance the education of its people in that respect."
Japanese officials said they had not confirmed the details as reported in the Chinese press. But at a news conference, the deputy chief Cabinet secretary, Masaaki Yamasaki, warned Japanese travelers to be careful to obey laws of the countries they visit.
Chinese Web sites, which are closely monitored by the authorities and censored if their content is deemed unacceptable, were full of indignation. Sohu.net conducted an online survey that attracted 85,000 responses. Nearly 90 percent said the Japanese had conducted the sex tour to humiliate China on what Chinese already call their national day of humiliation, Sept. 18.