Prostitutes' quest for gold ruined

August 1, 2008

Like countless other prostitutes in China's capital, "Kelly" had viewed the Olympic rings as akin to dollar signs, expecting a big pay day as the city shifted into party mode for the Games. But those dreams are in doubt now, as a police offensive tries to prevent the city's rollicking sex industry from tarnishing the occasion.

"The police are suddenly much more formidable. We have to be very careful," the waif-like 23-year-old said, stirring a watered-down drink in a dim bar frequented by sex workers but notably empty on a recent Saturday night.

The crackdown has closed many of the most notorious bars and other prostitution centres.

Kelly, who hails from the nearby province of Hebei and declined to give her Chinese name, said many of her co-workers had recently been thrown into jail before being sent back to their home provinces.

"We have to be careful. If I get thrown out of Beijing, I won't be able to get back in because police are putting up roadblocks into the city," said Kelly, who formerly prowled hotel lobbies for customers but has been chased out by management.

The crackdown, part of a hurried makeover aimed at sweeping the city's less savoury elements under the rug - at least until the Games end on August 24 - has also tackled drug offenders, expectorators and queue jumpers.

Kelly said tighter controls and more frequent checks on foreigners' visas - apparently aimed at preventing security threats - had cleared out many prostitutes from neighbouring Mongolia and Russia.

Periodic anti-prostitution campaigns have been launched but nothing like the present Beijing operation, say observers.

Agence France-Presse