- Language Tips
The organizers of a controversial auto show in which girls as young as 5 paraded in bikinis has dismissed criticism from netizens, saying such events are "natural" and common in China.
Photos of young girls posing in swimwear at the Chutian Auto Culture Festival in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Friday, have been widely circulated and discussed online.
Many Web users expressed anger at the hosts and parents, accusing them of exploiting the children for profit.
However, Zhang Ping, general manager of the event's organizers, 7-Wind Model Costume Co, said the goal was purely to help the children "boost their courage" and no organization or individual made money from the show.
"If you type the key words 'children' and 'bikini' into an Internet search engine, you'll find tens of thousands of results for child bikini contests," she said on Sunday. "It's natural for kids to wear bikinis and other things they like."
She said only two 5-year-olds wore bikinis, both with the permission of their parents.
The company has hosted several child-modeling competitions, none of which have drawn such criticism, Zhang said, although she conceded that auto show models have become a sensitive topic.
"But the public should not be fussy, as it's natural for children to wear bikinis at modeling contests," Zhang said.
Shang Xiaoyuan, a professor at Beijing Normal University and an expert on child welfare, said she believes having a child expose their body in public is offensive.
"Auto shows try too hard to attract customers with sexy, female models, which sends a negative message that the female form is a marketing tool," she said. "When children appear at auto shows posing in bikinis, it implants such an idea in their minds and is harmful for their development."
Tong Xiaojun, a specialist in child rights at China Youth University for Political Sciences, agreed, and added that the auto shows set a bad example for children about what is proper behavior in public.
"It ruins children's innocence, and it has blurred the boundary for what children should be taught to do and what they should not at a certain age," she said.
However, organizer Zhang said the publishing of the pictures online had potentially done more harm than the show itself.
Chen Ling, 33, whose 5-year-old daughter participated in the contest but did not wear a bikini, said her life has been disturbed after her daughter's photos were uploaded together with girls in bikinis.
"Some netizens criticized us parents and claimed children's rights, but it was they who hurt the children by uploading the girls' photos without taking measures ti conceal their identities, such as covering their faces," she said.
Chen said some netizens used vulgar language in comments on her daughter's micro blog after the incident.
"I don't understand why there are so many bored people saying disgusting words," she said.
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