Web of moral corruption under fire
Zhang Yun, a middle school teacher, was not sure whether or not to buy a computer for her 14-year-old son.
"I know the computer is important for him to learn more via the Internet, but I am also worried about the unhealthy information there, such as porn pictures and videos, which could have a corrupting influence," Zhang said. She is not the only parents facing this problem. Wang Zheng, a taxi driver found his son had shut himself in his room recently, claiming to be doing his homework. But Wang later found that his son had made no progress in his studies but his health condition was becoming poor. Porn websites found in his son's computer betrayed everything his son had been up to.
Experts warn that exposure to porn websites is damaging young people's attitudes to sex. Rape has come to rank third among juvenile crimes, following theft and robbery. Research shows that young criminals involved in rape cases admitted that pornographic websites had inspired them, according to reports from CCTV, China's national television station.
Research also found there were over 600 major national porn websites. Porn pictures and videos, along with sex jokes, were saturating the Internet. Even porn discs are easily accessible.
"These websites often provide links to other porn websites. The number of porn websites accessible by young people was much larger than we had expected," said Hu Yonglong, an official from the Shanghai Communications Administration.
An authority report showed that among 87 million netizens in China, more than 30 per cent are students, and some 17 per cent are under the age of 18. Among these, 46 per cent of the minor netizens often visited lewd websites.
A nationwide campaign to crack down on pornographic websites, starting early this month, is in full swing. Over 14 concerned government departments have joined hands in the efforts to filter out and take down porn websites, led by police officials at different levels. A reporting centre has been established to collect information about pornographic websites and complaints from parents.
In the first 10 days of the campaign, nearly 700 porn websites have been shut down. The websites involved production, trade and dissemination of lewd movies, video pictures, and arrangements of pornographic performance via chat room services.
Juvenile education networks and tourism service networks were also found involved in porn services. Local telecom supervisory authorities have asked the Internet service providers to launch a real-name registration and forbid the hosting of pornographic websites. Internet cafes are requested to install filtering software to block porn. Anyone violating these regulations is expected to face a legal process and punishment.
Early this month, three owners of a website called Linkboat were arrested in Shanghai, charged with publishing and trading porn pictures and videos and making illegal profits out of doing so.
"The main reason for the mushrooming porn websites is the big profit behind them. Some telecom companies, Internet service providers and financial groups also get involved, in order to grab a share of the tempting market," said a local website owner who refused to give his name.
According to China's porn website reporting centre, the sites mainly received payment in two ways: through cell phone registration charges and credit cards.
The registration fee charged via cell phone is a convenient and popular way to pay for Internet services. A membership is required to fully browse the websites or get the access to the porn service.
"So you must register first through your cell phone to get the membership," the website owner said. "A password will be sent to your cell phone and in this process, a fee will be charged via the cell phone service provider."
A porn website with 1,000 members can make at least
100,000 yuan (US$12,000) a year.
Hard to block
There is still a long way to go in fighting against the porn websites.
Chen Junhua, an official from a porn website reporting centre in Shanghai, said: "A porn website often has two or more domain names and mirror sites. We can block one of them but the porn website can still be accessible via other existing domain names or mirror sites."
The usual way to close down a site is to block its IP addresses and confiscate its servers.
"But we cannot take down the IP address if the websites are registered outside China," said Chen.
Because some porn website rent a server which is shared with other websites, it is not fair on the other websites to confiscate the server.
China's Internet search engines are making joint efforts with the government to avoid searching result leading to pornography. However, the porn websites can still be found through international search engines.
For example, you can find 57,600 websites using the key word "Qingse Tietu" (porn picture) in one popular search engine. Most of these contain not only porn pictures but also videos and chat rooms.
"Is it possible to block all the websites? The solution to the problem lies in proper sex education for young people," said Professor Gu Donghui from Fudan University.
Sex is still a topic that is often avoided both by parents and teachers.
Official Chinese statistics show that 92.5 per cent of students have encountered sex-related problems, but only 2.6 per cent have ever received answers from their parents.
Poor sex education
Sex education has not been included in the school curriculum in Shanghai, which considers itself one of the most open and modern cities in China.
"Children did not even feel they had been sexually invaded because they lack the necessary education," said an official (who refused to give his real name) from the Shanghai Education Bureau.
One 8-year-old girl told her parents that her teacher liked to put her on his legs and caress her body. She asked her parents if that meant the teacher liked her. Her parents were shocked to discover the teacher had engaged in this behaviour for nearly two months.
Lack of sex education and the urgent need for sex-related knowledge drives young people to seek help through the Internet.
"The porn websites provide such information, but in an extreme and abnormal way," said Professor Gu.
Tang Feiyi, a university student, accepted the existence of porn websites and admitted that most of his sexual knowledge came from them.
Wang Xie, a middle school students, remained indifferent to the crackdown.
"I do not care. But I really care where I can get the right sex education," said the 15-year-old boy, who is pursuing a girl in his class.
Xu Donghong, a graduate applying for her doctor degree from Jiaotong University, thinks that the government should take steps to launch a crackdown on the pornographic websites. She says that the younger generation should be protected from them. "They need a healthy environment to develop themselves. Although the sexual education in China is not satisfactory, the young cannot take that as an excuse to log onto pornographic websites."