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Cindy Crawford at Shanghai adult toy fair

SHANGHAI – Wu Xiao never thought he’d see the day — China’s first officially sanctioned exhibition of adult toys, complete with leather body suits, vibrating rubber tongues and even a U.S. adult movie star.

“It’s revolutionary!” enthused Wu, the Shanghai sales manager for Wenzhou Lover Health Product Co Ltd, China’s largest producer of what are known euphemistically in China as “adult health products.”

While Shanghai was known as the “Whore of the Orient” in the swinging 1920s and 30s, its brothels and wild cabarets were long ago closed by the prudish Communists who swept to power in 1949.

But since China began opening up again in the late 1970s, attitudes toward sex have begun cautiously to change — to the extent that the Shanghai government approved the show that opened on Friday.

Opinions are changing fast, say industry insiders.

“It’s true, there was some opposition when we went into business 11 years ago,” Wu Wei, president of Wenzhou Lover, told Reuters, adding that he often test drove new products personally.

“Nobody else was making them and we saw the opportunity. I mean, there’s 1.3 billion people in China. What a market!” said 35-year-old Wu Wei, a native of the southern coastal town of Wenzhou, regarded as the cradle of private business in communist China.

The company is doing so well now that Wu predicted a 50 percent rise in revenue this year from about $10 million in 2003, and is even contemplating a stock market listing. It sells mainly to markets in Japan, the United States and Europe.

“When we are number one or two in the world, then we’ll list. I’m sure that won’t be long,” Wu Wei said, as curious visitors peered at the multi-colored gadgets on sale.

Firms like Wenzhou Lover still face a struggle to persuade the Chinese to use toys that carry names such as “The Salsa Shaker,” “Pleasure Periscope” and “The Emperor.” “We still sell 90 percent of our goods abroad,” sighed Fang Hong, general manager of U.S.-invested firm Shaki Shenzhen. “It will take at least 10 years to reverse that. Chinese just don’t get the concept of fun yet.”

In many respects, China — where the use of sex toys has a recorded history of thousands of years — has long-ago shaken off its Maoist straitjacket.

You can no longer be arrested for being found with adult products at home, said Wenzhou Lover’s Shanghai sales manager Wu Xiao. That could happen as recently as 15 years ago.

Pirated and illegal hard-core pornography is readily available on street corners.

“If that’s the only way they can get them I’d rather have them see me than not,” U.S. adult movie star Cindy Crawford told Reuters.

Resplendent in a pink miniskirt and revealing plaid top, Crawford — no relation to the world-famous U.S. supermodel of the same name — was mobbed by Chinese men wanting her autograph because they believed she was her more famous namesake.

“I don’t have one of those,” said Xie Huazhen, who had come from the southern province of Guangdong just to go to the show, as she giggled into her handbag and looked at Crawford’s own range of adult toys.

“Actually, yes I do. I have several,” she admitted, before scurrying off to another booth.



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