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Thursday, February 16, 2006

China's adult toy business wants to bare all

SHANGHAI, Aug 9 (AFP) - Wu Wei, president of one of China's largest makers of adult sex toys, says it is only a matter of time before couples accept "marital aids" as being "just like drinking water".

"In five or 10 years, Chinese people will be richer and they will be living a better life and will also want more sexual pleasure," said Wu, part-owner of the Sino-Japanese Wenzhou Lover Health Product Company, which projects 2004 sales of 20 million yuan (2.4 million dollars), double those of last year.

"I'm expecting the (Chinese) market to be twice or three times larger than now, and will even surpass Japan's market," said the animated 35-year-old at Shanghai's latest exhibition, the 2004 Adult Expo.

He is not the only one feeling excited.

"It is like a revolution -- just like that guy (Thomas) Edison who invented the light bulb," said Zhang Yan, a property developer turned manufacturer of erectile disfunction apparatuses.

"It will bring me more profit than property," insisted Zhang, who declined to discuss the workings of the product's several plastic rings until the kit hits the market later this year.

Industry insiders at the Shanghai exhibition reckon that sex-related products made in the world's most populous country are rapidly turning into a multi-billion dollar business.

They estimate that including condoms and sexual potency tonics, China saw product turnover of more than 100 billion yuan (12 billion dollars) in 2003 with projected growth of 30 percent a year.

For citizens, buyers and the simply curious alike, the exhibition in China's largest and most modern city promises a vibrant display of "Muscular Dragon" vibrators, "Healthy Horse" condoms, "Plump Lady" blow-up dolls and even an American porn star.

The platinum blond actress, Cindy Crawford -- no relation to the supermodel of the same name -- has taken a break from her usual performance duties to promote her line of toys in China's hot market.

"Given my line of work, getting into the sex toy (business) was pretty closely related," the 23-year-old Las Vegas native said as she was mobbed by Chinese men asking for her autograph.

While Crawford said she too recognised the potential for sales of sex toys in China, most sex aid manufacturers sell about 80 percent of their goods in Europe, Japan and the United States.

In many respects China is still a conservative country, where sex is not openly discussed, said Durex condom brand manager Zhang Bing.

"For many Chinese some of the pictures and toys here might be too much, but things have changed tremendously since I was a child," said Zhang, whose Sino-British joint venture is based in the eastern city of Qingdao.

Long under the sway of the ruling communist party's priggish mores, sex for pleasure in China was looked upon with deep suspicion and even as something that smacked of counter-revolution.

But after 26-years of market reforms, China has undergone a profound transformation that has given people more freedom of choice over their personal lives.

"In some modern cities in China like Shanghai people dare to talk about sex publicly," said Wu.

"That's something that was hard to imagine 10 years ago in China."

While China is unlikely to forge into the pornography industry just yet, market reforms did pry open sex toy-making in 1993, resulting in an explosion of some 20,000 sex shops.

And for those not quite ready for intimacy with "Jazzy the Love Doll" or "Wild Girlfriend," the Hong Kong-based Sweet Supplier, a prominent participant at the Shanghai exhibition, promises customers an alternative -- "naughty shaped candies," molded into "forever lickable forms."

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