Meet the Chinese 'censors' who watch 700 porn movies a week

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BEIJING — In the annals of bizarre bureaucratic desk jobs, the Chinese government may have all others beat.

Officials in charge of censoring pornography for the southern province of Hunan gave a rare and revealing peek into the strange (and quite possibly libido-numbing) demands of their job in a rare, local TV interview now making the rounds online.

In the space of one week alone, a four-man team in the office watched more than 700 pornographic DVDs from beginning to end, the officials said.

“When you’re in this job, even if you don’t want to watch anymore, you have to keep watching closely,” said one worker, 70-year-old Liu Xiaozhen, who demonstrated his daily viewing routine with the bored, disaffected thousand-yard stare of a man who has seen it all, many times over.

Pornography in China — like prostitution and other sex-related commerce — is illegal but, increasingly, readily available throughout the country. In every city, hawkers can be found selling graphic DVDs on street corners alongside bootleg copies of the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

But official crackdowns are ordered up each year, an especially brutal routine for sex workers and one that has recently been criticized by international human rights groups. During the crackdowns, porn hawkers are arrested en masse and their wares swept up by the thousands. And, as tough as the job may be, someone has to go through all the DVDs and see what’s on them.

Reached by phone, the director of Hunan Office Against Pornography and Illegal Publications confirmed the authenticity of the interview that aired on Hunan Satellite TV on Thursday and Liu’s status as a pornography identification officer in their bureau. But he refused to say any more on what he considered a touchy subject.

In the heavily pixelated news segment, however, officials talked expansively about the finer points of the job as the camera panned over a veritable mountain of porn in their office.

“In the beginning, the office was small, and everyone could only watch the videos inside that office,” said Liu. “We carried out the examinations on our own. It felt awkward. My face and ears often turned red, and my heart would often skip a beat.”

But after of years of staring through all manner of graphic scenes (which Liu categorized as either Western, Japanese or Korean), Liu described his work with the air of a seasoned professional. When watching pornography professionally, he explained, one must watch from beginning to end, paying close attention throughout. This is because some hawkers hide their pornography in later scenes.

And there are gradations of illegality. Some films are classified “obscene” through and through. Others – with some semblance of a story line and dramatic scenes – are considered a step below and are simply pornographic. But even with a story line, Liu added, it’s not exactly art.

The bureau hires new officers through a province-wide search, according to the report. Elderly applicants like Liu are heavily favored. Candidates must also be married and “trained” (though exactly what qualifies as appropriate training was not explained).

Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, lit up on Tuesday as Chinese bloggers forwarded clips of the unusual and rare inside look at their censors’ work. Some cracked jokes about whether psychological scarring from such jobs would qualify for worker’s compensation. Others debated in jest which was tougher to watch: pornography or Communist propaganda movies.

One blogger, noting the sheer manpower in each province devoted to eradicating sex in films, bemoaned, “If only the government would apply the same level of thoroughness to their supervision of food and milk in China.”

Washington Post special correspondent Li Qi in Beijing contributed to this report.

© 2013, The Washington Post