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May 25, 2012

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Controversy laid bare as product expo makes use of sexy models

THE young Caucasian woman in a sexy bikini fully stretched her body in a giant tub where she gentled pushed the water with her fingers, stirring up waves that shone under camera lights.

In front of her were male visitors, who were holding their breath as well as their cell phones and cameras high above their heads. After all, a half-naked foreign woman bathing in a public expo seemed to be a rare scene deserving to be recorded.

"Nice tub, isn't it? And sure you can afford it - the tub I mean," interrupted the exhibitor, who had to constantly cut in advertisements to remind the visitors that this was not another free adult show and that they were actually selling the luxury tubs, not the bikini women.

It was the second day of the 17th Shanghai International Kitchen and Bath Expo, where over 4,000 exhibitors, mainly kitchen and bath producers, are showing and selling their products at the exhibition center on Longyang Road in the Pudong New Area, from Wednesday to Saturday.

But the annual expo this year is stirring big waves of controversy across the city as the kitchen shows are joined by a lot of Chinese and foreign young models wearing bikinis, bathrobes, sexy uniforms or only body paintings.

In one scene at the expo, a young woman wearing only a bathrobe and with her hair still wet was introducing another tub to visitors. Another woman dressed in a sexy uniform was sitting on a toilet bowl, asking the visitors whether they would like to have a try.

In another scene, several models wearing underwear or only body paintings went onto a mini stage to be warmly welcomed by cameras. For exhibitors who didn't invite models, huge advertising boards with naked woman hiding behind a transparent bathroom glass were also catching plenty of eyes.

For the audience, the climax may have come when Gan Lulu, a woman widely known for her enthusiasm for posing her sexy pictures, walked in wearing specially designed clothing that covered only half her body.

Now the spotlight on the kitchen expo is turning into a repeatedly asked question: Why are so many kinds of Chinese expos turning into female body shows.

"I have to say the kitchen and bath industry is having a tough time as the market is shrinking due to the collapsing of real estate business across the country," said a marketing director surnamed Li of a famous Tangshan-based sanitary ware company. The firm invited young models to stand beside its products.

"Exhibitors are inviting these models as a way to boost the expo's popularity, attracting more people to come. But still we see a decreasing number of visitors this year," he said.

"You put a model beside the product and the consumers will think they can also be that happy beautiful model," said Li. "A product itself is not that desirable unless it's accompanied by some people using it. It will certainly be a trend to future exhibitions."

But why they are all female models, not males?

"Do you want to be the man, wearing only his underwear, awkwardly standing near the tub?" asked another exhibitor surnamed Wei at the fair.

Displaying sexy women at a kitchen show is strongly opposed by Gu Xiaoming, history professor at the Cultural Heritage Protection Department of Fudan University.

"Young women trading with the exhibitors to show their sexy bodies in public are acts similar to prostitution to some extent," Gu said. "I don't see any links between bikinis and kitchens."

Gu said some young girls have fallen prey to an efficient way for exhibitors to attract more visitors and they are becoming "playful things" for male aesthetics.

"They are misguiding the young people to take off their clothes in public to gain money and fame," said Gu.

"I've been to other expos in other countries and seen beautiful models, but they don't dress so little as in China," said an exhibitor surnamed Liu of a Guangzhou-based company that refused to invite models.


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