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June 6, 2017

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Beijing bathers expose naked truth of a practice still taboo

DOZENS of naked men relax in an outdoor pool in a Beijing suburb making the most of the sunshine.

“This is a paradise for Chinese nudists,” says 18-year-old Zhen, displaying a tiger tattoo on his chest.

The small pond next to a power line and a shabby brick building is the only nudist bathing spot near the Chinese capital — and one of few in the entire country.

Diehard skinny-dippers attract lots of attention and authorities often close down the places where they swim.

But nudists from all walks of life and regions defy social norms to gather near a residential area in Fangshan District.

“People have been bathing naked here for 20 years — we don’t pay attention to them anymore,” said an 84-year-old resident.

Locals previously lodged complaints with authorities, but it remains a popular nudist spot.

Xiao Li says he comes to the pond to “relieve pressure” from a busy job in the chemicals industry.

“We don’t bother anyone but we obviously have to respect the residents,” he said.

Behind him tanned men in their 50s smoke and play cards around an old wooden table, making a cheerful racket, while young people jump from a platform into the water.

While women are welcome to take a dip with the men, they have not dared. Taboos surrounding female nudity are still very strong, the men said.

The rudimentary facilities include plastic chairs, a rusty wire for a clothes line and two red brick shacks, with a sign reading “Bathing Forbidden.”

Under Chinese law, anyone caught “voluntarily exposing their body in a public place” can be placed under administrative detention for up to 10 days.

But “the police are flexible,” said Zhang Zhigang, a lawyer. “They intervene in busy public places. In isolated areas they usually ask nudists to leave.”

Fang Gang, a researcher and author of the 2012 book “The Nudists,” the first published in China on the subject, said: “Most Chinese judge it to be perverted — they consider it to be like sexual harassment or exhibitionism.”

Fang estimates that one out of every 10,000 Chinese practices nudism — or 140,000 people at most. But it is “on the rise,” he says.

The only nudist beach in China opened in 2000 on the tropical island of Hainan in the country’s south, but was closed in 2014 after complaints.

“Normal people don’t bathe and sunbathe nude in public,” the then head of the island province Luo Baoming said.

In 2009, authorities put a stop to an outdoor nudist bath near the eastern city of Hangzhou a day before it was due to open.


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