BEIJING The Chinese government on Friday sacked the police chief of the southern "sin city" of Dongguan following a candid report by the state broadcaster on the underground sex industry there, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Yan Xiaokang, who was also Dongguan's vice mayor, was removed from his posts for dereliction of duty, Xinhua said, quoting Communist Party officials in Guangdong Province.
"Yan's dereliction of duty led to the persistent illegal sex trade in Dongguan, which has reflected very badly on the city, both domestically and internationally," Xinhua reported, citing a party statement.
It added that another seven Dongguan officials were also sacked in relation to the case.
China outlawed prostitution after the Communist revolution in 1949, but it returned with a vengeance following landmark economic reforms three decades ago, and has helped fuel a rise in HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
While the government carries out periodic crackdowns, it is unusual for state media to cover them in such a high-profile way or for top officials to comment on the problem.
Almost 1,000 people have been detained in a sting operation involving thousands of police in Dongguan, which is located at the heart of China's Pearl River Delta industrial hub in Guangdong, not far from Hong Kong.
China's main state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), aired a half-hour report on Sunday chronicling what appeared to be extensive and open prostitution in five towns across Dongguan.
Secretly shot footage showed scantily-clad women parading on a stage and managers of venues speaking openly about prostitution services.
Provincial Communist Party boss Hu Chunhua, a rising star tipped for future national leadership, stressed the need "to conduct an extensive trawling-style crackdown on the entire city", according state media.
The CCTV report was widely watched across China and sparked extensive comment on social media, with many people criticizing the government for targeting the sex workers themselves rather than the powerful business interests believed behind the trade.
The party's official People's Daily took aim at the criticism and calls to legalize the sex trade on Friday, saying in a commentary that prostitution was a "blasphemy against civilization".
The Dongguan region has long been known as a center for the sex industry.
While periodic sweeps against vice have been carried out, including during sensitive periods such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, the industry has thrived. Law enforcement often appears to be lax.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Andrew Roche)