Frontline World

About the Series


ANNOUNCER:Tonight on FRONTLINE/WORLD, three stories from a small planet.

RANEY ARONSON, Reporter:[voice-over] In India, more than two million women work in the sex trade in some of the oldest and largest red-light districts in the world. Girls here are as young as 12 years old, sold into prostitution by their families. Now sex workers are at the center of an AIDS epidemic

ANNOUNCER:Next, in Mexico, a village mourns the death of a son. Reporter Claudine LoMonaco tells the harrowing story of a migrant worker on a fatal journey north.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO, Reporter:[voice-over] Matias's body was sent home, but his family believes that his spirit is still in the desert.

NARRATOR: And finally, in Shanghai the cultural revolution pushes the limits of personal freedom and challenges the old order.

NGUYEN QUI DUC, Reporter: [voice-over] Good-bye. Wave and wave. But you can't turn back the clock.

India: The Sex Workers

Reported by: Raney Aronson

RANEY ARONSON, Reporter: [voice-over] In the heart of the city that used to be called Bombay -- now Mumbai -- lies one of its poorest districts, Kamathipura. By day, its alleyways are filled with mostly unemployed men killing time and prostitutes, who drag their beds into the street, waiting for their night's work to begin. Kamathipura is India's largest red light district, home to more than 60,000 sex workers. It is also the epicenter of the India AIDS crisis. Now, in a country where even talking about sex has been taboo, the conversation has become open and frank.

[on camera] Typically, how much would you charge a male client for sex?

YELU: In a brothel, it would be 60 to 80 rupees. [$1.50] On the street, it's $2. If business is really bad, we'll do it for even 50 cents.

RANEY ARONSON: [voice-over] Yelu has been a prostitute for 12 years. For her and her fellow sex workers, their only defense against HIV is convincing men to wear condoms. But most often, the men will simply refuse.

[on camera] Do most of them just not know about HIV and AIDS yet? Is this the situation, they're just not educated?

RUPA: [subtitles] They know about AIDS, but they're so drunk, they don't know what they're doing.

RANEY ARONSON: [voice-over] Rupa is the daughter of a former brothel owner.

PROSTITUTE: [subtitles] They'll come back two or three times. They'll say, "I really like you." And then, "Oh I love you."

YELU: [subtitles] And then that's it. No more condom.

PROSTITUTES: [subtitles] Love. Love. Love.

RANEY ARONSON: So all of a sudden, if you're in love, it's OK to have sex without a condom? How many times does it take to fall in love?

YELU: [subtitles] One or two visits, they're in love. [laughter]

RANEY ARONSON: "I love you" means no condom.

YELU: [subtitles] Where does a condom fit into love?

RANEY ARONSON: [voice-over] They laughed about the situation, but the tragic fact is more than half of the sex workers here are HIV-positive. And they are powerless in Mumbai's lucrative sex industry. For the pimps and brothel owners, it's a multi-million dollar business. And money, not health, is the bottom line. Most men will pay more to have unprotected sex, and they'll pay the highest price for the youngest girls.

[subtitles] How old are you?

YOUNG GIRL: [subtitles] Twelve.

RANEY ARONSON: [voice-over] India's red light districts are filled with young girls. They are the most valuable commodity in the sex industry. Many of them have been kidnapped and trafficked to India. Some have been sold by their own families.

All of these girls have been rescued from prostitution by a group called Sanlapp. Most of them were sold into the sex industry between the ages of 13 and 16. We met them at the shelter where they now live.

KUSHBOO: [subtitles] When my father died, conditions at home were really bad. That's when my aunt sold me into prostitution in Calcutta.

JHARNA: [subtitles] I ran away from home to my uncle's. And he sold me into the red light district.

DOLLY: [subtitles] My father sold me. He brought me to Calcutta and talked to a friend of his. My father didn't mean to do it. He was a drug addict. You know what people do when they're on drugs. He took me to Bombay and sold me there.

RANEY ARONSON: Dolly was 13 years old. She spent five years in Mumbai's red light district. She remembers the first moments after her father sold her.

DOLLY: [subtitles] I said, "I want to go back to my mother." The madam said, "I just paid $750 for you, and you want to go back to your mother? Fine. The door's open." I just stood there. But then when I tried to escape, she grabbed me and tied a chain to my foot.

RANEY ARONSON: Khushboo was sold into prostitution when she was 16 years old. She says she had no idea about the danger of AIDS.

KHUSHBOO: [subtitles] I didn't know about HIV or AIDS until I got here.

RANEY ARONSON: [on camera] So when you were actually in the brothel, you did not know about HIV?

KHUSHBOO: [through interpreter] I didn't know anything at all.

RANEY ARONSON: Is that true for many of you?

GIRL: No one tells you anything about it because if the girls knew, they wouldn't do this work.

RANEY ARONSON: [voice-over] Like several of the girls in this group, Dolly is HIV-positive. She tells us how she found out about the disease.

DOLLY: [subtitles] When I was first tested, the doctor told me that I have HIV. I told him that I didn't understand what he was saying. The doctor said, "Ask your madam." I didn't ask any more questions. After that, I was scared and didn't want to go to any men. And I was still beaten.

ANJU PAWAR, Social Worker: Let us put ourself into that 16-years-old girl. Someone has come and cheated you and sold you here, and you're sitting in the dark, where unknown man, stranger, is coming, and he's trying to have sex with you. I mean, do you really­ you know, at that time, being in that age, do you think of condoms and do you think of health, when you are not aware of anything?

RANEY ARONSON: Anju Pawar is a social worker.

ANJU PAWAR: And finally, someone just forces you to do everything.

RANEY ARONSON: She works with a small group called ASHA, one of the many in Mumbai struggling to educate women about AIDS. ASHA is made up of sex workers, called peer educators, who go into the brothels, talking to women about safe sex.

ANJU PAWAR: The girl is just not accessible to our peer educators. By the time the three to six months pass, when the girl gets adjusted in the brothel, then the brothel keepers will tell peer educators that she is suffering from such-and-such, and can you please take her to the clinic. Now, that is too late for the intervention program. The girl is already infected. Now, this is what is the real situation is.

RANEY ARONSON: In Mumbai, the sex workers face another challenge, the police who patrol the red light district. Rather than being part of the solution, they are, in fact, oftentimes part of the problem. Prostitution is officially illegal here, and police raids on brothels are common. But once arrested, the women told me, they are either forced to have sex or pay bribes for their release. And the youngest girls are the most vulnerable.

As business continues as usual in the red light district, Mumbai's AIDS rate has soared. The city now has the largest number of AIDS cases in the country. This is one of Mumbai's largest public hospitals and one of the only hospitals in India that doesn't turn away AIDS patients. Over four and a half million people in India are HIV-positive.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: [to patient] [subtitles] What's the problem? Sit down, sit down.

RANEY ARONSON: Every week, Dr. Alka Despande sees hundreds of AIDS patients.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: [subtitles] When did you start losing weight?

PATIENT'S MOTHER: [subtitles] It's been happening for the last two months.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: [subtitles] Two months. Who are you?

PATIENT'S MOTHER: [subtitles] His mother.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: [subtitles] And you?

PATIENT'S SISTER: [subtitles] His sister.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: This patient has come from a far-off place in another state, Uttar Pradesh. He's married. His wife is not staying with him. The wife is in the native place. So we do not know what is the status of the wife.

RANEY ARONSON: While we don't know the status of this man's wife, health experts estimate that one fifth of all AIDS cases in India are married women who have been infected by their husbands.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: He used to go to the commercial sex worker because he is staying in Bombay and the wife is far away in the city of Benares.

RANEY ARONSON: In Mumbai, his story is common. As the nation's commercial center, the city is full of migrant workers.

Dr. ALKA DESPANDE: [subtitles] There is no cure for AIDS. He won't get better.

PATIENT'S MOTHER: [subtitles] He won't be cured?

RANEY ARONSON: This is the pressing concern of health officials. Men infected here in Mumbai will travel back home and spread it to their own communities.

[ Map the global AIDS epidemic]

Twelve hundred miles east of Mumbai, along the banks of the Ganges, India's holiest river, lies the city of Calcutta. Notoriously poor and overpopulated, Calcutta would seem especially vulnerable to infectious diseases like AIDS. The city's red light district, the oldest in India, is called Sonagachi, or the Golden Quarter. It's home to tens of thousands of prostitutes. But despite the acute poverty in this city, their red light district has the lowest AIDS rate of any in the country. That's because of the efforts of people like Putul Singh. Putul was sold into prostitution by her husband eight years ago, when she was 20.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] How are you today?

WOMAN: [subtitles] Not well. I have a fever, headache.

RANEY ARONSON: Now she works full time for the Sonagachi Project. They are the model AIDS prevention group for the rest of India. Every day, Putul makes her rounds, talking to sex workers. Part of their strategy to combat AIDS is to offer the sex workers basic health care as a way to open the discussion about safe sex.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Do you ever have sex without a condom?

SEX WORKER: [subtitles] Sometimes. The men won't always listen to me.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] If they don't listen to you, make them understand. What comes first, your life, or your customer and his money?

SEX WORKER: [subtitles] My life, obviously.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] If a customer offers more money not to use a condom because he says he needs more pleasure, the sex worker must say, "Look, you have a family at home, and so do I. If we don't use a condom, our families will be ruined. You have to look at the big picture."

RANEY ARONSON: But even for Putul herself, trying to explain the need for condoms to the area's local men isn't easy.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Let me explain. Let me explain.

RANEY ARONSON: These men are some of the area's pimps and regular clients, what the locals call "babus." Putul leads the discussion with Buri, a local brothel owner.

MAN: [subtitles] How do you contract syphilis and gonorrhea?

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Through the act of sex.

MAN: [subtitles] So if you don't do it, it won't happen.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Or by wearing a condom.

MAN: [subtitles] No. I won't use a condom, and I don't have diseases.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Have you had your blood tested?

RANEY ARONSON: The man tells Putul he is certain he has no diseases. And besides, he has a different idea of what causes AIDS.

BURI: [subtitles] The only way out is to use a condom. There is no alternative.

MAN: [subtitles] No. No. I refuse to accept that.

BURI: [subtitles] If you ask a doctor, he'll tell you.

MAN: [subtitles] No. You're wrong. Even if I believe you, there are other reasons why we don't get sick. The main cause is filth.

RANEY ARONSON: Buri disagrees and explains how the disease spreads.

BURI: [subtitles] The reality is, one man doesn't visit just one prostitute. He goes to Sonagachi one day, Kaligat another day, and then Boubazar. And if you have some disease, there's no way I will know.

MAN: [subtitles] It's the women who should be careful.

BURI: [subtitles] The women should be careful.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] The women should be careful, but women these days are careful. But it's the customer who spreads the disease.

BURI: [subtitles] Both parties have to be careful.

MAN: [subtitles] Yes, both parties have to be careful.

RANEY ARONSON: It's hard to imagine this conversation happening in Mumbai. The sex workers here seem so more empowered.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] Since I joined this group, I'm able to fend for myself and stand up for my rights. Now if there's a problem, I go and ask what's going on. I have faith in myself.

RANEY ARONSON: [on camera] Is the meeting happening?

[voice-over] The women in Calcutta go beyond aggressive AIDS education. Every week, they meet to discuss the broader issues they face. Just as in Mumbai, the conversation quickly turns to police harassment.

RAMA DEBNATH, Sex Workers Union President: [subtitles] In the past, police would only arrest prostitutes on the streets. Now they will raid the brothel and arrest you.

RANEY ARONSON: Here their solution is very different. Even though prostitution is also illegal in Calcutta, this group is a full-fledged state-recognized worker's union. Rama Debnath is the union's president. She tells them what they should do when they're confronted by the police.

RAMA DEBNATH: [subtitles] Ask them, "What's your rank? Where's the charge?"

RANEY ARONSON: She says the only way to change the way the police treat sex workers is to stand up to them and have courage.

RAMA DEBNATH: [subtitles] Remember that we are here for you. We won't stand by while they arrest you on false charges. We will not let that happen.

RANEY ARONSON: After the meeting, Rama explains why it's important that the union is led by the sex workers themselves.

RAMA DEBNATH: In other cities, groups bring in "educated" experts. And they will do whatever these experts tell them to do. We, on the other hand, decide for ourselves what's good for us. We decide what to do. This is our advantage.

RANEY ARONSON: The combination of the sex worker union and the Sonagachi AIDS Project is making a difference. Condom use has soared in Calcutta from an estimated 3 percent to 90 percent. Unlike Mumbai, Calcutta's sex workers have managed to keep AIDS under control. The rate here is one fifth that of Mumbai's.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] We go to these meetings because we want recognition from society.

RANEY ARONSON: Calcutta has a long tradition of labor activism. Its state, West Bengal, has been run by a communist government for 25 years.

PUTUL SINGH: [subtitles] That's why we are organizing, so we can keep ourselves healthy.

RANEY ARONSON: Health officials are concerned they won't be able to replicate the women's success in other cities. And even here, Rama worries about their biggest challenge, reaching the thousands of young girls sold into the sex trade. They say one way to do it is to legalize prostitution.

RAMA DEBNATH: [subtitles] If our profession was made legal and regulated, in the same way other industries don't employ children, this industry wouldn't employ children, either.

RANEY ARONSON: The youngest girls are the hardest to reach. We had asked Khushboo, who was forced to work in Calcutta for two years, what she knew about the union.

KHUSHBOO: [subtitles] I don't know what you're talking about.

RANEY ARONSON: [on camera] Have any of you heard of the sex worker union? Nobody's heard of it? So when you're in the brothels, did anyone from that project come in and talk to you?

[voice-over] We asked if any of the other girls who had worked in Mumbai had been approached by any AIDS prevention groups.

RANI: [subtitles] When I was in Mumbai, nobody came to talk to us. The only people who came were the police, to raid the brothels.

RANEY ARONSON: Although haunted by their memories, these girls are now far from the red light districts from which they were rescued. After working as prostitutes, most often their families will not take the girls back. Sanlapp attempts to give them hope for some sort of a future.

These girls are the fortunate ones. Thousands of other young girls are left behind. Carefully guarded by the sex industry, they're virtually unreachable by even the most effective AIDS prevention groups. What happens to them will affect the future of AIDS in India.

ANNOUNCER: Later, an underground revolution in the clubs of Shanghai

NGUYEN QUI DUC, Reporter: [voice-over] Government censors call her "a poster child for spiritual pollution."

ANNOUNCER: But first, a tragedy on the Mexican border.

Mexico: A Death in the Desert

Reported by: Claudine LoMonaco

CLAUDINE LOMONACO, Reporter: [voice-over] The bus ride from Mexico City had taken six hours. I came here to Oaxaca to piece together the life of a dead man. Back in Arizona, I had reported on the increasing number of migrants who have died trying to cross into the United States, but I knew so little about any of them.

In Agua del Espino, I found a village of Zapotec Indians mourning the loss of one of its sons. He was one of nearly 400 migrants who died along the border last year. This night marks the anniversary of his death. His name was Matias Garcia. He was 29 years old.

MOTHER: [subtitles] Matias Juan Garcia Zavaleta was my first child. As you know, the first child is always a mother's favorite because they're the first and they suffer the most.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Matias was the oldest of five children. When he was 8 years old, he left school to work in the fields with his father. At 16, Matias started leaving his village in southern Mexico to work in California.

MAN: [subtitles] Between March to September, when the grape harvest ends, there are only women here. All the men migrate.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Matias left each spring, but he would return every fall.

ISIDRA, Matias's Wife: [subtitles] People love our village. It's the land where we live, where we were born. They work in the U.S., but they always return because this is their home. Even though there's no way to earn money here, we can live off our land. You don't need money for everything, like you do in the United States.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Matias's wife, Isidra, feeds the family with the corn and beans they grow. The money he earned in the north helped build their home and clothe the family. It sent his sons, Juan and Elias, to school. Two years ago, Matias decided he would stop crossing.

ISIDRA: [subtitles] He didn't want to be away from us.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: This is Matias in a home video taken in 2002. That spring, he began growing chiles so he could make enough money to support his family without going north. But an early frost that fall destroyed the crop overnight. It left Matias in debt. He had to cross again. This time, he would take a cousin with him and his 18-year-old brother, whom we'll call Serafin. It would be Serafin's first trip north.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] Because he was the oldest, he was like our father. He supported us since we we're little. My brother­ I loved him a lot.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: The men set out on May 28th, 2003.

MOTHER: [subtitles] The day they left, I took both of them to the altar. I blessed them. I gave them a hug. I gave them a kiss. They put on their backpacks and they said goodbye to us. And then they left.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Their mother wanted them to avoid a three-day bus ride and save their strength for the journey. She convinced them to borrow money so they could fly just south of the border. They spent the night in Sonoyta [sp?], a popular crossing point along the Mexico/Arizona border. Like most migrants, they hired a coyote, or smuggler, to guide them. He told them to buy two gallons of water each.

[ Read an interview with the reporter]

SERAFIN: [subtitles] I was really scared. I had no idea what it would be like. Then they said we were going to walk, and I got even more scared.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: On Friday, May 30th, it was 104 degrees. The group started walking at 5:00 in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the desert heat. The men walked all night. They crossed more than 20 miles. After sunrise, the heat rose quickly. It was too hot to continue walking. They rested in what little shade they could find. In the summer, the desert floor can reach up to 170 degrees. The men barely slept. They ate tortillas they brought from home. They each had less than one gallon of water left.

The journey north wasn't always so difficult. For years, most Mexican migrants entered the United States from Tijuana. Matias's uncle made the trip many times.

BERTOLDO: [subtitles] We used to cross in Tijuana. There was a path that went over a little hill -- "the jump" we called it -- and then, poof! You'd be there. Here was the border with the U.S. You'd just go around and through the hills, and then to San Ysidro. American taxis would take us the rest of the way.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: In 1990, Matias first went north through Tijuana. Four years later, the U.S. entered the North American Free Trade Agreement. At the same time the U.S. opened the border to trade, it made it harder for people to get across with a new strategy called Operation Gatekeeper. The Border Patrol reinforced the old fence with a series of walls between Tijuana and San Diego. They hoped to push migrants east into the desert. They thought the rugged terrain would act as a natural barrier and discourage people from entering the country illegally.

But it didn't. Hundreds of thousands of migrants began crossing the desert, first in California, then in Arizona.

[ Explore U.S. immigration policy]

Matias Garcia had crossed the desert before, but usually in April. But this time, he couldn't raise enough money to hire a coyote until mid-May. The delay pushed his journey into the hottest part of the year.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] We began walking again at 5:00 in the afternoon. That's when Matias started to feel sick. We kept walking, and Matias felt really tired. Finally, he said, "I can't walk anymore. I can't do anything."

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: By 7:00 o'clock, the men ran out of water. A few hours later, Matias collapsed.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] He was moving around. He was screaming and jerking. I was holding him, but he told me to let go.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Serafin and his cousin carried Matias for several hours. They were trying to make it to Highway 85 in southwestern Arizona.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] "We're going out to the highway," I told him. "What highway? I'm at home," he said. That's when Matias lost control. He didn't know who I was. He was calling out for my sister, "Where are you?" "She's not here," I said. "We're in the desert." "No, we're not. I'm in my house."

He told me to look after his children. "Keep trying," I told him. "We're going to cross the border to make a better life. We're going to make it." But he didn't even know where he was.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Sheriff's Deputy Michael Walsh works along the border. He found the men that night. They were trying to flag down help.

Deputy MICHAEL WALSH: Well, I was just doing routine patrol. I guess it was probably around 2:15, 2:30 in the morning. As I pulled up, I would say the person that was flagging me down was standing right where my vehicle is at now. I could see that he was visibly upset. He was crying. As I kept walking, I was able to see there was a third subject which was lying on the ground. His head was up in this area, his feet were up in that direction. His head was on the second subject's lap. I looked at the person that was lying on the ground, and you could­ I could see that he was deceased.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: It wasn't the first time Deputy Walsh had found the body of a migrant in the desert

Deputy MICHAEL WALSH: Mostly, you just find skeletal remains out in the desert. With this one, there's a lot more emotion­ you know, family emotion involved in it, so it's a lot different. You have a name, you know, with the person. You know, you know that he had he had a brother, you know, his cousin. You know, obviously, they were close. They were visibly upset when he passed away.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: The men had walked 32 miles. Matias died 40 yards away from the highway they'd hoped would take them to California.

MOTHER: [subtitles] On Sunday, we were waiting for a call to find out if they'd crossed. We woke up early to make breakfast. Finally, we had a call. My husband went to answer it. He came back very sad. We asked him if they'd already crossed. He said, "No, one of our sons didn't make it." "But what happened?" I asked. "He died," he said. "Who died?" I asked him. "Matias," he said. That moment was so hard.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: A week later, Matias's body was sent home, but his family believes that his spirit is still in the desert. His mother says he visits her in her dreams. "Mama. Tengo sed. Tienes agua?" "I'm thirsty," he says. "Do you have any water?"

The day after Matias died, Serafin and his cousin were deported and released in a nearby border town. Within hours, they crossed back over the border and started walking through the desert again.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] We began to think of our families, who didn't have any money, and how we had to pay back the money we borrowed for the journey. So we decided to try again.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: After walking for two more days, they got a ride to a small farming town outside of Fresno, California. Men from Agua del Espino have been working here for decades.

SERAFIN: [subtitles] I thought it was going to be beautiful here. I was going to come with my brother. He was going to show me how to do the work, everything. But the truth is, it didn't turn out that way. It was different because he didn't make it with me, and I began to suffer here alone.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: Back in the village, Matias's widow suffers, too, trying to be strong for her sons.

ISIDRA: [subtitles] For the older one, it was very painful. He got sick when I told him about his father. Because he's older, he understands. But the younger one doesn't understand yet. Sometimes he tells me his dad is working, and that he's going to come back to us. "Mama, Daddy's in the north, isn't he? He's going to come see us?" When I can bear it, I say, "Yes, he's going to return." When I can't, I say, "No. He's in the cemetery, and we're going to go see him."

MATIAS'S AUNT: [singing] [subtitles] The poor of the earth, who've had everything taken from them, ask for justice and equality.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: At a memorial service, his aunt sings of the family's loss. Matias was one of more than 200 migrants that died in the Arizona desert in 2003, their names published in a local newspaper. In the 10 years since the U.S. tightened its border policy, more than 3,000 people have died.

A year after Matias's death, his family is struggling to make it without him. His father hasn't worked in the U.S. in years. That will soon change.

FATHER: [subtitles] Now I have to work to support my grandchildren because he's not here anymore. They're so young. I have to work so at least they have tortillas to eat.

CLAUDINE LOMONACO: The year of mourning has kept him in the village, but he says he must leave now. He will go north this summer, the deadliest time to cross.

ANNOUNCER: Finally tonight, in China, a new generation just wants to have fun.

China: Shanghai Nights

Reported by Nguyen Qui Duc

NGUYEN QUI DUC, Reporter: [voice-over] It's bright enough here, you can wear your sunglasses at night. No more dark night of communism, Shanghai is one of the most open cities in China. I'm a reporter in San Francisco, but I grew up in Vietnam. I'm no stranger to government censorship. But here in Shanghai, I've heard that young people, especially artists, no longer accept the old rules. I've come to check out how far they've been able to push the limits.

For a guide, I turn to one of China's most notorious young writers, Mian Mian. She has offered to take me inside her world, inside Shanghai's underground. Government censors call her a "poster child for spiritual pollution," but here she's a star. Mian Mian never has to wait in line.

The clubs here are packed with the young and the fashionable, who party like some scene out of New York in the Œ80s. Mian Mian is the queen of the clubs. She's notorious for writing openly about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, still touchy subjects here in China. The government banned her novel, Candy, but it only made the bad girl of Shanghai more famous and her novel an underground bestseller.

MIAN MIAN, Author: The whole country, all the media, every day, hundreds, hundreds newspaper is talking about me. I think government banned my book is because they want media shut up, don't talk about me anymore. They get too excited.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: These people are living like characters in her book. There's more marijuana smoke here than oxygen.

YOUNG MAN IN CLUB: [subtitles] I have many friends who come here from America, Holland, Germany. They see Shanghai and say, "Wow!" They taste the drugs in China and say, "Wow, so good."

NGUYEN QUI DUC: The cops keep close watch outside. Every once in a while, they'll swoop in and close down a place. There was a big bust just last week.

CAO ZO JUN, Club Owner: In China, the drug scene could be one of the taboo, which you can just only do it, but not talk about this.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: But that's exactly what Mian Mian did. She wrote about drugs and sex and crime, and the government clamped down. The authorities tolerate the clubs, but they still try to silence writers like Mian Mian. And that's the lesson, it seems: Do what you want, but keep it quiet.

It's 5:00 AM. Mian Mian and her cast have finally called it a night. I need sleep, but the sun comes up and the crowd and traffic are like a strong cup of coffee.

In an old part of town, an earlier generation rises early. Some talk to neighbors, some simply stare into space, waiting for the future. You can see the tip of the highrises just beyond the narrow alleyways.

So much for the mysterious Pearl of the Orient. Downtown Shanghai is quickly turning into Starbucks country. Shanghai recently surpassed Beijing as the wealthiest city in China. The only signs of the past are replicas of Mao and the gang, but they're no longer fomenting revolution. History is kitsch. The communist past is on sale for tourists.

OLD VENDOR: [subtitles] Mao Zedong is a great man. He did a lot of good things for China. The young generation doesn't know anything about it. Only my generation knows.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Goodbye. Wave and wave. But you can't turn back the clock.

Still, you wonder, with all these changes, just how open is Shanghai? What's on sale at the newsstand? Kind of surprising. Racy stuff here. That's OK, says the bookseller, but anything political will get him into trouble.

BOOKSELLER: [subtitles] They confiscate the books and fine us. Or worse, they would suspend our license or force us to close for reflection.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: I asked about Mian Mian's book. He told me the censors had declared it obscene. But that's not the reason he doesn't have it.

BOOKSELLER: [subtitles] It's sold out.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: These days, Mian Mian is a pop icon. She uses her fame to battle the censors.

MIAN MIAN: And the media is very important to leave your message, to change the situation.

[ Watch the reporter's slide show ]

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Mian Mian and her artist friends are pushing the limits of government tolerance in a way that was unthinkable even a few years ago. Her friend, Shi Yong, is an artist whose work was banned until recently. He plays with the new image of Shanghai. Shi Yong recently put different pictures of himself on the Internet, asking people to vote for the one that most represents Shanghai today. The winner was this satiric image of a hipster wearing a Mao suit.

SHI YONG: [subtitles] My parents are gratified I'm an artist, but they can't understand my work. They just don't get it. They grew up during Mao's era. Now it's completely different.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: In her book, Mian Mian wrote about being alienated from her parents. Naturally, I asked for a chance to meet them. I wanted to see what Mian Mian's parents thought of her tales of adventure and debauchery.

FATHER: [subtitles] I am very proud. But we're worried about her, too. It's very hard to be a writer in China, very hard. We never thought she would succeed.

MOTHER: [subtitles] She never studied.

FATHER: [subtitles] But in the end, she succeeded. She's a real success! I think she has gone beyond me.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: In the old China, her father was a renowned engineer.

FATHER: [subtitles] I was the manager of a big company, in charge of production. It was a company of 4,000 people, a very big company. But compared to her, I'm not as good. Not as good.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: I hadn't imagined he would be such a collector of everything that's been written about her. He's dazzled by his renegade daughter's success. "I always rode the bus," he tells me. "She always takes taxis."

FATHER: [subtitles] It would have been impossible for me to live a life like hers.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Young people once challenged the government openly. Fifteen years ago, young Chinese demanded democracy at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Hundreds of people were killed when the government cracked down. Now the young are no longer so willing to stand in front of tanks and stare Big Brother in the face. Some are still raising their voice, but only in rock-and-roll songs, like this Shanghai band, The Lanterns.

Martin Wong is the lead singer.

MARTIN WONG: When you were young, you have a lot of dreams. It's like bubbles. They all break. Every dream break, break in this society. So when you grow up, you only have small dreams.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Rock-and-roll still worries the authorities. They still censor the Rolling Stones here.

MARTIN WONG: The rock-and-roll maybe say something the government, they don't want to hear. The rock-and-roll people, they just do another kind of revolution in Shanghai. They make their revolutions through their music, but not on the square.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Martin tells me that 15 years after Tiananmen, young people have a different approach to change.

MARTIN WONG: People cannot accept a big revolution again because we have wasted too much time in our history. There's a lot of stupid, stupid, silly revolution in the history. All the people, they just want to change the country, make it the best country in the world in one night. This is unbelievable. We got to make everything just slowly, slowly.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Maybe he's right, and maybe his music is the sound of a calmer revolution. One thing for sure, the new cultural revolution in Shanghai is not political. It's about bright lights and personal pleasure.

And for some, like Mian Mian, the dream is to go faster, faster. You can't change everything overnight, but you can have a good time. In her next book, Mian Mian wants to capture the image of this new Shanghai, beautiful people living a life of glamour in a city of private dreams. All this seems a bit self-indulgent. But this new generation is enjoying what was missing for so long: personal freedom.


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ANNOUNCER: There's more of the world to explore on our Web site, including excerpts from Mian Mian's banned novel, Candy, and more coverage of migrant deaths along the border.

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