Chinese travel reading: women in prison

A modern Chinese spy?
Traveling around China by bus or train can be a quite an ordeal. What better way to pass the time than by immersing yourself in a magazine or two? And what better subject matter than true stories of crimes and corruption?

Yes, for some reason, true crime magazines seem to be over-represented at newsstands in China's transit stations. Here's a list of magazines found at the Jilin City station last month:

  • End of the Road for Psychos: Big Chinese Cases Broken (狂魔末路: 中国大案侦破记实)
  • The Kept Men Behind Famous Women (名女人背后的男内助)
  • Strange Cases (奇情怪案)
  • Big Chinese Cases (中国大案)
  • Big Chinese Fraud Cases (中国诈骗大案)
  • In Pursuit of Major Cases (重案追踪)
  • Records of Big Chinese Cases (中国大案录)
  • Massive Chinese Corruption (中国巨贪)
  • In Pursuit of Major Women's Cases (女子重案追踪)

They're all fairly similar in appearance - their layout is amateurish, their content unsourced, and their covers are loaded with provocative teasers that don't pan out inside. Illustrations are typically adult models or stills from Hong Kong Cat-III films.

The magazine here, Modern Chinese Spies (中国现代特工), bills itself as "the most authoritative magazine of spies and intelligence," and claims to be published in Xi'an. Two things undermine this authoritativeness: first, the masthead page contains the shocking admission that "some of the articles in this magazine are from the Internet." Then there's the fact that the publication license listed inside, (CN44-1236), belongs to World Architecture Review (世界建筑导报), published out of Guangzhou, and the number on the back, (CN42-1003), belongs to Hubei Education.

Stories of women prisoners!
Since most of these aren't actually real magazines, the selection is constantly changing. Several years ago, it seemed that the titles in Jilin and Shenyang were all about women's prisons. Tastes have changed, perhaps.

Or maybe it's just the format that's changed. The image at left comes from an unregistered newspaper, Stories of Women Prisoners (女囚实录), which my local newsstand has recently begun to offer alongside other trashy papers like "Bloody Cases" (which, in a nice touch, blurs the eyes of the models in its illustrations), "Legal Life," "Legal Digest," and "Law Stories."

According to the stand's proprietor, "They all are brought in from outside the city. Most of them are printed by small presses in Hubei - these papers aren't allowed in Beijing." He didn't say what permitted him to sell them at his Beijing newsstand.

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