Beijing - China's public security ministry has ordered a nationwide crackdown on the sex trade following an expose of a city known for prostitution amid criticism authorities long turned a blind eye.
Authorities have vowed sweeping campaigns since the state broadcaster CCTV reported on the thriving sex industry in the southern city of Dongguan a week ago.
Its police chief has been sacked and at least 920 suspects netted across Guangdong province, which includes Dongguan.
But ordinary Chinese and even state media have raised their eyebrows at the full-throated crackdown pledges.
Across the country, the Ministry of Public Security has "demanded the swift adoption of firm measures, to resolutely correct and seriously investigate and deal with [the problem], and to resolutely crack down on prostitution organisers, operators and behind-the-scenes protectors", it said on its website on Sunday.
"No matter who is involved, no matter how high their position, all must be resolutely investigated to the end, with absolutely no tolerance and no softness," it added.
‘Capital of sex’
The ministry also advised Guangdong to "strictly hold responsible the main Dongguan public security leaders" and others involved.
Several other provinces have "mounted large-scale campaigns against prostitution and the sex trade", the China Daily said on Monday.
Last Thursday 100 sex-work suspects were detained in Nantong in the eastern province of Jiangsu, as were 79 in a raid on prostitution and gambling venues in Leiyang in central China, it reported.
But the official news agency Xinhua said on Friday: "It is an open secret that for years, Dongguan has been the 'capital of sex' in China".
Business prospered "despite previous crackdowns", it said, warning that authorities must "avoid a new round of the catch-and-release game".
Social media users also criticised CCTV for its expose, sympathising with the sex workers and saying the broadcaster overlooked the root causes of the industry.
Prostitution is illegal in China but an estimated 2.7 to 6 million sex workers operate from establishments including karaoke bars, hair salons, saunas and massage parlours.