“We haven’t ruled out the possibility of banning auto-show girls,” the organising committee for the Shanghai Automotive Exhibition said in remarks carried by the Xinhua news agency.
“We are soliciting public opinion to improve the exhibition,” the committee said.
An official with the Shanghai branch of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, one of the organisers, told the South China Morning Post that they were considering removing the models – a staple in car exhibitions – from this year’s show.
Yang Xueliang, director of public relations for Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, wrote in an online post on Friday he had been told that “auto show models are to be banned this year”.
“It is best to cancel the performances, so as to let visitors enjoy a quiet exhibition,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.
No official reason has been given for the possible ban, but Xinhua said the decision could be due to “moral concern” and security considerations after a deadly stampede in the city on New Year’s Eve killed 36.
Xinhua said the committee may be troubled by the increasingly revealing clothing worn by models at the event.
In 2012, the authorities at Beijing reprimanded organizers of the city’s auto show for allowing scant dressed models to pose beside cars.
Shanghai’s authorities has since announced tougher registration procedures for large crowd events like auto shows, which will face cancellation if rules are violated.
Car industry officials say the organisers are under pressure from the authorities to avoid arousing people’s interest in sex-related matters. If the ban goes ahead, it will be the toughest action the mainland’s ideological authorities have taken so far in policing trade shows.
Car shows have gained notoriety on organisers hiring scant dressed women to pose with their vehicles to draw visitors.
Hundreds of such models were hired for the Shanghai Auto Show in previous years, attracting more than 800,000 visitors each time.
Shanghai and Beijing take turns to host the show each year. This year’s event will be held at the National Exhibition and Conference Centre in Hongqiao.
Wei Xin, general manager of Shanghai Zhanxin Exhibition Service, which sets up exhibition halls at the car show, said ticket sales would definitely be affected if the models are banned.
“Visitor numbers are bound to drop because many are attracted by the girls,” Wei said. “New cars flanked by stars or famous models attract more visitors.”
Top movie stars or famous fashion models earned as much as 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) for flanking the cars for just a few hours, he said.
An unnamed public relations consultant told Xinhua that “the more attractive the models are, the better publicity a brand can gain.”
“It is a hidden rule in our industry,” he said. “Everyone is brainstorming about how to make their car models seductive.”
As a result, the models’ clothing has become increasingly scant. The models are embarrassing to some visitors, especially those attending with children.
A Mr. Li in Urumqi, capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said he regretted bringing his ten-year-old son to an automotive exhibition last year. “He loves cars,” said the father. “But it was no ‘automobile show.’ It was a ‘body show.'”
The potential ban on car models follows propaganda authorities’ controversial censorship of television drama The Empress of China. Images of actresses in revealing costumes, deemed inappropriate, were cropped so that viewers could not see below their necks.
The possibility of a ban has been praised by many.
But some others noted that the policy shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all ban. The annual North America International Auto Show, one of the world’s five largest auto shows, also has car models.
“Hiring models is a tradition, a method of promotion,” said a web user, Hu Jiang. “We should have them as long as they don’t grab the public’s attention in an inappropriate way.”
Qiao Xinsheng, director of the research center for social development with Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said that the organizers should bear in mind that cars should have the leading role at the exhibition.
“More efforts should be made regarding the technique, function, quality, appearance, and after-sale service of cars to win the hearts of consumers,” said Cao Shiliang, sales director of a Dongfeng Motor Corporation outlet.
The auto show shall be open to public from April 22 to 29.
Source Credits: 1) AFP, 2) Alice Yan and Daniel Ren in South China Morning Post, 3) Xinhua and 4) Automotive News