The fall of Liang Yaohui, king of Dongguan’s infamous saunas

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Dongguan was once a popular place for Hong Kong men to spend their weekend. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Aimaimyi

The man dubbed the king of China’s sex industry has been sentenced to life in prison for bribery and running prostitution activity – most famously known as “Dongguan sauna” – after a three-year trial.

Liang Yaohui, a former member of the National People’s Congress who once made the rich people’s list, received his sentence by express mail on Tuesday from the Dongguan Intermediate People’s Court, which made its ruling last Friday.

Liang, who was in detention for three years in the most high-profile sex trade crackdown, will spend the rest of his life in jail and see all of his properties seized. Some 44 staff were jailed for at least 16 months for organizing or aiding the prostitution business.

Known as Prince Fai, Liang owned the Dongguan Crown Prince Hotel, the base of a large-scale prostitution business that turned Dongguan into a sex capital with a touch of Cirque Du Soleil.

During the trial, Liang was said to run a lucrative hotel business that in 2013 provided over 100,000 services of sex for cash in 99 hotel rooms for more than 48 million yuan (US$7.2 million) through the hiring “spa technicians”.

These “technicians” included underage girls and were properly trained to provide a comprehensive sex service for clients, who paid between 600 yuan to 1,500 yuan, depending on the ladies’ appearance and body shape.

The secret business went well – turning Liang into a rich tycoon and rising politician – until state-owned broadcaster CCTV ran an investigative report on the hotel, which led quickly to a local government crackdown in February 2014.

The story came at a time that President Xi Jinping decided to tighten the state’s grip on entertainment in the sin city, which was prone to corruption and unethical practice.

The sex industry in Dongguan, a well-known manufacturing base for shoes, clothing and other items, was a lucrative 50-billion-yuan business, and once accounted for 14% of the city’s GDP in 2011.

Read: Dongguan: the nightmare flip side to China’s economic dream

In its heyday, some 300,000 ladies were sex workers in Dongguan. That fitted with a local saying that over 100,000 ladies went to Dongguan, while millions of men went there for prostitution. Over the past few decades, the city attracted many white-collar men from Hong Kong who went there for a “dirty weekend”.

In 2004, Ho Wai-to, a Democratic Party member, was caught by police in Dongguan with a prostitute and detained for 15 days. He was forced to give up his election campaign and turned to supporting young party members. He died last year at 57 of liver cancer.

In China, Hong Kong people arrested for engaging the services of a prostitute in police operations are usually detained for 10 to 15 days. But someone who has certain“guanxi”, or personal connections in the country, can be released immediately.

Sex training sessions

Liang was credited with turning an underground business into a systematic and professional service with proper hospitality and sex training. That included step-by-step process on how to make clients happy in a 90-minute session. Some reports suggested that he and his son would take part in those training sessions.

Dongguan-style saunas quickly spread to other cities, with many operators copying and marketing themselves as having “Dongguan saunas”.

In his defense, Liang, who owned dozens of other businesses, insisted he only spent a small amount of time at the Crown Prince Hotel, so he had no idea about the prostitution business until CCTV broke the story.

It is unclear whether the 50-year-old tycoon will appeal against the court ruling.

Read: Dongguan coach crash video goes viral on social media

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